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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

May 12, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Brooke McKelvey

Last week, we told you all about soy and its benefits for your health. Among some of the popular soy foods we mentioned, you may have noticed miso and tempeh, which also fall into another interesting category—fermented foods.

Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics, which are live microorganisms with a range of health benefits, including improved digestion, a strengthened immune system, and reduced inflammation.

A Growing Trend

The consumption of fermented foods, especially typically ‘unfamiliar’ ones like kimchi and kombucha, is growing in the US. And with all their health benefits, it’s no surprise. In addition to being a good source of probiotics, as we mentioned, fermentation also breaks down food into easier-to-digest nutrients, making fermented foods an excellent choice for people with digestive issues. 

If you’re trying to improve your gut health, adding fermented foods to your diet may be a good idea. But before adding fermented foods to your cart at the grocery store, read on to find out what they are, how they benefit your digestive system, and then scroll down to pick from our ten favorite types.

What Is Fermentation?

What even are fermented foods? Have you ever tried them? If you’ve ever tried kombucha, dipped a spoon into the kimchi at an Asian restaurant, or attempted to reap the benefits of a kefir drink, the answer is yes.

Fermented foods have been used for centuries to preserve food, but recent interest in the process has centered on its potential health benefits for digestive and overall health. 

There are many different fermented foods, and each offers its own unique set of health benefits. But before we go into those, let’s take a minute to focus on fermentation itself.

During fermentation, natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in food, creating something known as lactic acid. In a nutshell, the fermentation process involves using bacteria and yeast to convert carbohydrates into alcohol or acids. It preserves food and creates a distinct taste and aroma, and makes it easier for your system to digest the now nutrient-rich food.

Why Are Fermented Foods so Good For You?

Now that we know what fermentation is and how fermented foods are made, you should know more about how they can benefit your health. There are many reasons to eat these foods, from lowering your risk of high blood pressure to protecting you from inflammation.

Here are just a few of the health benefits you can enjoy from eating fermented foods: 

They Add Probiotics to Your Diet

Fermented foods are considered healthy due to the active cultures of beneficial bacteria called probiotics produced during fermentation. These are often known as "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy by maintaining the balance of good and bad bacteria in it.

Fermented foods are often rich in probiotics, which, as the NIH found during a survey in 2012, nearly four million Americans had tried. It also found that probiotics or prebiotics were the third most common dietary supplement.

They may reduce inflammation, boost immunity, help your digestive system, and even aid in weight loss for some. Probiotics (either in food or supplement form) are also an excellent way to heal your gut after you take antibiotics.

They Help with Digestive Health

The human gut is home to trillions of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This complex ecosystem plays a crucial role in digesting food, synthesizing vitamins, and protecting the body from disease.

Recently, there has been growing interest in the role of fermented foods in gut health. As we know, fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are live microorganisms that can confer health benefits to the host.

As we mentioned above, these probiotics help restore the balance of gut bacteria, which can be disrupted by antibiotics, stress, and other factors. But they also have added benefits for your digestive health. They help break down dietary fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids, which promote gut health. These processes often result in reduced bloating and better digestion and even help prevent obesity.

They Encourage Microbiome Diversity

The gut microbiome is a collection of all the microbes (bacteria, yeasts, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live in your gastrointestinal tract.

This microbiome weighs around two kilograms and contains over a trillion microbes that have over 5,000 different species. The gut microbiome is vital for good health, encouraging and boosting nutrient absorption and mental health.  

The microbiome is also essential for digestion and immunity. Recent research has shown that your diet can significantly impact the diversity of the microbiome. Here’s where fermented foods come in, which can promote a healthy balance of microbes in your system. 

It's because of how fermented foods are made—by allowing microbes to break down carbohydrates and produce beneficial compounds like lactic acid and acetic acid. These acids help keep harmful bacteria in check while also promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. As a result, eating fermented foods can help increase microbiome diversity.

They Support Your Immune System

In addition to supporting gut health, fermented foods have also been shown to boost immunity. One study found that people who regularly ate fermented foods were less likely to get sick than those who didn't eat fermented foods.

Fermented foods are teeming with beneficial microbes that can help to support a healthy gut. In turn, a healthy gut is essential for maintaining a strong immune system.

The digestive tract is lined with millions of immune cells that work to protect your body from harmful invaders. But for these cells to function correctly, they need a healthy population of gut bacteria.

Fermented foods can help replenish this good bacteria in the gut, keeping your immune system strong and protecting your body from illness.

