We cannot write-off pasteurized ferments as the dead, less healthy cousin to its unpasteurized, live relative. All fermented foods provide health benefits, pasteurized or not. We also need to avoid getting caught up in superfluous health claims around fermentation’s benefits. Instead, we should focus on including fermentation as part of a regular diet.

David Zilber explored how the microbial transformation of food intersects with our gut microbes during Stanford University’s Center for Human Microbiome Studies Fermentation & Health Speaker Series. With growing scientific interest in fermentation – and increasing interest from consumers – the health benefits become cloudy in marketing claims.  

“If you eat regularly foods full of life, life that lives regularly in the foods you consume but also inside of you, then you can be said to be a ranger taking care of a healthy forest,” Zilber said. “The health benefits of fermented foods should equally be viewed as being meaningful when they turn into a regimen, like exercise.”

Health Claims

A 2021 study by Stanford researchers published in the journal Cell found regularly eating fermented foods boost microbiome diversity, improves immune response and decreases inflammation. But marketing of fermented products is often shrouded in hearsay.

“As far as health claims go…(there are) sometimes outlandish claims made by Westerners about cure-all superfoods that disproportionately, and I quote from one study I found, ‘Seemed to benefit the individuals that sell them the most,’” Zilber said.

Take kombucha, for example. He rattled off a list of health problems kombucha founders have claimed the fermented tea has cured, from AIDS to cancer to constipation.

“The problem is that all these claims seem to come, in one form or another, from anecdotes of people who drink kombucha and have lived a life,” he added. They’re not researched in reputable cohort studies. “This is why it’s sometimes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to fermentation. The people who want to believe the benefits only decry its Praises when a positive correlation is made but they also tend to speak the loudest.”

Zilber pointed out that consuming fermented foods, whether or not it’s a product with proven health benefits, is certainly still beneficial. Eating fermented foods regularly means “you’re also omitting a whole slew of other foods” prevalent in a Western diet, like highly-processed and chemically-preserved foods.

“If you put kimchi on your plate at dinner, you leave off mashed potatoes. If you use water kefir as your drink with it, you aren’t drinking Coke,” he said. “And that’s an important link we also can’t forget, when it comes to thinking about the health benefits of fermented foods, they are in many means inherently healthy.”

Many cultures have fermented for thousands of years to preserve food. In Tibet, yak herders rely on cultural wisdom passed down from generations to ferment yak’s milk for milk and butter. 

“We’ve evolved alongside our microbes both evolutionarily and culturally,” Zilber added. “To Tibetans their folk knowledge of what leads them to Long lives and health is intrinsically tied to the practices of preservation that have allowed them to thrive in some of the most rarified air on Earth.”

Pasteurized vs. Unpasteurized

What about purchasing pasteurized vs. unpasteurized ferments? Unpasteurized ferments include live microbes, but that doesn’t mean pasteurized ferments aren’t healthy.

“Sometimes in cooking, if you’re looking to achieve a great flavor, sometimes you have to kill microbes because you have to pasteurize them for whatever number of reasons,” Zilber added. But it doesn’t mean that the food is somehow not worth eating, it just means that it’s not live, but it still contains lots of benefits. … There is a benefit to consuming something that microbes have lived through, even if it’s not pasteurized.”

Elisa Caffrey, the speaker series host and a Stanford PhD candidate, agrees. The benefits of unpasteurized ferments have not been studied. During fermentation, Caffrey notes, the microbes are producing metabolites still present during pasteurization. A complete study would characterize the metabolites over the course of the fermentation process, identify chemical compounds and then analyze the compounds for their benefits. 

“That landscape we don’t understand at all and it’s a very, very interesting world to start exploring,” she said. “Until we start understanding all the different components of these foods and the way that they interact with not only the microbes in fermented foods with each other but also with the body, it’s really hard to then make these very generalized health claims.”
Caffrey, Zilber and Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford, host the Fermentation & Health Speaker Series. The series will explore the topic over the next few months with different speakers ranging from a scientist, food researcher and pickle producer. Registration is free.

Fermentation is Not a Trend

Fermentation intersects several major food movements – it’s natural, artisanal, sustainable, innovative, functional, global, flavorful and healthy. Now is an ideal time in the food market for fermentation producers.

“Fermentation is not a trend. It’s experiencing a resurgence, a renaissance,” says Amelia Nielson-Stowell, editor for The Fermentation Association. “Fermentation never went away. It just became less of a common type of food craft, especially in the U.S. where Americans became accustomed to other types of food processing.”

