One of the best ways to do exactly that is by upping your intake of fermented foods. But for those of us that thrive on specificity and strict guidelines, this advice comes across as relatively vague, no? This is what inspired us to wonder whether or not there is an ideal number of servings we should aim for per day and that would actually look like in practice.
- Sarah Greenfield, RD, functional medicine dietitian and founder of Fearless Fig
Find out below as we review the latest research and chat with a registered dietitian about how many fermented food servings per day is best for optimal gut health.
How many fermented food servings per day is ideal?
A June 2021 study by researchers at Stanford University found that participants who ate a diet rich in fermented foods—in which "rich" was specifically defined as consuming six servings of fermented foods daily—showed greater microbiome diversity, a decrease in 19 inflammatory proteins, and less activation of four types of immune cells within a 10-week period. What’s more, another group of participants who increased their fiber intake failed to demonstrate the same downward trend across the same inflammatory markers and immune cells.
So is six servings of fermented foods per day *really* the gold standard if you want to reap the many benefits of fermented foods?
“I think it’s a good goal, but not everyone can tolerate six servings of fermented foods daily,” says Sarah Greenfield, RD, CSSD, the founder of Fearless Fig and a dietitian who specializes in gut health and functional medicine. “Just because a study has shown a benefit doesn't mean this exact way of eating will work for everyone.”
Moreover, jumping into the six servings straight away could end up doing more harm than good for some folks—particularly those who already struggle with gut issues and other imbalances. “For example, if you have bacterial overgrowth, known as SIBO, eating fermented foods could lead to even more gas and digestive upset,” Greenfield says. “And if you have candida overgrowth, fermented foods could fuel the candida, creating more brain fog, skin irritations, and diarrhea or constipation.”
Of course, the goal of adding fermented foods to your diet is supposed to help you rather than exacerbate your wellness concerns any further. With that said, if you’d like to increase your intake of fermented foods, Greenfield says that aiming for one to two servings per day is a great place to start. If your gut agrees with that amount, feel free to pile on more pickles and Greek yogurt—just do it bit by bit. "This slow-and-steady approach will ensure that you’ll safely begin to reap the benefits of these gut-friendly food sources while minimizing the chances of reactivity," Greenfield says.
With that in mind, feel free to mix and match the following fermented foods to your gut’s content.
Serving sizes of fermented foods
The next time you’re at the grocery store (or standing wide-eyed in front of your refrigerator door), Greenfield advises keeping these fermented foods and their respective serving sizes in mind:
- Yogurt: 1 cup
- Kimchi and sauerkraut: 2 tablespoons
- Kombucha: 1 cup
- Kefir: 1 cup
- Miso: 1 cup
- Natto: 1 cup
- Pickles: 1/2 to 1 full pickle
Then, if you want to go the extra mile, she recommends being mindful of a few considerations when it comes to choosing specific fermented items. “For yogurt, make sure the label indicates that live probiotic strains are included; otherwise, you might not get as many gut-boosting benefits,” Greenfield says. In addition, she advises looking for lower-sugar kombucha varieties since high sugar intake can feed “bad” gut bacteria (in addition to working against your health goals in other ways).
The bottom line
While fermented foods offer many clinically-backed benefits for gut health—and thus your digestion, immunity, mood, and much more—you’ll need to make sure that you fit them into a healthy, balanced diet that works for your food preferences and nutritional needs. Read: Don’t load up on a half-dozen servings of kimchi and expect stronger immunity, heaps of energy, and clearer skin overnight. (Trust me; I’ve tried.)
Greenfield notes that in some cases, certain fermented foods will prove more beneficial for you than others. For instance, your body may be sensitive to cabbage. “In that case, sauerkraut would not be a good food to consume—no matter how healthy it may be in and of itself—and you should look to other fermented foods and drinks that are better for your own body,” she shares.
As for that six-serving quota? “If and only if your gut is in balance, aiming for six servings of fermented foods daily is a great goal—but again, it’s not foolproof,” Greenfield concludes. In any case, puckering up with a single serving or a few sips a day should still get your gut and overall health trending in the right direction.
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