They May Help with Blood Glucose Balance

Another benefit of fermented foods is that they can help to balance blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels are balanced, your body can use insulin better and store glucose as energy.

It’s because fermentation helps reduce the overall glycemic load of food, which is the measure of how much a food will raise your blood sugar levels. In addition, fermentation also increases the amount of fiber in food, which helps to slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. 

When food is fermented, the sugars and starches in the food are converted into lactic acid by bacteria. It also breaks down complex carbohydrates and proteins into simpler compounds easier for the body to absorb.

In addition, the fermentation process also breaks down the sugars in food, making them easier to digest. As a result, fermented foods can help keep blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. All of this can help prevent blood sugar-related health conditions like type 2 diabetes.

They Can Boost Brain Health

The fermentation process also creates beneficial compounds like lactic acid, which help preserve food and give it a characteristic tangy flavor.

Your body also produces lactic acid during exercise, which may improve brain function and protect against neurodegenerative disorders. In addition, fermentation increases the availability of vitamins and minerals, making fermented foods an excellent source of nutrients for your brain.

The gut microbiome we mentioned also factors in here. All that beneficial bacteria that help balance the gut microbiome can also help with cognitive function and mental health. Studies have shown that people with a healthy gut microbiome have a lower risk of developing dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Additionally, the probiotics in fermented foods can improve mood and reduce stress levels. So if you're looking for some brain-friendly foods, add fermented foods to your diet.

They Help You Maintain Good Oral Health

Fermented foods are teeming with beneficial bacteria that can help keep your mouth healthy due to their antimicrobial effects. These good bacteria, also known as probiotics, compete with harmful bacteria for space and food.

As a result, they help keep harmful bacteria levels in check, preventing them from taking over and causing problems like gum disease or bad breath.

Fermented foods also help stimulate saliva production, which can protect your teeth by washing away harmful bacteria and food debris.

In addition, the acids produced by fermentation can help break down plaque and tartar buildup on teeth. So incorporating fermented foods into your diet is a great way to maintain good oral health.

How Often Should You Eat Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods have so many benefits. They contain natural digestive enzymes, add magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K to your diet, promote good gut health, improve digestion, and boost immunity. There are many reasons to add them to your diet. But how often should you eat them? Can you eat too much fermented food?

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to dietary and health care guidelines, there’s no definitive answer here. But the general recommendation is to consume fermented foods a few times per week.

It will provide your body with the beneficial bacteria it needs to stay healthy without overloading your system. And if you're new to fermentation, it's best to start slowly by incorporating a small amount into your diet and gradually increasing the frequency and quantity over time. 

Remember, some people may experience side effects when they eat fermented foods. Those with autoimmune conditions like celiac disease or digestive disorders like IBS may experience bloating.

Some people may get headaches or food-borne illnesses from more unpasteurized fermented foods. Remember to consult with a health care professional and work with a registered dietitian before adding or eliminating any foods from your diet.

10 of Our Favorite Fermented Foods

There are a variety of foods that can be classified as fermented. Perhaps the most well-known fermented food is yogurt, which is made by adding live bacteria to milk. This process gives yogurt its characteristic tangy flavor and creamy texture.

Other common fermented foods include cheese, bread, and pickles. Cheese is made by adding bacteria to milk, which causes the milk to curdle and form a solid mass.

Bread is made by adding yeast to flour, which causes the dough to rise and results in a lighter, airier final product. Sourdough bread is a favorite amongst those looking for fermented bread. Pickles are made by soaking cucumbers in brine (saltwater).

Wondering what fermented foods to start adding to your diet? Here’s a list of our favorites: 

Kombucha: Kombucha is tea mixed with added sugar that's harvested every one to two months. The result is a pleasant, fizzy beverage. Remember, some people may have a larger glucose response to kombucha, so it's important to test for yourself. 

Kimchi: Kimchi is a typical Korean dish of salted and fermented vegetables with added seasonings.

Miso Soup: Miso soup is a dish traditionally made in Japan using soybeans and dashi stock.

Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is made from cabbage fermented with lactic acid and bacteria.

Greek Yogurt: A lacto-fermented food, Greek yogurt is strained to remove excess whey. This is what gives it that characteristically thick, creamy consistency.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple Cider Vinegar is made from fermented apple juice and is often taken as a supplement, used in salad dressings, in marinades, and as a condiment.

Pickled Vegetables: Dill and cucumbers are the most common pickled vegetable, but you can pickle almost anything!

Kefir: Kefir is one of many fermented dairy products that’s growing in popularity lately. It’s made from kefir grains and consumed as a beverage, almost like a drinkable yogurt.