Nielson-Stowell was a speaker at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas. Her remarks touched on growth opportunities and challenges for the fermentation industry. It was well-received by the audience. Two food business news magazines wrote articles about it. The show’s keynote speaker, author Paco Underhill, was also in attendance and brought up Nielson-Stowell’s presentation during his keynote.

Fermentation is a growing industry, slated to reach $846 billion in global sales by 2027. Kvass, pickles, kimchi and hard cider are the products experiencing the largest growth. 

There’s no denying fermentation’s popularity – “there’s widespread scientific agreement that eating fermented foods will help the microorganisms in your gut.” But reputable clinical trials proving the health benefits of fermented foods are few and far between because they’re incredibly expensive. There are plenty of studies on the health benefits of yogurt because there’s a lot of money in the dairy industry. Other ferments don’t have the monetary backing.

Nielson-Stowell points to the 2021 Stanford study as a “watershed moment” in fermentation. It’s one of the first clinical trials proving diet remodels the gut microbiota. The research, published in the journal Cell, found a diet high in fermented food like yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, kimchi, kombucha, fermented veggies and fermented veggie broth led to an increase in overall microbial diversity. 

“This microbiome world we are in right now is a real opportune time to talk to consumers about fermented foods and health,” Nielson-Stowell said. “Humans have long consumed fermented foods for thousands and thousands of years, but now we have the scientific techniques to dive into fermented foods and analyze their nutritional properties, their microbial composition and better understand how they may improve a person’s health.”

Educating consumers is another major challenge. Nielsen-Stowell encourages brands to focus on simple messaging, then delve deeper into the science on their webpage for consumer’s that want to know more about the intricacies of their food. 

“Many consumers are confused about fermentation. They know it’s good for them, but they don’t understand why or what products are fermented,” she said. 

Tradition, too, should be shared.

“Fermented foods have a unique story to them compared to other foods,” she adds. “Every culture in the world has a traditional ferment. We are here today because, thousands of years ago, our ancestors fermented.”

Plenty of anecdotal evidence lauds sourdough as the healthier bread alternative for those with wheat or gluten intolerance, but there is little research providing data on the topic. Now new research proves the longer a sourdough ferments, the better the bread.

Sourdough is a fermented bread fortified with dietary fibers, increased mineral bioavailability, lower glycemic index and improved protein digestibility compared to its unfermented counterparts. And, as more people shun traditional bread because of a wheat or gluten intolerance, sourdough is increasing in popularity. 

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying the effects of dough fermentation and wheat varieties to create a bread that’s easier to digest. They found the longer fermentation time makes a more digestible bread. The results, published in November in the Journal of Cereal Science, found a 12 hour ferment versus a four hour ferment dramatically reduces the short-chain carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut.

“Wheat sensitivity seems to be getting worse,” says James Anderson (pictured, left), professor and wheat breeder at the University of Minnesota and one of the study authors. “The motivation for me as a wheat breeder to get involved in this research is the wheat sensitivity issue.” 

Those short-chain carbs – FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) and ATIs (amylase/trypsin-inhibitors) – are what causes digestive problems in some people. 

“There is evidence to document that sourdough processing or fermentation in general is able to reduce these FODMAPs and ATIs,” said George Annor (pictured, right), a professor of cereal chemistry and technology at the University of Minnesota and another of the study’s authors.

While fermentation time makes a difference in digestibility of sourdough, so do wheat varieties. Ancient grains such as Einkorn and Emmer performed well, same with the modern Linkert variety. 

Though the study proves sourdough and other slow-rising breads can help those who are sensitive to wheat, the modern baking industry is dominated by sped up processing techniques. Like most commercial breads, frozen pizza crust and other convenience foods. Annor says he wants “them to keep those processes as much as they can,” but using a better wheat variety will aid digestibility. 

“There’s more that we don’t know about fermentation than we do know, and it’s a wonderfully complex world,” says Brian LaPlante, a fellow Minnesotan and owner of Back When Foods.

LaPlante and his wife began making their own sourdough with ancient grains from his brother’s farm when LaPlante’s son began experiencing digestive problems. By incorporating sourdough and other fermented foods into his diet, his son’s health dramatically improved. LaPlante started his business Back When Foods that develops slow food with less processing – and hooked up with Anderson and Annor to help with their research. LaPlante provided the dough samples of varying ferment times that the UofM analyzed for their study.

