Fabulous Ferments and why they are a Must in Your Diet

Fabulous Ferments and why they are a Must in Your Diet

Bowls filled with different fermented foods

The magic of symbiosis

Fermented foods seem all the rage today in the health food world from kamboucha to kimchee to kefir. So what’s the hype all about?

The definition of fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeast or other micro-organisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat. Say what? Basically, microbes breakdown the sugars in food, such as plant sugars or dairy lactose, into carbon dioxide, alcohol and organic acids, like lactic acid. This also includes alcohol like beer, cider, wine and spirits. This conversion ultimately fortifies the food product, leaving it rich with “good”bacteria that are essential for digestion which improves overall health. And despite some fermented alcoholic beverages containing probiotics, it is best to limit these beverages as the alcohol content is more damaging to the intestinal lining and liver than is beneficial.

Fermented foods and human culture have evolved hand in hand over the centuries and are intrinsic to human advancements. Most fermented foods developed over time, through natural symbiotic processes, usually completely accidental to human trial and error. Once fermentation was established, though, it quickly became important to the sustenance in human survival. The transformation of foods, such as dairy, soy and vegetables, made it that these food items could be preserved for longer durations of time without spoilage. This was critical for long voyages, seasonal abundance and prolonging the “shelf” life without refrigeration. Fermentation precedes written history.

Little did our ancestors know that the fermented foods they readily incorporated into their diets, out of necessity, were also foods that, today, are considered essential super foods to optimal health in a myriad of ways.

Let’s look at the gut:

Our digestive tract begins at our mouth and moves through our esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and ends at our anus, where waste by-products from our body are removed and eliminated. The entire digestive system is about 30 feet or 9 meters long from beginning to end. Whoa, that’s a big tube! The liver, gallbladder and pancreas also play a role as accessory organs to digestion, playing a critical part in the regulation of multiple functions in our body.

The digestive system is one of the most important as it is the link to everything else. Proper digestion is the foundation of all other systems in the body and when it is not up to optimal function, our entire wellbeing is compromised.

Fun fact: Did you know that less than half of your body is made up of your own cellular make up and the rest is made of foreign micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes? You are part alien! This said, you really one the good guys on your side!

This is were fermented foods find their fame! They are packed with what are known as probiotics. These are the “good” bacteria that colonize in the gut and are responsible in ensuring a healthy flora. Benefits to establishing good healthy gut flora with pro-biotic foods include:

  • Facilitates and promotes healthy digestion.
  • Begins the breakdown process of food compounds creating efficiency in our bodies to finish the job.
  • Increased absorption and utilization of nutrients in the body, including vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for optimal health.
  • Can reduce  symptoms and incidence of IBS and other inflammatory bowel disorders including leaky gut syndrome.
  • Can reduce the incidence of food allergies and sensitivities.
  • May reduce overall chronic systemic inflammation in the body and help manage auto-immune conditions.
  • Can increase overall vitality and energy due to improved uptake of essential nutrients.
  • Can help increase the uptake of B12, an important vitamin that is often supplemented, especially in vegan and vegetarian diets.
  • Helps to restore healthy gut flora avger the use of antibiotics.
  • Crowds out bad bacteria and microbial such as candida yeast and can help create a protective barrier in the GI lining against pathogens like ecoli and salmonella.
  • Is a natural way to increase good bacteria into the gut without supplementation
  • May improve overall cardio-vascular health.
  • May regulate blood lipid profiles by lowering LDL’s and increasing HDL’s.
  • Can enhance the immune system and improved overall immune response and antibody production.
  • Assists in combatting free radicals and reducing risk of certain cancers.
  • May reduce incidence of colds and flu.
  • Can improved skin health.
  • May help regulate blood sugars and can be useful for people with diabetes.
  • May reduce food cravings and help with weight management.
  • Assists in helping hit the reset button after prolonged ingestion of commercial dairy, farmed meats and processed foods which are damaging to the GI tract overall. 
  • Can improve the brain gut connection and help manage mental illness such as anxiety, depression and cognitive diseases.

Fun fact: Did you know that the majority of serotonin, a huge player in the role of emotional and mental well-being, is produced in the gut? More and more evidence is emerging indicating that the health of your digestive system is closely linked to levels of anxiety, depression and cognitive disorders. Thus the gut-brain connection.

So now that you understand the importance of adding these super fabulous ferments into your diet let’s have a look at the most commonly found fermented foods we can easily incorporate on a regular basis.

