The importance of gut health has become a hot topic in the world of health, and for good reason. A healthy gut is a bastion of positive bacteria, productive enzymes, and immune cells that can benefit digestion and overall wellness. All food is broken down in the stomach into key nutrients that then enter the bloodstream, and without a healthy digestive system, this process is left lacking. And, unfortunately, every year 50% of Australians experience a gut or digestive illness that compromises their wellbeing (CSIRO).
Luckily, poor gut health isn’t a permanent state of being. There are plenty of probiotic supplements that can boost gut health and, better yet, there are lots of delicious fermented foods that can make a difference, too. These are some of the best fermented foods for improving immunity and gut health.
A Japanese favourite found in soups and sauces, miso is a staple in restaurants and home cooking around the world. Boasting a rich umami flavour that works as an accent or on its own, miso is a beloved flavour for many. However, most people don’t know that miso is actually derived from fermented rice or soybeans and thus offers gut-boosting benefits. It’s rich in taste and high in sodium so a little bit goes a long way, but a bowl of miso soup or a miso-based salad dressing can be a perfect healthy complement to any Asian-inspired meal. Miso is commonly sold in paste form but can come in pre-made sauces and marinades as well.
Sauerkraut isn’t for everyone, but those who enjoy this fermented cabbage dish as a hot dog topping, with a heaping pile of pierogi, or simply as a snack are well positioned to reap its gut-boosting benefits. The fermenting process makes sauerkraut a veritable goldmine of beneficial probiotics and bacteria, helping to improve digestive health significantly. Sauerkraut contains enzymes that break food down in molecules that are more digestible, allowing for improved absorption of nutrients. This can be especially beneficial for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease.
Kefir is a fermented milk and water blend that is somewhat like a drinkable yogurt. It is both high in calcium and probiotics, making it a healthy drink that can benefit your gut health as well as promote the development of strong bones. Kefir is made of milk products, which can make those who struggle to process lactose a little wary. However, kefir contains enzymes that help break down the milk sugars, making it easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance. Ideal in smoothies or on its own, kefir is a healthy and great tasting treat with plenty of health advantages.
Kombucha, a tangy and fizzy form of tea, dates back thousands of years to ancient China. In spite of its longstanding role in Eastern cultures, kombucha was relatively unknown in the West until it took the health food market by storm over the last decade. Currently, kombucha can be found on store shelves of retailers of all kinds, from specialty stores to big box outlets. Kombucha is both delicious and refreshing, but it can also be a beneficial beverage for gut health. The flavours in this sparkling tea are created through a fermentation process, resulting in the cultivation of healthy bacteria and yeast.
Sauerkraut’s Korean cousin, kimchi is a fermented relish of cabbage that offers a spicy kick from the use of seasonings like gochugaru, ginger, garlic, and jeotgal. It still maintains a sour flavour like many fermented foods but is rich and robust due to the use of strong spices. Kimchi, like most fermented foods, contains lactobacilli, a form of healthy bacteria, that aids in digestion. This process also results in the development of probiotics, making kimchi an ideal topping on sandwiches, meats, or rice dishes for those looking for digestive developments.
The rise in meat-free diets has led to a tempeh revolution of sorts. As a versatile vegetarian or vegan product, tempeh is now appearing as a meat substitute or a standalone ingredient in dishes of all kinds. Tempeh is a fermented soybean product similar to tofu. Its texture is somewhat comparable but the taste isn’t, opening up the door for creative twists on popular dishes that tofu alone can’t achieve. Tempeh is often favoured by those who don’t eat meat for its many benefits; in addition to providing good bacteria and enzymes, tempeh is also full of amino acids that make it a great source of vegetable protein.
Yogurt is a fan favourite food for far more than its gut health advantages. Popular for breakfast or a protein-packed snack for adults and children alike, this fermented milk product is smooth, creamy, and available in countless different varieties and flavours. Some forms of yogurt are made with live and active cultures, which mean that live probiotics are used in the manufacturing process. In some cases, as many as 17 billion cultures will be used to create one six-ounce cup. Similar to kefir, yogurt contains enzymes that digest some of the milk sugar present, making it a potential choice for those who are lactose intolerant. Further, many forms of dairy-free vegan yogurts are now available, giving those who don’t consume milk or animal products a way to enjoy the gut health benefits of yogurt.
As ongoing research about gut health continues to demonstrate how valuable it can be to keep your stomach in check, it’s more important than ever to find the right diet. While fermented foods may not immediately come to mind as a health-conscious choice, there are a lot of benefits associated with them. If you want to boost immunity and improve overall wellness, fermentation is your friend. Simply adding a few fermented favourites into your diet, like a little yogurt in the morning or miso dressing on your salad with dinner, can do a lot for your digestive health and help you feel your very best.