“When you have fermented food in your diet, it has a profound impact on your microbiome,” he adds. “And I think that will be the trend, is food will become your medicine again.”

A new study published in Nature reveals some new insight into the gut-to-brain pathway. Certain bacteria types boost our desire to exercise. 

The study, performed on mice by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, found differences in running performance based on the presence of gut bacterial species Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus in the higher-performing mice. The metabolites known as fatty acid amides that the bacteria produce stimulate the sensory nerves in the gut, enhancing activity in the motivation-controlling region of the brain.

“If we can confirm the presence of a similar pathway in humans, it could offer an effective way to boost people’s levels of exercise to improve public health generally,” says Christoph Thaiss, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology at Penn Medicine and a senior study author.

Researchers were surprised to find genetics accounted for only a small portion of performance differences in the mice. Gut bacterial populations were “substantially more important,” reads the study. Giving the mice antibiotics to get rid of their gut bacteria reduced the mice’s running performance by half. 

“This gut-to-brain motivation pathway might have evolved to connect nutrient availability and the state of the gut bacterial population to the readiness to engage in prolonged physical activity,” says J. Nicholas Betley, PhD, an associate professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences and a study author. “This line of research could develop into a whole new branch of exercise physiology.”

Read more (Science Daily)

Fermenting Sustainable Food

The food industry is at the center of multiple bottlenecks hurting food production – global food crisis, extreme weather, supply chain disruption, inflation and geopolitical conflict. Researchers at Singapore’s prestigious Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have found a sustainable food solution: fermentation.

An article in New Food Magazine details the fermentation innovations of NTU and how they’re fermenting the edible by-products of food manufacturing to produce new food. Their food studies found great promise in okara (the “insoluble remains of soybeans from the production of soy milk and beancurd”) and spent grain (the “residual barley pulp from the beer industry”).

“Fermentation is a way to repurpose okara, a major food manufacturing side stream that is often discarded, and transform it into a highly nutritious food,” says Dr. Ken Lee (pictured), senior lecturer at NTU’s School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led a study published in LWT – Food Science and Technology.  

The study showed okara fermented with a mixed culture of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae and the bacterium Bacillus subtilis made a nutritional-rich food. This inoculated fermentation process is also used to make soy sauce.

Fermenting spent grain also makes a nutrient-rich, upcycled food: a protein-rich food emulsifier. A separate study by NTU researchers published in Food Chemistry found that plant-based food can replace dairy and eggs in condiments like mayonnaise, dressings and whipped cream.

“Upcycling food waste such as spent grain for human consumption is an opportunity for enhancing processing efficiency in the food supply chain, as well as potentially promoting a healthier plant-based protein alternative to enrich diets,” says Professor William Chen, professor and director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology Programme.

Read more (New Food Magazine)

Microbes in Cheese

Do you love a mild mozzarella, a salty Parmesan or a funky brie? Thank microbes. 

Though the thousands of varieties of the world’s cheeses all begin as a white lump of curd, the diversity is astounding. From the flavor to the color to the texture, cheese goes from “uniform blandness to this cornucopia” thanks to bacteria, yeasts and molds. An article in Smithsonian Magazine – titled The Science Behind Your Cheese – shares the details.

“More than 100 different microbial species can easily be found in a single cheese type,” says Baltasar Mayo, a senior researcher at the Dairy Research Institute of Asturias in Spain. 

Scientists have only recently begun to study the microbial nature of cheese. To find out the bacteria and cheese present, scientists extract DNA from the cheese, then match it to genes in the database.

“The way we do that is sort of like microbial CSI, you know, when they go out to a crime scene investigation, but in this case we are looking at what microbes are there,” says Ben Wolfe, a microbial ecologist at Tufts University.

Though cheesemakers often add starter cultures of beneficial bacteria to fresh curds to transform it into a delicious cheese, Wolfe’s team found the microbiomes of the cheese “showed only a passing resemblance to those cultures. Often, more than half of the bacteria present were microbial ‘strangers’ that had not been in the starter culture,” continues the article. 

