Traditional Fermented Foods that Boost Digestive Health

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Fermented Foods, Digestive Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Adding these traditional fermented foods to your meals will aid digestion

Naturally fermented, "live" foods teeming with beneficial bacteria have been around since the beginning of humankind. But even though our ancestors documented and reaped the benefits of lactic acid–fermented foods for centuries, most people today include little to no traditional fermented foods in their daily diets—and they're paying the price with poor digestive health.

Here are some examples of traditional fermented foods you should consider making a regular part of your diet to help boost the levels of beneficial bacteria in your bowels. And remember: When adding traditional fermented foods to your meals, the key is to eat a small portion of them on a very regular basis. Once or twice daily with meals is best.

Yogurt

Yogurt has been used for centuries to cure bowel troubles and diarrhea. In addition, regular yogurt (not the low-fat kind) contains the hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E2, which can prevent ulcers. But the type of yogurt you eat makes a difference. To make sure you choose the right one:

  • Be sure the label says the product has "active cultures." Some companies pasteurize the product after it's been made, and this kills off the remaining beneficial bacteria, making it useless.
  • Look for products made from L.acidophilus bacteria cultures. They will have the greatest benefits. Most yogurts are now made using L.bulgricus or streptoccus thermophilus.
  • Avoid yogurts containing sugar (usually the yogurts with fruit are loaded with sugar).
  • Add your own fruit. Bananas give yogurt a sweet taste and counteract the sourness. For a more consistent sweetness, try blending the banana into the yogurt in the blender.
  • You can also make your own yogurt. (And yes, you can use pasteurized milk.)

Cottage Cheese

The traditional fermented food cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and to a lesser degree, beneficial bacteria. Again, look for low salt products.

Whey

Whey is the liquid remaining after the curds and cream have been removed from clabbered milk. You can use it in soups, add it to steamed vegetables, or mix it into fruit juice or blender drinks for extra zip.

Kefir

Kefir is an excellent milk-based beverage that you can make by adding kefir grains to milk. (The grains are actually colonies of yeast and bacteria that look like cooked rice clumps. Sounds appetizing doesn’t it?) In 12 hours, about four ounces of grains added to one quart of milk will produce the beverage.

Non-Dairy Fermented Foods

If you have a bacteria imbalance in the bowels but can't handle soured milk products, try some of these other traditional fermented foods:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled cucumbers
  • Pickled garlic
  • Pickled beets
  • Pickled radish
  • Pickled corn relish
  • Korean kimchi
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Soy sauce
  • Fermented tofu
  • Naturally fermented and unpasteurized beers

Lactic Acid Yeast Wafers

Lactic acid yeast wafers work the same way lactic acid–fermented foods do, in that they help re-establish the bacterial flora of the lower bowel. If you begin to include traditional fermented foods in your diet, you probably won’t need the wafers—but the wafers can sure come in handy when you’re traveling.

During travel, especially internationally or to third-world countries, you tend to encounter a wide range of organisms your body may not be used to dealing with. If the bacteria in your lower bowel can’t deal with the new organisms, your body proceeds to flush them out as a safety mechanism, bringing on diarrhea. For adults with diarrhea, two lactic acid yeast wafers with each meal will stop diarrhea, often within the same day. (You can also read my other solutions for stopping diarrhea.) Lactic acid yeast wafers can be purchased online and through health care professionals who carry Standard Process products.

More Dr. Williams Advice on Digestive Health and Traditional Fermented Foods

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