Raw Cheese: Raw cheese (like Roquefort and French Brie) is a fermented dairy product that is just cheese that has not been pasteurized yet.

Tempeh: Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food that is made from fermented soybeans.

Learn More About Your Nutritional Needs with NutriSense

Your nutritional needs are unique to you and depend on various factors, including your age, activity level, and even the climate you live in. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) can help take the guesswork out of nutrition by providing real-time insights into the body's needs.

When you sign up for NutriSense, you can use CGMs to monitor your blood glucose levels and track real-time responses to various lifestyle factors. Our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists helps you read and understand the data and create a personalized lifestyle plan that will allow you to reach your health goals.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
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How Rice Affects Your Blood Glucose Levels
How Rice Affects Your Blood Glucose Levels

The world loves rice. It’s a staple food in many cultures and can have various health benefits for some. But does it cause your glucose to spike?

Podcast
15
min
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Improving Fat Loss, Muscle Gain and Fitness With Continual Glucose Monitors
Improving Fat Loss, Muscle Gain and Fitness With Continual Glucose Monitors

Kara Collier and Dan Zavorotny talk continuous glucose monitors on the Mind Pump podcast.

Story
8
min
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Dry Needling: Can it Really Help with Muscle Pain?
Dry Needling: Can it Really Help with Muscle Pain?

Dry needling is a therapeutic technique used by physical therapists and healthcare practitioners in an effort to alleviate pain and help restore movement in the body. Read on to find out more.

Story
11
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Healthiest Fast Food Choices
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Healthiest Fast Food Choices

Wondering what the healthiest fast food options are?  Here are some of the healthiest choices at fast food restaurants, according to dietitians.

Story
11
min
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Here’s What a Realistic Weight Loss Timeline Looks Like
Here’s What a Realistic Weight Loss Timeline Looks Like

Many people try crash diets to lose weight fast, which may provide some short term results but don't work for the long haul. Here is a realistic timeline for healthy weight loss.

Story
8
min
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9 Great Apps to Track Nutrition
9 Great Apps to Track Nutrition

Tracking nutrition has never been easier due to instant access to nutrition tracking apps. Here are the best ones.

Story
9
min
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6 Popular IBS-Friendly Diets
6 Popular IBS-Friendly Diets

Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome, and see what popular IBS-friendly diets people follow to ease their symptoms.

Story
9
min
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What You Need to Know About Neuropathy
What You Need to Know About Neuropathy

Neuropathy, or nerve damage, can cause pain, discomfort, and interfere with daily tasks. Explore effective ways to prevent and manage it.

Story
9
min
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

Story
12
min
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13 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress
13 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress

Stress can negatively affect your entire body. Here are thirteen different ways to reduce stress in your life.

Story
12
min
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Best Physical and Mental Health Apps Available in 2022
Best Physical and Mental Health Apps Available in 2022

Here are the eleven best physical and mental health apps available in the app store.

Podcast
33
min
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Improving Metabolic Health with Carlee Hayes
Improving Metabolic Health with Carlee Hayes

On this episode of Passionate Pioneers with Mike Biselli, Carlee Hayes, Nutrition Manager at NutriSense, discusses the company’s digital platform that aims to help others discover and reach their health potential.

Podcast
40
min
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Carlee Hayes talks Metabolic Health with Rejuvenaging
Carlee Hayes talks Metabolic Health with Rejuvenaging

In this episode of Rejuvenaging with Dr. Ron Kaiser, Carlee explains how to cut through the online nutrition industry's noise, why we shouldn't look for a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition, and how CGMs work.

Story
6
min
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Fruit Juice or Whole Fruit? What You Should Pick and Why
Fruit Juice or Whole Fruit? What You Should Pick and Why

Should you be drinking your fruits? Read on to find out more about juicing, whole fruits, and why one may be better for you than the other.

Story
7
min
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Meet the Blood-Glucose Friendly Rambutan: What It Is and How to Eat It
Meet the Blood-Glucose Friendly Rambutan: What It Is and How to Eat It

Do you know what a rambutan is? Learn more about this blood-glucose-friendly tropical fruit and why you should add it to your diet.

Story
13
min
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Organ Meats: Should You Be Adding Them to Your Diet?
Organ Meats: Should You Be Adding Them to Your Diet?

Learn about the health benefits and risk factors of adding organ meats to your meals, and try our favorite recipes using these nutritional treasure troves. 

Story
6
min
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Five Cancer Research Developments of the Last Five Years
Five Cancer Research Developments of the Last Five Years

Read on to learn more about five of the most promising developments in cancer research.

