Gut health and fermented foods

Fermented foods are quite a thing at the moment. They have become very trendy and certainly on the shopping lists of those who are following the latest health trends. Fermented foods have been with us for thousands of years. Fermentation was a way of increasing the life of a food before the days of fridges, would be considered a way of making foods easier to digest as an alternative to cooking and they are tasty. Many fermented foods are very cultural and regional with a strong identity, think Kimchee and Sauerkraut as two examples.

All fermented foods have some action of microorganisms, digesting some element of the food e.g. for the case of yoghurt the lactose is digested by the bacteria creating the acidic tang of the natural yoghurt. In this way, compounds are partly broken down and this can make it easier for us to digest. In the case of someone who is lactose intolerant, fermented dairy products are digestible because the lactose is broken down for them.

Photo by Buenosia Carol on

Bread is a fermented food, the action of yeast on the sugars and starches gives us the final product. But not all breads are the same. Sour dough doesn’t use yeast, rather the action of bacteria in the starter culture. Some people who find bread difficult to tolerate find sour dough much kinder on their stomachs. The same is often said of breads from bakers who use slower techniques to make their bread, older and more traditional methods. The yeasts and bacteria break down starches in different ways giving a bread that people find easier to eat.

This is one benefit of fermented foods. This part digestion makes certain foods more digestible for us and also can make some nutrients more readily available for us to absorb. These microbes are doing some of what our gut microbes do in our gut but are giving our microbes a head start.

Some of the products that are created in the fermentation process are thought to be beneficial to our gut bacteria, promoting microbe diversity which we understand to be beneficial to health. The bacteria create prebiotics to feed our gut bacteria. There is also the thought that bacteria that are still living in the fermented foods reach our gut and survive there in a beneficial way.

The evidence is still building and there are questions on how much effect fermented foods have on our health. Many experts on gut health do recommend including them in our diet. We can say that there are some nutrients that are made more readily available after fermentation, we can say that some people find fermented foods digestible where the unfermented equivalent would not be tolerable for them and they are interesting tasty foods that maintain food culture and heritage. If you haven’t given them a go then do. Have them regularly and see if you feel a benefit. Lots of people do.

Kefir, carrot, raisin & cinnamon overnight oats


Ready overnight (10 mins prep)

Serves 2 people

Using kefir at breakfast is a way of including fermented foods in your day.  You could also use a live yoghurt of your choice. This recipe has the flavours of carrot cake – sounds weird but it works.


  • 50g rolled oats
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 30g raisins
  • 20g chopped walnuts (or other nuts)
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon (to your taste)
  • 250mls kefir.


  1. Mix the oats, kefir, grated carrot, chopped nuts and cinnamon in a container. Leave overnight in the fridge. You could use jam jars or individual sealed pots that can be taken to work.
  2. If you would like it warm then put it in the microwave for 1-2 mins.

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