But until now there has been limited research to show exactly how. Thanks to a new study done by researchers at Stanford University, we are now learning that the benefits of fermented foods may be linked to their ability to fight signs of chronic inflammation in the body.
To analyze the link between fermented foods and inflammation, the researchers randomly assigned 36 healthy adults a ten-week meal that was either rich in fermented foods (including yogurt, kefir, kimchi, vegetable rake, and kombucha) or rich in fibrous foods like vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Since both food groups have been shown in the past to support gut health and immunity, they were curious as to whether the benefits of fermented foods outweigh those of fibrous foods alone.
“To help participants make this diet change permanently and sustainably, the dietitians gave them a guide for each type of food and then allowed them to eat any food within that category that they liked and could find in their grocery store. All you have to do is instruct them to eat a total of six servings each day, ”says Hannah Wastyk, lead author of the study and PhD student at Stanford in the Biotechnology Department.
During and after the ten-week period, the researchers tracked a slew of 230 different inflammatory markers and found one striking difference: across the board, those who ate the fermented foods showed a decrease in the 19 different inflammatory proteins circulating in theirs Blood, while those on a high-fiber diet did not show this downward trend at all.
People who ate the fermented foods showed a decrease in 19 different inflammatory proteins circulating in their blood, while those who ate the high fiber diet did not show this downward trend at all.
In addition, the researchers also examined the activity of various immune cells and found that four of them showed lower activation (a signal of a less stressed immune system) in fermented food eaters compared to the same cells in fibrous food eaters.
“The reason we looked at so many different metrics is because we wanted to see this broader inflammation and immunity trend and whether it was going up or down,” says Wastyk, “because we know that with chronic diseases – on the other hand, a lower overall inflammation reflects a better immunity profile. “
Interestingly, the immersion in the inflammation did show up in some metrics for certain people within the group who eat fiber – but only for people who already had higher microbiome diversity (also known as a gut filled with different types of bacteria) at the start of the study. “These people probably already had more of the fiber-digesting bacteria in their microbiome, so they may have experienced a decrease in inflammation from dieting fiber alone,” explains Wastyk.
Take that away? Eat both fermented foods and Foods high in fiber.
If your gut microbiome is not Even in a well-balanced, diverse place, the results of this study suggest that a high-fiber diet alone may not be enough to see the decrease in inflammation the researchers found in fermented food eaters. Your best bet? Incorporate both beneficial food groups into your diet. (If you’re not consuming much of either food group as it is, just skip it and use moderation to avoid stomach or digestive problems.)
Fortunately, there are also many fermented foods that are already high in fiber. Try kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and any other form of pickled fruit or vegetables. You can also toss your next salad or platter of roasted vegetables in a miso-based dressing, or make a smoothie of a combination of fruit and kefir for a healthy dish or drink that checks both boxes. We’re particularly interested in Lifeway Kefir, which contains 12 probiotic strains, 11 grams of protein, and 30 percent of your daily calcium needs per serving, and comes in a variety of delicious flavors.
Bottom line: if you eat fermented foods to increase your microbial diversity and also consume fiber to feed all of these different microbes, you could have a synergistic benefit even greater than what we found in the study says Wastyk. Think of the two groups as partners in their efforts for gut health and inflammation control – with fermented foods possibly playing a leading role.
To learn more about how fermented foods affect gut health, watch this video:
Oh hello! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts on cult favorite wellness brands, and exclusive Well + Good content. Sign up for Well +, our online community of wellness insiders, and activate your rewards immediately.