The Benefits of Fermented Foods

Try these natural probiotic foods for anti-cancer properties, metabolic health and much more.

| January/February 2017

What if I told you that you could take everyday foods and transform them into delicious superfoods, at home in your kitchen with minimal effort and almost no money? It’s true! Simply by transforming regular foods such as vegetables, nuts and beans into fermented delights such as sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi, we can significantly increase their health-building properties.  

Exciting new research shows that fermented foods, and the beneficial probiotics they contain, can have impressive health effects, some of which include boosting our immune systems, increasing our energy levels and athletic performance, and even preventing and healing many diseases. It’s no surprise that fermented foods are the hottest topic in the field of healthy eating right now.  

The Classic: Yogurt

Everywhere I turn, I see advertisements, commercials and articles about the health benefits of yogurt. And while there is no question that yogurt is one of the most commonly enjoyed fermented foods, it’s important to focus on quality. Many commercial yogurts are loaded with additives including sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dyes and gums. Choose plain, whole-fat yogurt, ideally made with milk from pasture-raised cows (if buying dairy-based yogurt). Check labels for an indication of the live bacteria present in your carton. Some of the most healthful bacteria include Lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. casei and Streptococcus thermophilus. It’s also very simple to make your own yogurt using a yogurt maker, which are available for about $30. Most research has focused on fermented cow’s milk yogurt, but there’s reason to think that nondairy fermented yogurt offers health benefits, too. Look for yogurts made from the milks of coconut, soy (choose organic only as soy is heavily genetically modified), almonds or cashews. Any of these can be good options, provided they contain live probiotic cultures.  

Here are a few excellent reasons to enjoy yogurt on a regular basis.  

Respiratory Infections:

The British Journal of Nutrition found that the probiotic strain L. casei, found in most yogurt with live cultures, reduces the duration of respiratory infections and severity of nasal congestion linked with these infections among the elderly. 

Gastrointestinal Health:

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition assessed the effects of yogurt consumption, using a product containing live L. casei cultures, on common infectious diseases in shift workers, including respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. The researchers found that the yogurt consumption could reduce the risk of these infections. Other research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology showed that yogurt consumption helps fight H. pylori infections. 


Eating yogurt that contains L. casei has been found to have anti-cancer effects in animal studies, according to a study published in the medical journal Immunobiology. The research showed that the probiotic strain blocked tumor development or delayed its growth while improving immune response so the body’s immune system could attack the tumor. Additionally, it reduced the number of blood vessels that fed the tumor. 

Brain Health:

The last thing we probably think of when eating yogurt is how it may be helping our brains. But according to an animal study presented in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, consuming whey (the liquid byproduct of yogurt production) can actually improve learning and memory. Most yogurt, especially thinner or homemade varieties, tends to contain residual whey. 

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