By the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group

Tip: Eat probiotic-rich fermented foods – like yogurt, kimchi and kefir – daily for better digestion, decreased inflammation, a balanced immune system, improved mood and a healthier weight.

Your gut is home to millions of bacteria – as many as the total number of cells in your body! These bacteria, or gut flora, play essential roles in not only your digestion, but also in your overall health and wellbeing. The foods you eat affect the composition of your gut flora – some promote the growth of ‘friendly’ bacteria, while others feed unhealthy bacteria. Fermented foods provide probiotics – or helpful bacteria – that populate your gut and help you feel your best.

Microbial Balance is Essential to Your Health

The health of your entire body and mind depends on the microbial balance within your gut. Stress, illness, certain medications, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, and other environmental factors can disrupt your microbial balance, leading to bloating and diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.   

You(r Bacteria) Are What You Eat

From the time you begin breast- or formula-feeding as an infant, the food you eat determines what kinds of bacteria flourish in your gut. High-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria. Sugary processed foods encourage the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria. Fermented foods offer a rich source of live probiotics that bathe your gut in healthy bacteria and help balance your flora.

What are Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods are made through an age-old method of food preservation – fermentation – that involves controlled microbial growth of bacteria, yeasts or molds. Probiotic-rich fermented foods include:

  • Cultured dairy products (yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, buttermilk) and cultured nondairy products (soy or coconut yogurt and kefirs) – Look for “live active cultures” listed in the ingredients and avoid yogurts with added thickeners or excess added sugar.
  • Pickled vegetables (cucumbers, green beans, beets, etc.) – Choose pickles fermented in salt water – pickles made using vinegar do not contain probiotics.
  • Kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage)
  • Sauerkraut – Choose sauerkraut from the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Canned sauerkraut is heat-processed, which kills the beneficial bacteria.
  • Kombucha (fermented sweet tea)
  • Miso (fermented soybean paste)
  • Natto (a fermented soy food)
  • Tempeh (made from cooked, fermented soybeans)

Fermented Foods Benefit Your Entire Body

Probiotic-rich fermented foods ease digestion, improve IBS and help treat diarrhea. But the benefits of these traditional foods go well beyond the digestive system – they also help regulate your immune system, reduce inflammation and insulin resistance, improve your metabolism, help you maintain a healthy weight and improve mental health.

Delicious Ways to Eat Fermented Foods

Eating one to three servings of fermented foods daily is delicious and easy with Chef Marshall’s tips:

  • Enjoy a bowl of plain yogurt with berries and nuts for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Homemade yogurt is surprisingly easy to make – Chef Marshall shows you how!
  • Drink a small glass of kombucha in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Add kimchi, sauerkraut or other pickled vegetables to eggs, grain bowls, soups, or as a condiment for almost any dish. See Chef Marshall’s recipe for Turkey Burgers, for a simple way to incorporate fermented foods into everyday meals.
  • Add kefir or yogurt to your smoothies, as part of your afternoon snack or as an after-dinner treat.

You will love the way you feel!

The Chef Marshall O’Brien Group is a dedicated assembly of professionals based in Minneapolis, Minnesota committed to the goal of using nutrition to help children and families lead happier, healthier lives.