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Let’s Talk Trends: Fermented Foods

Kombucha, kimchi, yogurt – you likely know what these trendy foods have in common beyond their naturally sour taste. They’re fermented, and they’ve attracted a lot of attention because of their potential health benefits for your gut.

What exactly does it mean for something to be fermented? Fermented foods and beverages are those broken down by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms. The presence of these “friendly bugs" is key to why fermented foods may be good for us. 

Your digestive system is filled with both good and bad bacteria. Most of the time, the good bacteria, or probiotics, battle the bad stuff, keeping you from getting sick and leading to better gastrointestinal health. Some fermented foods are considered a good source of probiotics, which helps support your digestive health. 

Probiotics in fermented foods can help maintain a healthy bacterial balance. For instance, some research suggests that yogurt may be helpful to combat certain side effects when taking antibiotics.

They may also do the following, according to the American Gastroenterological Association:

  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Help fight infection and illness
  • Keep your skin and nervous system healthy
  • Encourage the growth of other bacteria that can make you healthier

As with any foods, though, it’s smart to look beyond the hype. Are fermented foods really a cure-all for digestive and other health issues?   

Andrea Leary, nutrition operations manager for Optum, said while fermented foods may have potential health benefits, the research is still evolving. 

“Go ahead and enjoy fermented foods, and while they certainly aren’t harmful, don’t think of them as a cure-all,” she said. “Many factors play a role in overall digestive and other health issues.” 

The bottom line: More research is needed. If you want to see if fermented foods may help your health, though, try some that are rich in probiotics: naturally fermented (refrigerated) pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, yogurtmisotempeh and kombucha.