Fermented Foods and Mood – from gloomy to flourishing

Apr 22 , 2021

Fermented Foods and Mood – from gloomy to flourishing

I have so much fun when I teach people at my fermented food workshops . So I thought I’d write this. 

Why bother eating fermented foods, let alone making them yourself?

Fermented foods contain beneficial probiotics/bacteria, as well as prebiotic foods and phytonutrients for those bacteria to thrive on. More recently science has found links between fermented food consumption, the health of the large intestine, and mental health. Good news!

Bare with me as I tell you what science has been investigating, as it affects us all.

Studies suggest ‘that consumption of fermented foods that contain probiotics may serve as a low-risk intervention for reducing social anxiety’. Plus eating particularly high fibre fermented foods can have anti-inflammatory benefits. In The American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues suggest links with depression and inflammation, mentioning ‘anti-inflammatory interventions have a substantially greater impact on mood in individuals with heightened inflammation’. When the functioning of the gut was studied in a group of depressed as well as non-depressed individuals, poor gut function, especially characterised by ‘leak gut’, was significantly greater in the depressed individuals, leading to the study authors to state that gut function ‘plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression’.

This becomes so exciting for me to hear science agrees with my observations. I see the results in my clinic from people eating fermented foods, pre- and pro- biotics, as well as all the fabulous phytonutrients that go with a wholefood way of eating. Not only do people feel more energetic and vital, they often say how improved their mood has become – from gloomy to flourishing!

I bet you never thought of your fermented foods as a psychobiotic.

Science defines ‘a psychobiotic as a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness’. Have I convinced you of the merits to consuming probiotic foods with prebiotic and phytonutrient co-factors?

In my cookbooks I have used many ingredients to help feed healthy gut bacteria. Take a look at my recipes as they all contain prebiotic and phytonutrient rich foods and are utterly delicious!

So which are beneficial fermented foods? Here’s a list of some:

Live yoghurt, unpasteurized sauerkraut, fermented unpasteurized vegetables and fruit, natto, tempeh, miso paste, kefir drinks/yoghurt, kombucha tea, unfiltered unpasteurized vinegar, some cheeses especially strong aged blue cheese, sourdough breads - even cocoa beans have to go through a fermentation process during manufacturing (interestingly in this recent small study  the authors state ‘consumption of cocoa flavanols can significantly affect the growth of select gut microflora in humans’).

If you can't manage to eat fermented foods each day and you feel you gut is out of balance then taking a probiotic may be helpful. Probiotics vary considerably in both their ingredients and effectiveness. It's important to choose one from a company you can trust, which has verified the effectiveness of those particular strains of bacteria (look for the words 'billion viable cells' and pick one with no less than 20 billion variable cells per recommended intake). Choose a product containing a number of different strains, rather than just one. 

What are prebiotic and phytonutrient co-factors?

This is fibre and other phytonutrients that can be used as a food source or to facilitate a positive outcome with those gut bacteria and your cells. With so many different bacteria in your gut (1,500 is touted as the number of different species, combined weight of 1.5kg says Dr John Bienenstock), there are many different types of beneficial fibres/phytonutrients. Examples are inulin found in foods such as garlic, leeks, asparagus, onions, chicory root, jersusalem artichoke, rye, banana, and wholegrains such as oats; And phytonutrient flavanols, like the ones in cocoa, green and black tea, turmeric, black beans, dark berries, red onions, red cabbage and watercress. 

At my next Fermented Foods Cooking Class, I'll have lots of these foods and showing ways to eat them. Plus everyone will be making fermented foods to take away!


  • 22 Apr 2021 Susie

    Emma thank you for explaining all the gut business so clearly – I feel bombarded today with products and foods to help my gut and your article gets it all in a nutshell plus gives us the scientific evidence in the background. I’m intersted that you say we should eat something probiotic every day – I manage Natto once a week – its not the most appealing of foods! I’d like to build up to once a day but using foods not supplements.
    I’m interested that miso paste is a probiotic food – if you’ve boiled it up as miso soup surely you’ve killed the bacteria so is it beneficial if you are using it in cooking? Or do you have to spread it on a piece of toast to get the benefit. Same goes for yoguhurt – do you destroy the good effects if you cook it say in your Quinoa Crusted Mushroom Pie in the Happy Hormone Cookbook?

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