Fermented Foods for a Fit Gut



Your clients can tone their abs and feel more positive about exercise in general by incorporating fermented foods into their routines. Share the good news!

Did you know that the human body consists of a greater number of bacterial cells than animal cells? You can thank your gut for that!

There are currently trillions of tiny creatures living in our bodies—and we should be grateful they are there. These good bacteria, particularly the species that reside in our gut, may significantly improve digestion, and guaranteeing their long-term existence is fairly simple.

The most effective way is by consuming a variety of fermented foods. These are packed with probiotics, a term used to define the good bacteria that live in the intestinal tract. Our intestines play host to as many as 500 different species of bacteria, which can be classified as those that facilitate good health (such as the ones found in yogurt, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) and those that cause harm to the body (such as Clostridia).

Harness the Power to Change

The bacteria, or microflora, that lives in fermented foods creates a protective lining in the intestines, thereby shielding against disease-causing pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli. Fermented foods lead to an increase of antibodies and a stronger immune system; they regulate the appetite and help reduce cravings for simple sugars and carbohydrates.

A study that appeared in Nature indicates that changes can happen incredibly fast in the human gut—within three or four days of altering what we consume. “We found that the bacteria that lives in peoples’ guts is surprisingly responsive to change in diet,” reports author Lawrence David, Assistant Professor at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.

“Within days we saw not just a variation in the abundance of different kinds of bacteria, but in the kinds of genes they were expressing.” While we may not be able to permanently eliminate gastrointestinal health problems, we can certainly increase the odds by striving to improve the ratio of good bacteria to harmful ones. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through the consumption of fermented foods rich in lactic acid–producing bacteria. These bacteria possess “yin-yang” qualities: they are responsible for milk turning sour, yet also for the process of fermenting vegetables.

Beneficial Bugs for Gut Health

There are four important health benefits of traditional fermented foods that clearly explain why they are so crucial to maintaining a healthy gut:

1. Traditional fermented foods help balance the production of stomach acid. Fermented foods have the unique ability to ease digestive discomfort related to having either too much or too little stomach acid. The key is to incorporate a small portion of these foods once or twice daily.

2. Traditional fermented foods help the body produce acetylcholine, a chemical that facilitates the transmission of nerve impulses. Acetylcholine helps increase bowel movements and has the ability to reduce constipation.

3. Traditional fermented foods hold an extra benefit for individuals living with and managing diabetes. In addition to improving pancreatic function, carbohydrates in fermented foods have been broken down or “pre-digested.” Unlike some of the regularly consumed carbohydrates in our diets, such foods relieve the burden on the pancreas.

4. Traditional fermented foods produce numerous unknown compounds that destroy and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

The Simple Process of Fermentation

The history and application of fermentation indicate its use as a means to provide nutritional value and medicinal properties to the foods we consume on a regular basis. This ancient practice has evolved through the years. The science behind the fermentation process is relatively simple, yet somehow mind-boggling if we consider that the end goal is to create bacteria!

When a food is being fermented, it is left to steep until its sugars and carbohydrates become bacteria-boosting agents. Some of the more popular and readily available sources are kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and yogurt.

Kefir is a fermented milk product resembling a drinkable yogurt. Its benefits include high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes, and probiotics. Regular consumption of kefir may boost immunity, ease or eliminate symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Disease), fight allergies and improve digestion.

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black tea and sugar. It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that are responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar. After being fermented, kombucha becomes carbonated and a potent source of B-vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics.

Sauerkraut, made from fermented cabbage, has a variety of beneficial effects on human health. It boosts digestive health, aids circulation and fights inflammation, a serious threat to gut health.

Commonly found in Japanese cuisine, miso is made by fermenting soybeans, barley or brown rice with the help of a fungus known as Koji. Miso has anti-aging properties and helps to maintain healthy skin.

Tempeh is created by introducing soybeans to a “tempeh starter”, similar to the process of making sourdough bread. When it sits for a day or two, tempeh becomes a firm cake-like product. This delicious fermented food contains protein quality equal to that found in meat. As such, it too contains high levels of vitamins B5, B6, B3 and B2.

Kimchi is sauerkraut’s Korean counterpart, prepared from cabbage, with a generous addition of spices and seasoning. This delicacy dates back to the 7th century and has been shown to improve digestive health.

How Does A Fermented Food Become Brain-Friendly?


A research team led by Eva M. Selhub, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, sought to explore the influence of fermented food and beverages on the health of the human body.

Their article appeared in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, and explained their results as follows: “As our knowledge of the human microbiome increases, including its connection to mental health, anxiety, and depression, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are untold connections between our resident microbes and many aspects of physiology.”

Selhub and her colleagues were among the first to purport that fermented foods might be the liaison between traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. This could potentially occur with direct communication between the gut and the brain. There might also be an indirect component, manifested as increased anti-inflammatory symptoms within the intestines.

Yet another noteworthy mechanism may be the influence of fermented food on lipopolysaccharide (LPS), large molecules that are of particular importance in depression. Laboratory findings confirm that even small increases in LPS levels can trigger depressive symptoms. Also being postulated, and slated for additional research, is the influence fermented foods may have over the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Since 90 percent of mood-regulating neurochemicals such as serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, a clearer picture of the relationship between the gut and the brain is starting to emerge.

Sharing the Significance with Clients

The scientific community is beginning to comprehend the beneficial role that “good bacteria” can play in keeping us healthy. Sadly, the pharmaceutical companies can turn a greater profit by marketing selling antibiotics and other medications. Thus, it falls upon the shoulders of allied health professionals such as personal trainers and sports dietitians to teach clients a more holistic approach. Our first focus must be creating the perfect microflora environment for the comfortable survival of “good bacteria”. Think of fermented foods as a greener approach to cleaning up the body’s internal environment!

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Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at [email protected]. She welcomes your feedback and your comments!