Yogurt and Kefir:

Yogurt is the most readily available and commonly consumed fermented food worldwide and may very well be the oldest fermented food in the human diet. Once upon a long time ago, there was a synergistic coming together of bacteria and milk, forging a beautiful relationship for the world to enjoy! Traditionally, yogurt was made from dairy milks but today a variety of other non dairy or vegan yogurts can be found in health food stores such as coconut, soy or nut based yogurts. 

Today, yogurt is made by adding specific live bacteria culture to milk or cream, which converts the milk sugar known as lactose into lactic acid, giving yogurt its tangy  and tart flavour.

Consider purchasing yogurt that is from grass-fed animals and labelled organic for best quality. Ensure the label states that it is an active culture and be aware some yogurt manufacturers use fillers and thickening agents to create the texture of full fat and greek style yogurts. Who needs that? Avoid yogurt that is flavoured as it is full of unnecessary added sugars that ultimately cancel out the benefit of adding yogurt to your diet. Choose, instead, to enjoy its natural flavour or create your own combo with these ingredient ideas:

  • Vanilla extract
  • Cocoa powder
  • Strong brew concentrated coffee
  • Cinnamon
  • Stevia
  • Fresh fruit
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • slivered almonds
  • Coconut chips
  • hemp hearts
  • Granola
  • Garlic  and cucumber
  • herbs and spices
  • make into ranch salad dressing
  • use as a sour cream replacement
  • use along side with salsa for Mexican foods

Kefir, like yogurt, is derived, traditionally, from milk product but has a slightly different origin story. Kefir’s fermenting agent is a small, gelatinous colony of bacteria and yeast, called a Kefir grain. Kefir has been traced back thousands of years to Russian nomadic tribes who stored there milk in animal leather bags. Over time, cultures of yeast and bacteria formed into these grains which converted the milk into a healthy, long lasting drink that was revered as magic and kept a well hidden secret from the world! 

kefir grains cannot be reproduced through human intervention and therefore, when you are consuming Kefir today, you are drinking a ferment that has been passed down from family to family and friend to friend for generations. I think that is pretty cool!

You can use Kefir as you would milk or cream. Add it to your smoothies, use it to finish a soup, add it to cream sauces, pancakes and breads, or use it on your oatmeal or cereal in the morning. It takes some getting used to the sour and tangy flavour but I believe you can do it! Like yogurt, avoid overly processed and sugar laden commercial products as they cancel out any positives to the goodness of this hero.

The benefits of consuming both yogurt and  kefir are very similar and include:

  • May not trigger symptoms of lactose intolerance for those with dairy sensitivities due to the breakdown of lactose into lactic acid.
  • High in protein.
  • Adds additional calcium, riboflavin and B12, along with other micro-nutrients.
  • Great to add after use of anti-biotic-to restore flora.

Sauerkraut and Kimchee:

Either you love them or you don’t but these are gems of pro-biotic foods! 

Both sauerkraut and Kimchee are considered vegetable ferments and are made very similarly. Sauerkraut has its origins long ago in China but is more commonly thought of as an Eastern European food. Kimchee is considered a Korean condiment, both have been around for centuries! Regardless of origin, these ferments are considered lacto ferments as they utilize the naturally occurring bacteria called lactobacillus to convert plant sugars into lactic acid and a rich profile of probiotics. 

Because lactobacillus is found in the dirt and on plants themselves, all that is required to set the fermentation process in motion is salt and water. Both Kimchee and sauerkraut are made by chopping up differing cabbages and then massaging with the right proportion of salt. This process releases the water content in the cabbage, creating its own brine. Kimchee has a few more steps in its processing and the extra flavours added, creating a spicy, salty and sour condiment incorporated into many Asian dishes. Sauerkraut can be as simple as just cabbage or can have other vegetables, herbs and spices added into it as well.

Both of these ferments are very safe and easy to make in your own kitchen, requiring the initial preparation and a cozy place on your counter top to sit and brew for a couple of weeks. What transpires is a uniquely distinct ferment that is versatile and packed with PB punch!

In addition to the already obvious benefits of fermented foods, both Kimchee and Kraut are also:

  • High in fiber
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals such as A, C, K, B’s and Iron, Copper, Calcium, Sodium, Manganese and Magnesium.
  • High in Phytonutrients.
  • Zero fat and low in calories.
  • Cabbage contains a compound called sulforaphane which is being indicated as a powerful cancer fighting agent.