Those “strangers” dumbfounded researchers. Microbes like Brachybacterium found in Gruyère are more commonly found in soil, seawater and chicken litter. Or the Halomonas most commonly found in salt ponds and marine environments. Or, Brevibacterium linens found in damp areas of skin, such as between the toes. Those bacteria come from the environment of the cheesemaking facilities. The microbes come from the cow, goat or sheep, the bacteria in the farm’s stable, the skin bacteria from the hand of the milker, the microbes in the dairy storage tank and/or the sea salt in the brine used to wash down the cheese. Hundreds of bacteria have been detected in long-ripened cheeses.

“Furthermore, by repeatedly testing, scientists have observed that there can be a sequence of microbial settlements whose rise and fall can rival that of empires,” continues the article.

Modern cheesemaking is, sadly, more controlled, meaning modern cheese isn’t as flavorful. Cheesemaking has “become tamer over time,” cleaner and more sterilized, filtered, pasteurized, machine operated.

“Many of our cheddars, provolones and Camemberts, once wildly proliferating microbial meadows, have become more like manicured lawns. And because every microbe contributes its own signature mix of chemical compounds to a cheese, less diversity also means less flavor — a big loss.”

Read more (Smithsonian Magazine)

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-science-behind-your-cheese-180981199/

How important are microbes in the human diet? And does it matter which ones we eat?

“Maybe we’re not too far from proving the following; the dietary guidelines, the My Plate guidelines, should include fermented foods, including those that contain live microorganisms, as part of a healthy diet,” says Bob Hutkins, PhD, a professor at the University of Nebraska (and TFA Advisory Board member). Hutkins explored this hypothesis during his standing-room only presentation at FERMENTATION 2022 titled The Microbes We Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Eating

He estimates, just like the daily fiber recommendations were granted based primarily on epidemiological studies, fermented foods are going through the same process. And one day there may be a daily fermented food recommendation. 

Why Should We Be Eating Live Microbes?

Highly processed foods, prolific use of antibiotics, and overly hygienic environments have resulted in significantly less exposure to microbes. This includes those microbes that help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome and that keep our immune system functioning properly. Indeed, according to the so-called Old Friend’s Hypothesis, exposure to microbes is necessary for proper development of the immune system. This is especially true for Western countries. One highly-cited study published in Lancet found Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis — “are predominantly associated with Western populations. You rarely see these diseases in other parts of the world,” Hutkins says.

“In the Covid era, we have certainly learned that preventing infectious diseases remains a major challenge, and being a bit germophobic is understandable. Certainly, modern food technology that includes pasteurization has significantly reduced pathogen risk, improved food safety, enhanced shelf life, and reduced food waste. Nonetheless, our environment has often become too clean, too hygienic and we are no longer exposed to microbes,” he adds.

Another study based on research in Finland found the Old Friend’s Hypothesis holds true for  development of allergies, asthma, and eczema. As the authors noted “changes in environment and lifestyle, affecting microbial exposure and immune regulation, seem to play a major role in the so-called post-war allergy epidemic”.  Indeed, in a 2002 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, three “old-school” lifestyle approaches were mentioned for protecting against the development of allergies: supplementing with lactobacillus (the bacteria found in fermented foods), owning a dog in your home and attending daycare. 

Consuming Live Microbes Benefits Human Health

To address this situation, Hutkins and other food scientists are proposing adding fermented foods to the Recommended Dietary Guidelines, along with the daily dose of nutrients and vitamins.

“One of the main challenges however, will be to distinguish between nutrients and microbes,” Hutkins says. 

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) has explored this further. A panel of ISAPP microbiologists, nutritionists, doctors and statisticians (including Hutkins) used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to deep dive into the American diet. The NHANES database catalogs what adults and children are eating, then collects health indicators for associated diseases. 

ISAPP researched the estimated live microbes in foods to find sufficient evidence that a live dietary microbe intake should be a part of a dietary recommendation. It was a big undertaking, since there are 9,388 foods inNHANES. ISAPP ranked each food’s microbial count. They found microbial count was low for processed, heat-processed foods, medium level for fresh fruit and vegetables and high for fermented foods, like fermented dairy (yogurt, fresh cheese) and fermented vegetables.

“Ninety-six percent of the foods we eat are in the low” count for microbes, he said. “Hardly any were in the fermented category, around one percent.”

Still, not all live microbes are the same. The microbes considered healthy – lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria – are only dominant in fermented foods. Most of the live microbes consumed in the average diet are proteobacteria from fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences, which catalogs nutrition labels for all USDA food data, now has a space for a brand to enter the amount of live microbes in their product. There’s a dropdown menu to add genus and species of a probiotic strain, too.

