Feed Yourself Smarter | Fermented Foods and Drinks versus Probiotic Supplements
Do I get the same from fermented foods and drinks as I would taking a probiotic supplement? Fermented foods and probiotic supplements both provide the “good” bacteria that our gut needs but are they the equivalent? Read the 3 differences and medical research to find out.
Difference between fermented foods and probiotic supplements | Which one is better for me?


Fermented Foods Vs Probiotic Supplements

19 May 2021, Posted by Angela in FYS News
Jar of shredded vegetables ready to ferment

I have been talking a lot about fermented food and drink recently which has sparked a lot of curiosity and interest. A common question is “Do I get the same from taking a probiotic supplement?

It’s a great question. And given that both fermented foods and probiotic supplements are providing the “good” bacteria that our gut needs, you might think the two are very equivalent. To be honest, that’s what I used to think.

But over the years that view has changed. Which is exactly as it should be: In the light of new insights, new research and new experiences an open mind is always going to question previously held beliefs.  Let me explain…

1. We are seeding not populating
The microbiome is the term used to describe the microorganisms as well as their activity and their environment.  When the microbiome was fully investigated and mapped out genetically I was surprised to see that good old Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species – which we see in probiotics – were not the most common bacteria. In fact, not by a long shot. Our microbiome is actually full of strains people outside of microbiology have never heard of.
We don’t take probiotics (as a supplement or in our food) to directly populate the microbiome.  They are literally a drop in the ocean compared to the numbers and diversity of other species that are and should be in our gut. What probiotics do is “seed” the growth of healthy and diverse bacterial populations.

2. Diversity matters
Diversity matters in all aspects of life and certainly when it comes to the microbiome. One of the most researched probiotic supplements in Lactobacciuls Rhamnosus. It has solid positive findings but it is a single strain of bacteria. I get it, to conduct scientific research on something we need to clearly define the action and the outcome, so researching with a single strain is necessary. Many of the probiotic products I used to recommend contained around 5 or 6 strains; these were effective and clients loved them.

Researchers from Kings College London* looked at the species of bacteria found in some common fermented foods and drinks and they found the following number of different species (and there could be many more strains within those).
Kefir – 10
Kombucha – 13
Kimchi – 13
Sauerkraut – 24

3. Food acts synergistically
Not only are there a greater number of species in fermented food, but the likelihood is that those species work synergistically with the bioactive ingredients in the food. Firstly, the fermented foods act as prebiotics, providing “food” to the bacterial population already there.
Secondly, they are adding diversity to our plate.  It is probable that in the food matrix these bacteria and their remnants are most easily able to pass through the acidic environment of the stomach and make it to the intestine.

In conclusion
All of the above findings have given me and many other experts in the health and nutrition field a fuller appreciation of fermented food.

What’s on this Week
Last week I shared a how-to video for making sauerkraut (if you missed it, click here). I have used this to start my own sauerkraut which is fermenting away in my kitchen. I am fascinated to watch it develop and to see the little bubbles of lactic acid move through it. You can follow it’s progress on my Instagram page.

Join me on Thursday 20th May at 6 pm UK for an Instagram Live with Susan Davis (@susandavis.nutrition) a fellow nutritional therapist and fermentation queen. I can’t wait to pick her brains on her award-winning kimchi and some fabulous fermented drinks I have never heard of!

In health and happiness

*Dimidi, Eirini, et al. ‘Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease’. Nutrients 11, no. 8 (5 August 2019). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081806.

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