Functional Foods: Fermented Dairy Foods for Health

Top 5 Foods for a Healthy Gut

fermented milk: kefir

1. Kefir,

a fermented milk drink

fermented milk: greek yogurt

2. Greek Yogurt,

a thick yogurt with probiotics

fermented dairy foods: cottage cheese

3. Cottage Cheese,

also known as curds and whey

fermented foods: kimchi

4. Kimchi,

seasoned, fermented vegetables

fermented foods: miso

5. Miso,

a fermented paste

The human digestive tract has trillions of bacterial cells that make up what is called the gut microbiome. Consuming fermented foods with live cultures, like yogurt, can add “good” bacteria to your microbiome.

But not all fermented foods contain probiotics. According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. For a fermented food to be considered a probiotic, it must have both enough living microbes and show a proven health benefit. Many yogurts are examples of fermented foods that are considered probiotics.

What are Fermented Foods?

fermented dairy foods

Between fad diets, workout routines, and an every-growing list of supplements, Americans are looking for the best way to take control of their health.

In addition to practicing well-studied health habits, such as getting adequate sleep and exercise, and managing stress, nutrient-rich food plays a role in keeping us healthy. In 2019, according to dietitians surveyed regarding “What’s trending in Nutrition,” fermented foods, including yogurt and kefir, were voted the number one superfood trend. But fermented foods are not new; they have been around for centuries and can be used to help boost your health today.

If you eat yogurt, kefir, sourdough bread, or kombucha, you are already including fermented foods in your diet! Fermentation is the breakdown of carbohydrates, like starch and sugar, by bacteria and yeast. The process was first used for preserving foods but became less popular as refrigeration and pasteurization came about. Today, we look to fermentation for its ability to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics.

There are many benefits to consuming fermented foods. They can be a source of live and active “good” bacteria, improve taste, texture, and digestibility, increase vitamins, and increase food’s shelf life. Fermentation can also change the taste and texture of the food. For instance, yogurt and kefir are thicker and tangier than milk due to fermentation.

Read More on Fermented Foods

Benefits of Fermented Foods and Probiotics

Fermented foods are also known as functional foods, meaning they have potential benefits beyond basic nutrition. Research has shown that fermented foods may reduce heart disease risk and aid digestion, immunity, and weight loss. There is a body of research that links fermented dairy foods, like yogurt and cheese, along with non-fermented dairy products to reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes, which is estimated to affect 552 million people worldwide by 2030.

This year, in particular, as well as this time of year, with cold and flu season upon us, we are looking for ways to better support out immune system. The healthy bacteria found in fermented foods may be a way to do just that.

A perfect example of functional foods in action is fermented dairy foods. In addition to the immune-enhancing vitamin D provided by dairy foods, studies show an association between yogurt consumption and an improved gut immune response. Yogurt aids in the digestion of lactose, making it a good choice for those with lactose intolerance.

Fermented dairy contains compounds that are being investigated for anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-hypertensive properties–which are important for preventing certain chronic diseases. 

Some studies show that the breakdown of dairy proteins through fermentation may create substances that improve blood pressure control. Dairy remains an important component of the DASH eating pattern, which recommends up to three servings of low-fat dairy per day to help improve blood pressure control. While more studies are needed to fully realize the impact of fermented foods on our health, a daily does for digestion can do a body good.

How to Add More Fermented Foods to Your Diet

There are plenty of ways to incorporate fermented dairy foods into your daily routine! Research shows that most Americans eat a breakfast low in protein, while dinner tends to be protein-heavy. Instead, aim for protein at every meal. Milk at meals is a nutritious choice, providing 13 essential nutrients and 8 grams of high-quality protein, and adding fermented dairy takes it up another notch.

  • Eat yogurt that contains live, active cultures daily.
  • Add yogurt or kefir to smoothies, granola, and oatmeal.
  • Make dips, sauces, and marinades out of cottage cheese with live, active cultures.

Recipe Suggestions