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Healthy Beverages Month

Fermented food and drink linked to improved microbiome

Fermented food improved microbiome diversity.jpg
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced personal health and general well-being into the forefront for many consumers. At the same time, increased and improved research and messaging surrounding the link between digestive health and overall health have led consumers to seek ingredients like pre-, pro-, and postbiotics to achieve their general health goals.

A recently published study from researchers at Stanford University has furthered this research, with results indicating a diet high in fermented foods increases (read: improves) microbiome diversity and lowers inflammation.

For the study, 36 healthy adults were randomly assigned to a 10-week diet that was either high in fermented foods, or high in fiber. The researchers found those in the fermented group, which included foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks and kombucha, saw an overall increase in microbiome diversity. Additionally, “four types of immune cells showed less activation in the fermented-food group. The levels of 19 inflammatory proteins measured in blood samples also decreased. One of these proteins, interleukin 6, has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and chronic stress.”

By contrast, in the high-fiber group, none of those 19 inflammatory markers saw a noticeable decrease. Microbiome diversity also saw little impact compared to the fermented diet group.

“We wanted to conduct a proof-of-concept study that could test whether microbiota-targeted food could be an avenue for combatting the overwhelming rise in chronic inflammatory diseases,” Christopher Gardner, Ph.D. and one of the study’s senior authors, said.

“There are many more ways to target the microbiome with food and supplements, and we hope to continue to investigate how different diets, probiotics and prebiotics impact the microbiome and health in different groups,” another of the study’s authors, Justin Sonnenburg, Ph.D. added.

Food & Beverage Insider insights

While probiotics are not new on the scene or in the minds of consumers, pre- and postbiotics (and especially the combination of all three) are relatively newer innovations finding themselves in food and beverage alike. Not only are consumers turning to drinks like kombucha and kefir for their naturally occurring probiotics and digestive aid, but more food and beverage is appearing with added pre-, pro- or postbiotics for additional benefits. These days, probiotics can be found in anything from seltzers and dairy drinks to snack bars and bakery items as consumers continue to prioritize their digestive health.

However, for all the research over the last decade on the microbiome and the links between digestive and overall health, much more study remains. The microbiome and the bacteria—good and bad—which inhabit it are unique to all individuals, making generalized study in the field difficult. Research like that conducted by the Stanford University team will only help further industry’s understanding of these complex relationships between what one eats and how one feels.

The digestive health movement doesn’t appear primed to slow any time soon, and fermented foods and beverages—or food and beverage otherwise fortified with similar ingredients—should continue to grow in market size and demand.

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