Why You Should Be Eating Fermented Foods

Fermented foods have long been a staple in many traditional diets, but are now enjoying an increase in popularity. Why? Because eating fermented foods could be a wonderful way to naturally enhance the health of your digestive and immune systems. Fermented foods are filled with probiotics, and there is a growing awareness of the benefits of these "friendly" bacteria in maintaining optimal health. They may sound too exotic for you, but don't be put off. Here you will learn more about fermented foods and why they should become a regular part of your diet.

Bowl of sauerkraut.
Brian Yarvin / Getty Images


Fermented foods are foods that have been prepared in such a way that the bacteria naturally found within them starts to ferment. Fermentation is a chemical process in which microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeasts, and their enzymes break down starches and sugars within the foods, possibly making them easier to digest. The end result is a product that is filled with helpful organisms and enzymes. This process of fermentation is a natural preservative, which means that fermented foods can last a long time.

Health Benefits

Fermented foods, because they are filled with healthy probiotics and enzymes, are thought to:

  • Enhance digestion
  • Balance the gut flora
  • Help to fight off disease-producing microorganisms
  • Produce nutrients
  • Boost the immune system

There are several advantages of consuming fermented foods, as opposed to taking a probiotic supplement:

  • You are getting probiotics in a natural way.
  • You are guaranteed to get live strains.
  • You are getting more strains than those isolated in a laboratory.
  • You are getting a variety of strains, thus improving the likelihood that you are giving your system what it needs.
  • Fermented foods are significantly more affordable than many probiotic formulations.

Role in Addressing Digestive Symptoms

If you have chronic digestive problems, including IBS, some people believe that fermented foods may be a great dietary option: they enhance the digestive process and have a positive effect on gut flora, thus reducing problematic digestive symptoms. In addition, because the sugars in the vegetables or milk products are already fermented, consuming these products may result in less gas and bloating.

If you are following a low FODMAP diet, you'll want to check the Monash University app or website to learn about the FODMAP content of specific fermented foods.

It has been theorized that eating fermented foods may reduce the risk of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition that results in IBS-like symptoms.

How Are Foods Fermented?

Many fermented foods are made by adding a starter culture of bacteria to food. Thus, yogurt and kefir are made when a culture is added to milk, while kombucha is made when a culture is added to a sweetened tea.

Fermented vegetables are created by shredding or cutting the vegetable into small pieces, which are then packed into an airtight container with some saltwater.

Recommended Foods

The best fermented foods are the ones that you enjoy! There's a wide variety to choose from.

Cultured Dairy Products

Even if you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to enjoy cultured dairy products, since the bacteria within these products have already broken down the offending lactose:

  • Cultured buttermilk
  • Fermented cottage cheese
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt

Non-Dairy Alternatives

These products are a good option if you think you have a sensitivity to dairy products:

  • Coconut kefir
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Soy kefir
  • Soy yogurt

Fermented Beverages

Note: Some fermented beverages contain trace amounts of alcohol. Read labels carefully so that you know what you are drinking.

  • Kombucha
  • Kvas
  • Rejuvelac

Fermented Vegetables

Here are some examples of popular vegetables for fermenting—make your own: fermented carrots, lacto-fermented green beans, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), fermented radishes, and natoo (fermented soybeans).


Kimchi is a fermented dish that is an important part of a traditional Korean diet. Kimchi consists of a mix of a variety of vegetables and spices. Cabbage is typically the main ingredient, as is some fish. Here are some dish ideas for kimchi:

  • Homemade Kim Chee
  • Baechu Kimchi
  • Oi Sobaegi

How to Incorporate Fermented Foods Into Your Diet

You can choose to make your own fermented foods, or purchase them from stores that specialize in natural foods. Make sure to purchase products that are raw and unpasteurized, sincethe pasteurization process kills the very bacteria that you are seeking!

Typically, fermented foods are consumed with meals as a condiment. When adding fermented foods to your diet, start slowly to allow your body time to adjust. No need to rush—fermented foods can be stored in your refrigerator for six to eight months.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Melini F, Melini V, Luziatelli F, Ficca AG, Ruzzi M. Health-Promoting Components in Fermented Foods: An Up-to-Date Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(5). doi:10.3390/nu11051189

  2. Harvard Medical School. Fermented foods can add depth to your diet. July 2018.

  3. Monash University. Your complete on-the-go guide to the FODMAP diet.

  4. Harper A, Naghibi MM, Garcha D. The Role of Bacteria, Probiotics and Diet in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Foods. 2018;7(2) doi:10.3390/foods7020013

  5. Silanikove N, Leitner G, Merin U. The Interrelationships between Lactose Intolerance and the Modern Dairy Industry: Global Perspectives in Evolutional and Historical Backgrounds. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):7312-31. doi:10.3390/nu7095340

  6. Kim MS, Yang HJ, Kim SH, Lee HW, Lee MS. Effects of Kimchi on human health: A protocol of systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(13):e0163. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000010163

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.