If you’ve been reading the health news lately, I’m sure you’ve heard of fermented foods. And if you haven’t, then you’re about to learn all about this latest food trend. Fermented foods are so popular since they contain good bacteria that can be great for gut health. And if you have a digestive condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these gut-friendly bacteria can improve symptoms and quality of life. So, let’s talk about the basics of fermented foods so you can add some of these digestive-friendly dishes to your healthy eating regimen.

What are fermented foods?

Fermentation is a way of minimally processing foods to help lengthen their shelf life. Not only that, but when food is fermented, it adds a slew of health benefits and a varying flavor profile.  This process basically involves adding a strain of bacteria to a food item that in turn converts the sugar to either lactic acid or alcohol. The result is a food or drink item that contains some good bacteria, or probiotics that can benefit gut health as well as provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic properties.


Some popular fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt, which are created through the process of lacto-fermentation. This process involves bacteria being added to a food source and converting the sugar in the food to lactic acid. Lactic acid gives the food item a tangy flavor and acts as a preservative. Cabbage already contains lactic acid bacteria, so you can make sauerkraut from cabbage just by adding salt. However, to create yogurt, you must add a starter culture to milk.

Alcoholic fermentation

Alcoholic fermentation is another form of fermentation. This process involves adding yeast bacteria to a food or drink item that converts sugar to alcohol. Wine, beer, and spirits are commonly known examples of this, but are not exactly the healthiest fermented food you can consume.

However, there is a popular drink known as kombucha made by this process that could provide some gut0friendly bacteria benefit. This drink starts off as sweetened tea that is fermented by the addition of bacteria and yeast that converts the sugar into alcohol. However, this drink is typically very low in alcohol at around .5%, which is why it can be sold in stores that typically do not sell alcohol. Health benefits of kombucha include polyphenols from the tea, which are antioxidants. Kombucha also includes B vitamins as well as organic acids like acetic acid that provide antimicrobial power.

How to add fermented foods to your diet

Fermented foods are not typically found in the average kitchen pantry. Therefore, to add some healthy bacteria to your diet, try out some of the following fermented food items.

  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Miso
  • Soy sauce
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Sausage
  • Sourdough bread
  • Olives

It is important to remember though to check the nutrition label before purchasing fermented food items. This is because some fermented foods that you may find in jars or cans may have been pasteurized or cooked at high heat that could have killed off the good bacteria. Therefore, look for the term “live cultures” on the label of fermented food items. Another option is to make your own pickles or sauerkraut to retain the good bacteria benefits.

Take home message

Fermented foods can be a great way to improve gut health while enjoying some new delicious food choices. You can also find these healthy probiotics in innovative products like probiotic oatmeal or supplements that contain probiotics as well as prebiotics that feed probiotics and help them flourish in your gut. Add fermented foods and other probiotics in your diet today for optimal gut health.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD from LighttrackNutrition.com

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