Traditional Fermented Foods That Boost Digestive Health

Filed Under: Digestive Health, Gut Bacteria & Probiotics, Fermented Foods

a spoon of kefir grains alongside a container of milk

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.

See a list of all articles about Gut Bacteria in the Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Index


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 S 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. Look for low-salt products.


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 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 bacterial imbalance in your 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.

Read More About Gut Bacteria and Digestive Health

Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Article Index
See a full list of articles by Dr. Williams about gut flora, probiotics, and the microbiome. Read more
Gut Health and the Benefits of Traditional Fermented Foods
Learn four ways that the probiotic bacteria in naturally fermented foods support digestive health. Read more
Tips and Tools for Making Your Own Fermented Foods
Learn why store-bought fermented foods don’t deliver as many benefits as they often promise, as well as Dr. Williams’ recommended tools for making your own fermented milk-products and vegetables. Read more
How to Make Fermented Vegetables
Learn the 5-step process Dr. Williams uses for fermenting his own vegetables. Read more
How to Restore and Improve Gut Bacteria
Learn three strategies for restoring your gut health by improving the microflora residing there. Read more
9 Ways That Good Gut Bacteria Support Your Overall Health (That Have Nothing to Do With Digestion)
Learn about the wide-ranging health effects of gut bacteria, including their influence on immune health, mood, and weight management. Read more


DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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