Story
8
min
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A Quick Look at Meditation and Blood Glucose 
A Quick Look at Meditation and Blood Glucose 

Learn more about meditation, how it positively impacts blood sugar, and how you can start incorporating it into your routine.

Story
7
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Tasty, Nutritious Salads You'll Love
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Tasty, Nutritious Salads You'll Love

Salads don't have to be boring! Our Nutrition Team recommends nine delicious, nutritious salads to help you find your favorite.

Story
7
min
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Do You Need More Vitamin D?
Do You Need More Vitamin D?

Most people get the vitamin D they need from exposure to sunlight, but if you don't spend enough time outdoors, you may not be getting enough of this vital nutrient. Read our article to learn more.

Story
6
min
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Your Mother's Day Gift Guide
Your Mother's Day Gift Guide

Can't decide on the perfect gift for Mother's Day? Pick from a list of ideas to find a healthy, but still exciting gift this year.

Story
8
min
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Can Soy Really Prevent Diabetes?
Can Soy Really Prevent Diabetes?

Some research suggests that eating soy may reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Read on to learn whether that's true and find out more about the other health benefits of soy.

Story
9
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Celiac Disease
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Celiac Disease

Did you know that 23.5 million Americans live with autoimmune conditions? Learn more about the symptoms and causes of celiac disease and what you can do about it.

Story
7
min
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Positive Thinking May Affect More Than Your Mental Health 
Positive Thinking May Affect More Than Your Mental Health 

It's no secret that positive thinking can improve your mood and help you cope with difficult situations. Review our article to see how a positive outlook may also benefit your physical health.

Story
10
min
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

Story
8
min
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9 Unusual Health Conditions You May Not Know About
9 Unusual Health Conditions You May Not Know About

Though most of us may never encounter these, these health conditions are still fascinating to learn more about. Read our article to find out more about nine of the most fascinating, unusual health conditions.

Story
10
min
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar 
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar 

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

Podcast
17
min
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Two to 80 Employees in Just Two Years
Two to 80 Employees in Just Two Years

In this 20-minute conversation, Dan shares how he’s putting a Rockstar in every seat. And mistakes to avoid along the way.

Podcast
45
min
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Understanding how Glucose Effects our Metabolic Health with Kara Collier
Understanding how Glucose Effects our Metabolic Health with Kara Collier

Kara, registered dietitian, and co-founder of NutriSense, discusses how blood glucose levels are a core marker of metabolic health. She dives into the health consequences of fluctuating blood glucose levels, and what levels to look fasted compared to post-meal.

Podcast
57
min
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Using Real-Time Data to Improve Metabolic Health with Kara Collier
Using Real-Time Data to Improve Metabolic Health with Kara Collier

Today on the podcast, Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC, discusses revolutionizing preventative healthcare. It’s her mission to empower people with the knowledge to effectively monitor, optimize, and sustain their own metabolic health.

Story
10
min
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11 Simple and Effective Weight Loss Tips for Men
11 Simple and Effective Weight Loss Tips for Men

Losing weight is typically easier for men than women, biologically speaking, but it's still challenging! Here are 11 simple yet effective tips for losing weight for men.

Story
9
min
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What are the Best Times to Eat for Losing Weight?
What are the Best Times to Eat for Losing Weight?

Review our helpful article where we discuss the best times to eat if you are trying to lose weight.

Story
10
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Books on Metabolic Health
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Books on Metabolic Health

Whether you're looking for weight loss tips or to learn more about metabolism, a little reading material can go a long way. To help you get started, here’s some books on metabolic health, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

Story
9
min
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Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Can It Replace Your Workout?
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Can It Replace Your Workout?

NEAT can’t replace the benefits of intense cardio or strength-training workouts but like any physical activity, it has many overall health and fitness benefits. Read on to find out everything you need to know about NEAT.

Podcast
40
min
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NutriSense CGM Program Review
NutriSense CGM Program Review

On this week's episode, Shannon describes the comfort, cost, usability, and education she experienced using the continuous glucose monitor program from NutriSense.

Podcast
25
min
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Track Your Health in Real-Time with Dan Zavorotny
Track Your Health in Real-Time with Dan Zavorotny

On this episode of the Making Bank podcast, Dan Zavorotny discusses how he started the company “NutriSense” and how it reached a 150 million dollar valuation in 26 months.

Podcast
37
min
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Can a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) Help You Lose Weight?
Can a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) Help You Lose Weight?

Carlee Hayes talks to This Podcast Burns Fat! about the important role blood sugar plays in weight management.