“This new effort is a way to introduce the live microbes in the database,” Hutkins says, noting a company would have to enter it voluntarily. “They’re offering a noncompetitive, objective, transparent mechanism for stakeholders to understand live microbe intake and eventually link intake to health outcomes.”

Fermented Foods Reduce Stress

Researchers have made a breakthrough discovery in stress management: fermented food can change one’s mood. 

Scientists from the University College Cork (UCC) APC Microbiome research center found consuming 2-3 servings of fermented foods a day – like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, etc. – improves mental health. Stress and depressive symptoms are reduced when regularly consuming fermented foods. 

Their month-long study analyzed the effects of a psychobiotic diet on adults, while the control group was given general nutrition advice in line with the food pyramid. The psychobiotic diet is designed to target the gut microbiome. It includes fermented foods, fruit and vegetables high in prebiotic fibers, grains and legumes.

“Although the microbiome has been linked to stress and behavior previously, it was unclear if by feeding these microbes demonstrable effects could be seen,” said Professor John Cryan, one of the study’s lead authors, vice president for research and innovation at UCC, and a principal investigator at APC Microbiome. “Our study provides one of the first data in the interaction between diet, microbiota and feelings of stress and mood. Using microbiota targeted diets to positively modulate gut-brain communication holds possibilities for the reduction of stress and stress-associated disorders, but additional research is warranted to investigate underlying mechanisms.”

Researchers studied participants with relatively low fiber diets, measuring their perceived levels of stress before and after beginning the psychobiotic diet. Four weeks in, participants reported a strong decrease in perceived stress. Their sleep improved, too. Forty chemicals were affected by the change, 

“These results highlight that dietary approaches can be used to reduce perceived stress in a human cohort. Using microbiota-targeted diets to positively modulate gut-brain communication holds possibilities for the reduction of stress and stress-associated disorders,” the study reads.

Cryan, in an article for The Telegraph, said:  “The mechanisms underpinning the effect of diet on mental health are still not fully understood. But one explanation for this link could be via the relationship between our brain and our microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut). Known as the gut-brain axis, this allows the brain and gut to be in constant communication with each other, allowing essential body functions such as digestion and appetite to happen.

“It also means that the emotional and cognitive centres in our brain are closely connected to our gut.”

He added: “The next time you’re feeling particularly stressed, perhaps you’ll want to think more carefully about what you plan on eating for lunch or dinner. Including more fibre and fermented foods for a few weeks may just help you feel a little less stressed out.”

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatrry.

Fermentation continues to top food trend lists, health movements and restaurant menus, influencing more curious consumers to buy fermented foods. But the average consumer remains fermentation clueless. 

“Fermentation is a really complicated subject and we’re just reaching the tip of the iceberg at this point when it comes to the research,” says Jenna Mills, account manager at Eat Well Global, a food and nutrition consulting agency. “A complicated subject like this is loaded and I feel that individuals and consumer know just enough to be confused.”

Five food professionals shared their thoughts on how to educate consumers about fermentation during a panel at FERMENTATION 2022. Panelists included: Mills, Shannon Coleman (associate professor and state extension specialist at Iowa State University), Matt Lancor (CEO and founder of Kombuchade), and Kirsten Shockey (author, educator and co-founder of The Fermentation School and TFA Advisory Board member). Amelia Nielson-Stowell, editor at The Fermentation Association, moderated.

Simple Messaging

The panelists agreed fermentation brands need to stop overcomplicating fermentation to the consumer, focusing on simple communication strategies. 

“I compare it to a small child asking where babies come from – a simple answer is enough,” says Shockey. “With fermentation, often, we’re ready to say that lactic acid bacteria come in and they’re eating carbohydrates and there are these metabolites and flavors involved. We’re ready to share all the details – and we’re met with a blank stare. People just often want to know what’s the difference between a pickle and a ferment.”

Shockey, who teaches at the women-run Fermentation School, says she’s felt pressure over the years to innovate her classes and teach new subjects. But, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic when more consumers focused on health and turned to fermentation, her most popular classes are still the basic fermentation 101. 

In a TFA survey last year, 70% of fermentation producers said a greater understanding of fermentation and familiarity with the flavors associated with fermentation would foster increased consumption of fermented foods.

Kombuchade is taking a unique approach to that education component, focusing on kombucha as a recovery drink. 