Not all store bought sauerkraut is fermented. Be sure to check the label as some may simply be pickled in vinegar and have zero pro-biotic value. Don’t Bother!

Considerer adding sauerkraut or kimchee to eggs, salads, on top of crackers with hummus, or blended into your hummus, stir fries, noodle dishes, rice dishes, with meats, on sandwiches or wraps or any other dish you can think of!


There is nothing like a traditional bowl of miso soup in a Japanese restaurant! Just like their perfect green tea, I am yet to reproduce a miso soup as good at home!

Miso is a fermented paste made from a combination of soy beans and grains such as rice or barley. A fungus called Koji is introduced to the soy and grain mixture and what results is a rich, salty, umami flavour. it can be found as red, white or yellow, depending on what combination of ingredients are used and each paste has its own flavour profile. Miso that has been fermented for at least 180 days or more is considered to be good quality.

Like all the other ferments, miso is rich in probiotics but if you heat the miso to high you will lose the benefits. Be sure not to add miso to boiling water if making a soup.  Other benefits to miso are much the same as other listed ferments but it appears that miso may also have strong cancer fighting properties. It is also low calorie, fat free and full of essential micro-nutrients.


You have likely seen the popularized kamboucha beverages popping up in your local stores but what the heck is it?

Like so many other ferments, kamboucha has been around since the dawn of time, perhaps originating in China or Japan. Simply, it is fermented sweetened black tea. A SCOBY is added to the brew and left at room temperature to do its magic. A SCOBY stands for a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. And holy, is she a mother! This slimy, proliferating disc breaks down the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide giving Kamboucha its fizzy and zingy character. This reduces the sugar content in the brew but also produces alcohol in the process giving Kamboucha a vinegary flavour. The alcohol is marginal compared to specifically fermented alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, ciders and spirits. It is also considered a light caffeinated beverage as it is made with caffeinated teas. The better quality the tea the better taste in the Kamboucha! It is often flavoured with fruit flavours, mint, spices and herbs and enjoyed as a fun and tasty drink. Like its cultured cousins it is considered a pro-biotic rich drink with all the benefits that probiotics have to offer.

It is safe and easy to make at home with a few simple steps and basic sterilization to prevent undesirable microbes to free load. In a couple of weeks you can have a batch of Kamboucha ready to enjoy!

 I have had the same SCOBY mother since March 2020. A friend offered it to me just as the world went sideways with Covid. It was the perfect opportunity to experiment and was the beginning of many fermenting projects I have since grown to enjoy!

Just scratched the surface

There are so many more fermented and  cultured foods including olives, buttermilk, natto,  apple cider vinegar, raw milk cheeses, half pickles, ginger and root beers, wine, beer and sour doughs. perhaps another post?

If you are interested in introducing fermented foods into your diet, start slow. You are introducing new bacteria into your gut which could create gas, bloating and discomfort. Mix it up and eat a variety of these foods regularly as each food and beverage has different microbes that will happily and harmoniously work together in your GI tract. You can find these foods in your grocery stores, health foods stores and farmers markets or some you can even make yourself!

One last thought:

One last, but not least, very important consideration is to eat plenty of fiber rich foods. Some foods are considered pre-biotics as they contain undigestible complex carbs that create a feast for the probiotics to dine upon. If you want to maximize the benefits of these good little helpers, feed them well! Top pre-biotic foods include:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Hardy greens
  • Oatmeal
  • Ground flax
  • Seaweed

Today we are seeing a marked decrease in fermented foods in our diet as we consume way more packaged and processed foods. It is more important than ever that we find ways to add these ancient foods into our diets to restore and maintain a healthy gut flora. Our food sources are becoming more and more depleted with modern day mono agricultural practices, pesticides, GMO’s and factory farmed foods. We have also seen a rise in the use of antibiotics, which have their role in fighting dangerous pathogens, but are extremely overused in modern society. ultimately, there are more natural and sustainable ways to improve our immune systems and reduce the dependency on damaging antibiotics. we can also improve the state of our gut health which will exponentially improve the over all wellness of every system in our body from cardio vascular health, to mental health to inflammation and auto immune disease. Every path leads back to harmonious digestion!

Want to give some simple fermenting a try? This delicious Cultured Cashew Spread is easy and simple and you’ll want it again and again! Or take it up a notch with my personal take on Sauerkraut and try Karynkraut for a twist on the traditional!

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Inner Vision Health and Wellness Karyn Lawson RMT INHC