Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

The Best Fermented Foods to Add to Your Diet

The Benefits Of Fermented Foods And Why They Are Your Eating Priority
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson
Last Updated on

The evidence is clear: Fermented foods are making a big comeback.

The health benefits of fermented foods are hard to ignore, as they provide benefits to our guts that modern processed foods simply can't match.

In fact, the billions of tiny bacteria that make fermented foods their home can have big impacts on our bodies, including aiding digestion, boosting immunity and possibly even help you lose weight.

This secret food group might make all the difference in your healthy living plan.

However, the average American knows almost nothing about fermented foods. Where do they come from? What kinds are best to eat? And is all that bacteria REALLY helpful for our stomachs?

Don't worry.

​We've done all the research about the benefits of fermented foods to that you don't have to, and we'll share our top tips about how to get more of these beneficial microbes into your diet.

If you're ready to make some big changes for the healthy of your gut, then come along as we dive deeply into the fascinating world of fermented foods.

What Are Fermented Foods?

Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance through enzymes that are provided by bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms.

Oftentimes foods are given an inoculate of these enzymes to start the fermentation process.

Essentially, when a food is fermented it is left to sit in a microbial rich mixture until the sugars and carbs are slowly broken down through the munching of hungry bacteria.

Kimchi!

Fermentation is a process in which food is exposed to bacteria and yeasts.

The breakdown of lactose and other sugars through these substances makes fermented foods easier to digest for the human body, and once inside you they even help to break down toxic microorganisms like E. coli.

​Fermentation also preserves vegetables for longer periods of time because it prevents the process of decomposition from taking place. In many cases, vegetables are fermented through the process of being submerged in salty brine which kills off dangerous pathogens before the healthy bacteria have a chance to munch on them.

​The natural sugars and carbs are slowly turned into lactic acid, which is the substance that gives pickles their distinctive sour taste.

Other forms of fermentation can be done with dairy products and even soybeans. In many ways, the potential of fermentation is limited only be your imagination.

​What Are The Health Benefits?

The benefits of probiotic-filled fermented foods are almost too numerous to list here.

These products are nature's super foods, filling your gut and immune system with exactly what you need to stay as healthy as possible.

Below are some of the top nutritional and health advantages that eating a diet of fermented foods will give you.

There are many healthy benefits when it comes to fermented foods.

Probiotics in your food makes your meals easier for your gut to digest.
  • Good Source Of Probiotics - Eating probiotics provides your body with plenty of benefits, including a protective lining in the intestines and less susceptibility to pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. A diverse digestive system is a healthy digestive system, meaning that probiotics in your food makes your meals easier for your gut to digest, allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food and makes you healthier, less bloated and thinner. (1)
  • Full Of Important Nutrients - Many fermented foods are fantastic sources of the essential nutrients we all need to stay healthy, including vitamin K2 which is essential for avoiding the build up of plaque in your arteries. Fermented foods are also full of B vitamins, calcium, iron and dozens of other beneficial substances.
  • Optimized Immune System - Your stomach contains four fifths of your immune system, so keeping it in tip-top shade should be a priority. Eating a diet full of probiotics can help you to keep the beneficial bacteria in your gut diverse enough to take out any pathogens that are present, which can help reduce your risk of contracting horrible disease or even developing cancer.
  • Good For Detoxification - Fermented foods are full of beneficial bacteria that can help detoxify your body and draw out the toxins and heavy metals that a modern lifestyle can cause you to suffer from.
  • Growth Of Healthy Bacteria In The Gut - When fermentation occurs, lactic acid is produced. The lactic acids help the current healthy bacteria in the gut to proliferate, which essentially means the growth of healthy bacteria - leading to a better gut!

​These good bacteria—particularly those in our gut—may improve digestion, boost immunity and help us maintain a healthy weight. Research is still emerging on just how important these mighty microbes might be for our health, but the early results are promising. Take care of your gut, and in turn, it will take help take care of you.

​Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
​EatingWell              

The Best Fermented Foods 

Fermented foods have been an essential part of diets from around the world for years, meaning that there are dozens of options for you to try or even make at home.

You don't have to limit yourself to pickles or sauerkraut (though both are delicious!) because an entire world of fermented food potential awaits your experimentation.

Below are our top fermented foods list enjoyed around the world and some tips you can follow to ensure you enjoy them.

If you're doing keto, it's worth noting that some of the sugars in fermented foods will be taken care of by the yeast, which can result in a more sour flavor sometimes.

  • Kombucha - Kombucha can be drunk both for pleasure and as a health drink to help fight off E. coli and Staph bacteria from your digestive tract. Studies have also shown that kombucha can help with weight loss, increase energy levels and act as a general detox solution for the entire body. (2)
  • Sauerkraut - Not only is sauerkraut good for you and is a healthy way to inject some probiotics into your diet, it's also a way to prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading. It's also full of beneficial vitamins like vitamin A, C, K, B and iron, calcium and magnesium. For the best benefits, make sure to buy raw sauerkraut or make your own.
Kombucha tea in glass jars

Kombucha is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast.