“I’m looking to make probiotics cool for athletes, much like Gatorade made electrolytes cool for athletes,” Lancor says. The science of food is typically a mechanical process: eat fats, carbohydrates and proteins for optimal energy and performance. “There’s actually a microbial fermentation process that’s helping to rebuild your muscles.”

Kombucha marketing is geared toward a yoga, enlightenment crowd, Lancor adds, only reaching a certain number of consumers. It doesn’t resonate with all consumers.

“The south side of Chicago guys that play on my rugby team, they were never going to grab that kombucha bottle off the shelf with that kind of messaging,” he says. “There wasn’t this message of probiotics can be used for performance or recovery or even understanding kombucha’s place within an athlete’s regimen.”

Communicating Science & Tradition

Fermented food brands are tasked with bridging the gap between science and consumer.

Consumers keep informed about food and nutrition trends through professional associations (69%), academic (67%) and dietitians and nutritionists (62%), according to a consumer insights survey by Eat Well Global

For 77% of consumers, the advice of dietitians and nutritionists impacts which foods they buy. Mills says healthcare professionals offer that counseling on how to incorporate fermented foods into the diet.

Don’t forget the ancestral wisdom, Shockey points out.  

“My one liner is we’ve evolved with these foods and you are here because your ancestors successfully fermented,” she says. Rather than educating that people should eat a tablespoon of sauerkraut a day to meet nutrition needs, “try to bring it into your world naturally.” Eat a mixture of ferments, with yogurt at breakfast or hot sauce at lunch and kimchi at dinner.

“We cannot put ferments into this box that must be eaten raw. That to me is a barrier. You should eat this in any way that feels right to you,” she says, adding ferments were traditionally eaten cooked in soups and stews. “But in our minds right now is the idea that we have to eat our probiotics raw. These foods have so many metabolites that are being created in production and they follow through in the cooking process.”

Challenges to Starting a Brand

Starting a fermentation brand can be an overwhelming task. Sandor Katz, fermentation author and educator, said in his keynote address at the FERMENTATION 2022 conference that education is a huge challenge for people launching new fermented products. 

“They often end up putting a lot of their energy into educating consumers,” he says. 

Coleman says state extension offices are an underutilized resource for new producers. Her office got into food preservation after noticing many Pinterest recipes that gave poor advice on food safety.

“Just about every extension program has some form of food preservation type of program that they are delivering to consumers and they want to help,” Coleman adds.

There are no universal standards for labeling, an obstacle for new producers.

“Labeling is such a sensitive issue because you can get into big trouble with the FDA,” Nielson-Stowell says, pointing out the U.S. Food & Drug Administration only has 12 approved health claims a brand can put on a label. “It also gets tricky putting ‘probiotic,’ ‘prebiotic’ or ‘postbiotic’ on a label. It’s not regulated and confusing to consumers.”

The International Scientific Association of Probiotics & Prebiotics (ISAPP) is pushing for -biotics to be a more protected term. According to ISAPP, only fermented food brands with a scientifically measured -biotic should but it in a label. Their health benefits must be documented. For example, yogurts often have defined probiotic strains on their labels.

Nielsen-Stowell recommends using “live cultures,” “live microbes” or “naturally fermented” instead. And make sure retailers know what that means.

“If you’re getting your set in store with a retailer, the retailer will be your biggest advocate. The retailer is going to be the one talking to the customers more than you. Educate them. Do they know why your product is better than your competitor’s product?” she adds.

Fermented foods can aid in muscle growth.

“A growing body of research suggests gut-friendly foods enhance muscle growth and could even take a bite out of age-related decline,” reads an article in Men’s Health.

As we age, the body slows down, reflexes decrease and muscle mass decline — especially difficult changes for professional athletes. The average person loses 5% of muscle mass per decade after reaching 30, leading to diminished mobility and heightened risk of falls. Exercising consistently is key to keep muscles strong. But equally important, research shows, is maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. New research – published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolic Insights – found mice with an artificially depleted microbiome from antibiotics had significantly slower muscle growth than the control group.

“In short, muscles really are built in the kitchen – at least, to a greater degree than you might have suspected,” the article continues.

The article points to the ground-breaking Stanford study that found a diet high in fermented foods boost microbiome diversity. The article concluded with four fermented food swaps “to make your gains last.” These include: swapping yogurt for kefir, swapping green beans for natto, swapping pickles for kimchi and swapping ketchup for miso.

Read more (Men’s Health)