Long before probiotics became a wellness trend, ancient cultures were mastering fermented foods. They have been around for centuries, and you’ve probably been eating them your whole life without even realising.
But it’s only now we’re beginning to understand their true health benefits. Vegetables are covered in the good bacteria lactobacilli, and when you dice, grate or squeeze them, add some salted water and leave them alone, they release their natural juices. Contained in this environment, the lactobacilli multiply, transforming the mixture to a tangy, sour environment that “helps breed large amounts of good bacteria which are fantastic for your health,” says Fiona Dykes of Living Goodness.
Health experts are beginning to link microbiome creatures (bacteria found in your gut) to various health conditions, from obesity to digestive wellness. Fermented foods give your body a dose of probiotics, which are live microorganisms crucial to healthy digestion, says Dr David S. Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Fermented pickles, for example, contain vitamins, antioxidants and gut-friendly bacteria. Even common probiotic yoghurt has been linked to better gut health.
To ensure the fermented foods you buy do contain healthy probiotics, look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label. Then when you open the jar, look for telltale bubbles in the liquid, which signal that live organisms are inside the container, says Dr Ludwig.