In a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, the growing popularity of fermented foods and their alleged positive impact on digestive health were put to the test. The study, published in the journal Gut Microbiome, aimed to investigate the claims surrounding lacto-fermented vegetables—such as pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut—and their potential effects on the gut microbiome.

The researchers collected fecal samples from 23 individuals residing in the Twin Cities who frequently consumed at least one serving of plant-based fermented foods five times a week for two years, excluding dairy ferments. These samples were then compared to those of 24 individuals who rarely or never consumed lacto-fermented vegetables or other fermented foods in the past two years.

Prior to commencing the experiment, the participants’ dietary habits were thoroughly examined, and both groups were found to have similar overall diet quality, close to the national average score of 58 out of 100 on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index. 


Interestingly, the consumers of lacto-fermented vegetables had a slightly higher score of 59 out of 100, while non-consumers scored slightly lower at 55 out of 100.

Fermented plant-based food for better gut health

The findings of the study revealed that some individuals who regularly consumed fermented foods exhibited potentially probiotic bacteria and fungi in their fecal samples, likely originating from the lacto-fermented vegetables.

Regular consumption of lacto-fermented vegetables appeared to stimulate bacteria with the potential to produce butyrate, a compound known for its positive effects on gut health.

Additionally, lacto-fermented vegetables had a significant impact on the gut microbiome’s functions and the nutrients used by the microbiome to perform crucial tasks that could potentially influence overall health. 


Regular consumers showed a greater diversity of fecal metabolites (small gut nutrients) and increased production of microbial nutrients like acetate and propionate (short-chain fatty acids) known for their health benefits.

Lead author Kylene Guse, a postdoctoral researcher formerly with the University of Minnesota and now at the University of South Dakota, highlighted that the findings supported existing research demonstrating the benefits of fermented plant-based foods, particularly lacto-fermented vegetables, for the gut microbiome in individuals following a typical Western diet.

“Our findings support existing research showing that fermented foods, in this case, lacto-fermented vegetables, benefit the gut microbiome and metabolome in people consuming a typical Western diet,” Guse said in a statement.

However, Guse emphasized the need for further investigation to validate these microbiome-mediated benefits over time and to determine if consuming such fermented foods could specifically improve health issues in humans.

Assistant professor Andres Gomez, from the Department of Animal Science, further explains the implication of the findings in their study.

“Our findings have implications for health prevention strategies based on the healing power of healthy foods,” Gomez said in a statement. 

“In the future, we need to test a potential positive effect of consuming lacto-fermented vegetables in subjects with specific diseases with a known microbiome connection, such as cancer, obesity or autoimmune disease, among others,” Gomez said.  

The research team is now exploring ways to increase community health awareness and scientific literacy concerning the potential benefits of fermented vegetables and their role in maintaining gut microbiome health. 

Additionally, they are investigating the effects of consuming other fermented foods, like kombucha, to address mental health issues, as preliminary associations have been noted between gut microbes and brain function.

Importance of gut health

As the popularity of fermented foods continues to rise, this study sheds light on their potential impact on gut health and opens the door for further investigations into the health benefits they may offer to individuals with specific health conditions.


In fact, a study published earlier this year emphasized the importance of gut health early on because it can be a predictor of health issues in later life. The study found that the composition and volume of gut bacteria in toddlers at 3.5 years old can predict their body mass index (BMI) at age five. 

The study also discovered that changes in the gut microbiota that predispose individuals to adult obesity begin in early childhood. The make-up of the gut microbiota grows and changes in the first few months and years of life and disruption to its development is associated with conditions later in life including inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, and childhood obesity.

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