  • Yogurt - The benefits in yogurt come from its rich probiotic content and the billions of live cultures present within every cup. Eating yogurt regularly can help your digestion and might even help clear up your skin. Be sure to get yogurt that actually contains live, active cultures and avoid low-fat and flavored varieties that are pumped full of unhealthy sugars to make them sweeter.
  • Kefir - Originally from Eastern Europe, kefir has long been an easy way for people to reduce irritation in their intestines and prevent toxins from entering their blood steam. You'll feel benefits from its levels of vitamin B12, calcium, numerous enzymes and more. When drunk regularly, kefir can help your body boost its immune system, heal irritable bowel disease and even build up your overall bone density.
Woman making kefir

Kefir - an easy way to reduce irritation in your intestines.

  • Kimchi - As a form of spicy sauerkraut, kimchi is made from fermented Asian cabbage and plenty of spices. Not only does it add a delicious kick to your favorite dishes, kimchi has also been linked to better colon health, a more robust immune system, glowing skin and weight loss. (3)
  • Lassi - Our very last mention on our list of fermented foods is the Indian cuisine, Lassi. It is a fermented dairy product made by combining yogurt with milk and fruits and spices in order to create an easily digestible, probiotic rich drink that is traditionally drunk before meals to prevent stomach problems while eating.
Holding kimchi with a fork

Kimchi is traditional Korean side dish.
  • Tempeh - Tempeh is highly popular in vegan recipes and is a smart way to get all the amino acids needed for complete proteins as well as your daily dose of iron, magnesium and calcium. Because it's fermented, tempeh is easier to digest than other soy products which makes it a great choice for anyone that has a sensitivity to soy milk and other processed soy products.
  • Natto - Natto can also help your body digest vitamin K2 as well as calcium, iron and dietary fiber. When combined with vitamin k2, the nattokinase in natto works as anti-clotting agent that keeps your blood pressure levels low enough to be safe. The texture is a bit "snotty", so it may not be the best option for breaking a fast (see here for everything you need to know about fasting).
Cutted tempeh on a table

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia.

  • Pickles - When made through a lacto-fermentation method, pickles are full of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants and beneficial bacteria. Best of all, eating pickles can help you keep your vitamin K levels high enough as a single pickle contains almost 20% of your daily value. (4)
  • Miso - Just a little of this boldly flavored condiment is needed to transform the taste of a dish and provide you with plenty of health benefits, including a stronger immune system, a lower risk of cancer, stronger bones and a healthier nervous system.
Everyone loves a pickle, don't they?

Are Probiotic Supplements Good?

It's always better to get your nutrition from food instead of pills, but some people find that no matter how hard they try they simply can't stomach the taste of fermented foods.

When looking for a high quality probiotic supplement, make sure that that the bacteria strains are advertised as being strong enough to survive your stomach acid and that they actually have health promoting features (not all bacteria is created equal!)

A bottle of probiotic supplement

Always look for a high quality probiotic supplement.

Make sure that the supplement also has a long shelf life and won't go bad within a few days of you opening it.

​How Often Should You Eat Fermented Foods?

To get the most benefit of fermented foods, try to include them in most of your meals throughout the week - even better if you can include it in every meal.

When it comes to drinks (kefir, kvass, and kombucha), a few sips to a half cup is more than enough.

​How Can I Add It On My Diet?

When people first learn about the benefits of ferments they often get so excited that they shock their system by eating more than ten times the recommended dose.

The key to success is to introduce fermented foods into your diet slowly. 

After a few weeks at a tiny dose level you can increase the amount that you eat everyday to see if you experience an improvement in your body.

A couple of jars with fermented vegetables

Once you start experimenting with ferments you'll never want to go back.


​Cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk) are naturals for breakfast. Add yogurt, kefir or buttermilk to your morning smoothies or top granola or oatmeal with fruit and homemade yogurt.

​Cultures for Health

The Bottom Line On Fermented Foods

The evidence is clear; fermented foods are full of total body benefits and will help every part of your body from your gut to your immune system.

To keep yourself healthy and full of body-aiding bacteria, it is important to incorporate some fermented foods into your diet.

You don't need a lot; even a few tablespoons of sauerkraut added onto your sandwich can make a big difference for the health of your gut.

Once you start experimenting with ferments, you'll never want to go back.

Best of all, these unique foods are often even easier to make than they are to find on store shelves, so you'll get to enjoy the fun and creativity that comes from creating healthy foods to keep your body running well.


​References

​1. Taylor Norris, Alan Carter, PharmD, What’s the Connection Between Probiotics and Digestive Health?, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/probiotics-and-digestive-health
2. Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT, Eight potential benefits of kombucha, retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319630.php
3. Myung-Sunny Kim, PhD, Hye Jeong Yang, PhD, Soon-Hee Kim, PhD, Hye Won Lee, PhD, and Myeong Soo Lee, PhD, Effects of Kimchi on human health, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895381/
4. Alina Petre, Everything you need to know about pickle juice, retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318618.php

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

  • Fermented foods are great but one should look into many aspects such as sodium. Salt fermented foods contains high amount of Sodium, for example like Kimchi. Fermented and probiotic foods like Kefir, Kombucha actually is very beneficial. It will add beneficial bacteria to the body. So not all fermented foods qualify as probiotic, and not all probiotics take the form of fermented foods.

  • Not really much into eating fermented food, tbh but I guess I have to try it out. Good bacteria = good gut health just like what you say.

  • >