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Fermented Foods: Nutritional Superheroes

Sep 16 2021
By Laura Roe Stevens
5 min read
Multiple jars containing various fermented foods.

Suddenly they’re showing up in restaurants and fridges everywhere – but fermented foods and drinks are more than just the latest food trend.

They can also help combat chronic inflammation and keep you healthier for life.

Chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, depression, and bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. New scientific research now shows that a diet rich in fermented foods may reduce your risk, or symptoms, for all of these. How?

Fermented foods increase diversity in the gut microbiome, referring to the trillions of live microbes in the intestinal system. This diversity is known to boost the body’s immune system. A diet in fermented foods also lowers inflammatory proteins linked to disease, according to a recent study from The Stanford School of Medicine. And for more incentive to add kombucha or kefir to your grocery list, their findings prove fermented foods act swiftly – within weeks of being added to diets – to improve overall gut health and to reduce 19 protein levels linked to inflammatory diseases.

In the clinical trial, Stanford researchers randomly assigned 36 healthy adults to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fiber foods. The high-fiber foods group did not have any significant change in microbiome diversity in the gut, or a reduction of inflammation proteins. In comparison, those who ate foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi, fermented vegetables, drinks, or kombucha teas, experienced a significant increase in overall microbial diversity. And levels of inflammatory proteins measured in blood samples decreased. One of these proteins, interleukin 6, is directly linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress-related disorders.

“Simply adding fermented foods to your diet can effectively lower inflammation and create microbial diversity, which is a key to reducing risk for many diseases. Adding fermented foods is simple to do, yielding positive results,” says Stephen Brewer, MD, ABFM, Canyon Ranch Tucson Medical Director.

What if You Don’t Like Fermented Foods?

Some people – not just kids with sweet tooths – simply don’t like the taste of fermented drinks or foods. Others don’t like the idea of them, or they tried one kind they didn’t care for and are hesitant to try others. If this sounds like you, Canyon Ranch nutritionist Jenny Flora, MS, has ideas to help.

To reap the most health benefits, Flora says, eat a fermented food or beverage every day. At the same time, she recommends reducing refined sugars and simple carbohydrates (that convert to sugar) in your diet. Other things to keep in mind, as you venture into a diet with fermented foods, is that alcohol, while officially a fermented drink, does not yield the same health benefits – sorry! Flora also suggests buying fermented foods from stores, so that they’re regulated, not homemade. Friends who make and sell their own kombucha, or pickled vegetables, often overgrow bacteria levels, Flora warns, and unknowingly create products with the “not so healthy” bacteria that we actually want to lower in the gut biome.

Ready to try fermented foods at home? Here are some expert tips for making the change:

  1. Consider adding a Greek or Icelandic yogurt, like Siggi’s, to a smoothie with your favorite fruit. This is a delicious way to introduce a fermented food.

  2. Tell resistant family members that fermented foods are safe, keep you from getting sick as often, and also make pooping easier!

  3. While all fermented foods are beneficial, be mindful to not buy yogurts with a lot of sugar, which negates the benefits to the gut biome.

  4. Add fresh sauerkraut to a meal for distinctive zest.

  5. Throw pickled vegetables into a salad with a yummy dressing.

  6. Buy a variety of flavors of kombucha, from watermelon to guava and raspberry lemon, and go for the low-sugar choices.

  7. Add kefir to an acai bowl or smoothie.

  8. Kimchi, a Korean fermented cabbage, can spice up a meal. It’s easy to add to fried rice, scallion pancakes, or udon noodles.

  9. Finally, consult a nutritionist to find pre/pro-biotic supplements that works for you and your family.

Mol Metab. 2016 May; 5(5): 317–320.

Published online 2016 Mar. 5 A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity

Mark L. Heiman1,∗ and Frank L. Greenway

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

About the Expert

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

Stephen C. Brewer

MD, ABFM, Medical Director

Dr. Brewer knows from experience that the key to balancing a busy professional life with personal wellness is to find a plan that works with your lifestyle. He is passionate about helping our guests discover that balance for themselves.

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