7 Fermented Food Facts For Better Health

by Ani Manukian, RDN, LD

Last Updated: August 24, 2020

Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, and kombucha, are becoming very popular on the health food scene - but they’re not new in the slightest. People around the world have been fermenting foods for thousands of years. Let’s dive into the many reasons this tradition has been faithfully passed on to the present day.
  1. What is fermentation?
    Fermentation is the intentional process by which microbes are introduced to raw food, where they break down carbohydrates, creating either alcohol or acid, under conditions where there is no oxygen present.
  2. Main types of fermentation.
    • Lactic Acid Fermentation – Yeast and bacteria break down carbohydrates, creating lactic acid. Common foods prepared by this method include sauerkraut and kimchi, pickled vegetables, yogurt, and bread.
    • Ethanol Fermentation – Yeast breaks down carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide, creating wine and beer.
    • Acetic Acid Fermentation – Bacteria oxidize carbohydrates in grains and fruits into acid, creating products like vinegar and kombucha.
  3. Benefits of fermentation.
    Fermentation has been used for centuries to preserve perishable food. Harnessing the natural process of fermentation allowed people to reduce food waste and provide nourishment by extending the life of food.

    Although not new, fermented foods are gaining popularity as one of the newest “foods to include” for better health. Fermented foods provide probiotics – the “good bacteria” that play a role in many integral functions of health – including immune and digestive support. Consuming adequate amounts of varied types of probiotics helps to inoculate the gut with “good bacteria,” creating a favorable shift in types and amounts of the bacteria that make up the microbiome.

    Fermentation also boosts the nutritional value of food. The fermentation process “pre-digests” the food, increasing the bioavailability of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and decreasing the FODMAP content of highly fermentable foods that are prone to cause gas and bloating for easier digestion.
  4. Commercially available fermented foods.
    You’re more than likely already consuming common fermented foods such as aged cheese, beer and wine, yogurt, and condiments. Expanding your horizons and incorporating unique fermented foods can help to further supply the gut with healthy bacteria and bring increased enjoyment overall.
  5. Fermented dairy.
    Get the most out of your dairy by choosing high-quality, fermented products with minimal sugar added, like plain Greek yogurt, natural aged cheese, and kefir. Kefir is a tangy dairy drink that is refreshing on its own or in place of milk in smoothies and homemade frozen desserts. Try plain or one of several fruity varieties (blueberry, strawberry, or pomegranate). Dairy is a staple to which many people are unfortunately intolerant. For those who find lactose difficult to digest, try this 99% lactose-free yogurt in a variety of flavors, and for those requiring dairy products with only A2 protein, try this goat milk yogurt and kefir.
  6. Fermented vegetables.
    Increase the variety of fermented foods by including sauerkraut, kimchi (a Korean dish of fermented Napa cabbage and Korean radish), and lacto-fermented vegetables like pickles. These foods must be unpasteurized in order to guarantee live probiotics. Look for this line of kraut at your local Kroger store for added flavor and nutrition at any meal.
  7. Other fermented foods.
    Apple cider vinegar (commonly referred to as ACV) and kombucha are two trending fermented foods. Apple cider vinegar can be used in place of other vinegars in recipes, taken as “shot” once daily for digestive support, and can even be used in your skincare routine as a toner when diluted with water by one-half to two-thirds. Kombucha is a fermented tea that can be a refreshing alternative to sugary drinks. Just make sure to read labels and choose those with minimal to no added sugar.

Interest in fermented foods has been growing steadily in the grocery store, and at home, with many people diving into their own fermentation experiments. Online, you can find fermentation courses and resources, with specific focuses on everything from sourdough bread to pickling to kombucha. If you’re like most, you’ve found yourself with extra time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic; perhaps use this time to try your hand at fermentation! Whether you are creating them yourself or purchasing from the store, aim to include at least one serving of fermented foods daily to benefit your health.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Ani Manukian, RDN, LD

Ani Manukian, RDN, LD

Ani is living her dream as a real food dietitian, helping her patients merge the science of nutrition with the art of creating tasty, balanced meals. She competes in the sport of weightlifting and has personal and professional experience in sports nutrition, flexible dieting, and weight loss.