Fer­mented foods are trend­ing in the health food world, al­though they’ve been with us for mil­len­nia. Find out which ones can help, and why.

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - NEWS - Dr Tim Crowe is an Ad­vanced Ac­cred­ited Prac­tis­ing Di­eti­tian and nutri­tion re­search sci­en­tist. Con­nect with him at think­ingnu­tri­

Which fer­mented foods can help your stom­ach, and why do they work?

The art of fer­men­ta­tion, which be­gan as a way to pre­serve food, has sparked our modern in­ter­est in pro­bi­otics as a way of keep­ing our gut mi­crobes happy. Fer­mented foods are in no way new. Be­fore re­frig­er­a­tion and can­ning meth­ods, food had to nat­u­rally sour and fer­ment to last longer. In re­cent years, many tra­di­tional fer­mented foods have made their pres­ence felt from cul­tures far and wide.

What are pro­bi­otics?

Pro­bi­otics are live mi­cro-or­gan­isms which, when con­sumed in ad­e­quate amounts, can ben­e­fit your health. Men­tion pro­bi­otics, and your mind prob­a­bly goes to yo­ghurt, but there are more pro­bi­otic foods out there you can make part of your diet.

Sauerkraut & kim­chi

Sauerkraut and kim­chi are two very well-known fer­mented foods with cul­tural ties to Ger­many and Korea re­spec­tively. Th­ese cab­bage­based dishes use lac­tic acid fer­men­ta­tion. Sauerkraut is made with brine, while kim­chi is served with condi­ments such as chilli, gar­lic, pep­per and fish sauce.

Sev­eral stud­ies have found that kim­chi may help lower choles­terol and con­trol blood glu­cose lev­els.


This fer­mented milk drink is sim­i­lar to yo­ghurt. Ke­fir is made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk, but is fer­mented with a dif­fer­ent strain of bac­te­ria to yo­ghurt.

A sci­en­tific re­view has found good ev­i­dence for ke­fir’s an­timi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity. It im­proved gut health, helped con­trol blood glu­cose and choles­terol, and con­trib­uted to im­proved im­mu­nity.


An­other pop­u­lar pro­bi­otic food is the Ja­panese sta­ple natto, which forms the base of miso soup. Natto is made by fer­ment­ing of soy­beans with the bac­terium Bacil­lus sub­tilis. It of­fers health ben­e­fits sim­i­lar to soy foods (fi­bre, B vi­ta­mins, cal­cium, omega­3), while its pro­bi­otic prop­er­ties pro­vide added value for gut mi­crobes.


Kom­bucha tea is one of the trendier fer­mented drinks, made from a sweet tea base that has been fer­mented with a colony of bac­te­ria and yeast. It’s also called ‘mush­room tea’, tak­ing its nick­name from the brown slimy crust that forms on the sur­face of the drink.

Claimed to be a su­per health elixir with an ex­ten­sive list of health ben­e­fits, kom­bucha is one drink where sci­ence has yet to catch up, with no hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als pub­lished so far.

Mak­ing sense of it all

The long list of health claims made about fer­mented foods cer­tainly looks im­pres­sive, but the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for some of them is still lag­ging be­hind. We have been eat­ing fer­mented foods for thou­sands of years and they cer­tainly have a role to play in any diet. While not a sil­ver health bul­let on their own, fer­mented foods do have the po­ten­tial to help make a var­ied diet even health­ier.

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