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Probiotic Capsules or Fermented Foods: Which is Better for Gut Health? - Part 1

Probiotics in Fermented foods

Mmm fermented foods… some are lovers, some are haters. But you have probably heard that fermented foods are high in probiotics, and that probiotics are super good for gut health.

You’re right!

There are 2 ways of getting probiotics into your gut: fermented foods or probiotic supplements.

Before you consume probiotics OR fermented foods, I’d like you to consider this:

  1. Are you actually getting the health benefits from the fermented foods you’re purchasing?

  2. Is it better to take probiotics or eat fermented foods?

This a 2-part series on Fermented Foods:

In Part 1, we will learn about the benefits of fermented foods, how to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck when purchasing fermented foods, and how to supercharge fermented foods even more by making them yourself.

In Part 2, we will discuss how the bacterial counts compare in fermented foods and supplemental probiotics, and whether it’s worth supplementing with a high-quality probiotic (read Part 2 here).

Let’s dive in!

The Surprising Health Benefits of Probiotics

You likely know that large populations of good bacteria live in the gut. These are live microorganisms that support all aspects of the body, including digestion, the immune system, mood, sleep, hormones, and so much more.

When gut health is out of balance, many systemic symptoms can occur that are related to so much more than just your digestive health. For example, I always talk about how acne and other skin conditions are related to poor gut health. Increasing consumption of probiotics is a common solution to get health back on track!

Here are some of the amazing benefits of probiotics:

Clearly, there are numerous benefits of consuming probiotics, and fermented foods is certainly a way to do that.

So the question is: how can you maximize your probiotic intake from fermented foods?

Supercharge the Probiotics for Better Gut Health with Fermented Foods

Let’s start off with a primer on fermented foods. Examples of fermented foods are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and lacto-fermented pickles (not vinegar pickles!), kombucha, miso, apple cider vinegar… Fermentation is essentially controlled rotting - delicious and kinda gross!

The foods that you think of fermented are actually lacto-fermented. Lacto-fermentation is a type of fermentation that uses lactic-acid-producing bacteria to preserve foods. This is how all traditional fermented foods - like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and others - are made.

When you purchase fermented foods at a grocery store, there is one very important thing to know: fermented foods should be bought from the refrigerated section. Now, that might be obvious with dairy products like yogurt or kefir, so I want to focus on 2 foods that are not talked about as often and often linger on the shelves at room temperature: sauerkraut and pickles.

Here’s how to choose the healthiest sauerkraut and pickles -


All sauerkraut that is sold non-refrigerated is pasteurized (heated) to provide shelf life without refrigeration. This eliminates most of the beneficial bacteria! You still get the fiber, but pasteurization even destroys water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C. Pasteurization also deactivates digestive enzymes that enhance our ability to absorb nutrition from our food.

You'll find pasteurized sauerkraut on the dry goods shelves, usually near the canned pickles, instead of the refrigerated section - AVOID THIS KIND!

What you want to look for is unpasteurized sauerkraut. This type of sauerkraut has a natural, built-in system for destroying bad bacteria and pathogens that could cause harm to people. Sauerkraut is made by fermenting cabbage - the cabbage is stored under a controlled environment to allow yeast and bacteria to ferment the sugars in the vegetables.

The bacteria and yeast establish an acidic environment that prevents rotting and infestation of harmful bacteria. Sauerkraut is well-preserved cabbage that is full of healthy probiotics!


Any pickles you find on the shelf are PICKLED with vinegar, not fermented. This means there are zero probiotic benefits - you’re basically just eating cucumbers soaked in vinegar. I know, it’s confusing. If you look at pickle jar ingredients, there should be NO VINEGAR! You should see minimal ingredients such as cucumbers, water, salt and spices. This indicates that the pickles are lacto-fermented (which is good), and not pickled (which is bad).

To summarize, make sure to buy your sauerkraut and pickles refrigerated! If they’re on the shelves at room temperature, they don’t have all the great probiotics. You want to get the brands that are in the refrigerated section and make sure they’re raw. At the time of writing, some brands I love are Wild Brine, Bubbies Pickles, Ozuke and Pickled Planet.

How to Make your own Fermented Foods

If you’re up for making homemade sauerkraut, that’s the absolute healthiest option! All you need is cabbage and salt. Plus, you can add other veggies and spices to create interesting flavors. ​I love this sauerkraut recipe that’s perfect for beginners.

We will talk about this more in Part 2 of this series, but it’s important to know that fermented foods are not as high in probiotics as probiotic supplements. You would need to eat a TON of probiotic-rich foods to get similar bacterial counts. If you are a purist and wanted to get enough probiotics through food, there are ways to ferment yogurt at home that supercharge the bacterial counts into the hundreds of billions. If you’re interested, the book ​Super Gut​ has recipes and more info about how to do this.

I hope this information inspires you to make fermented foods part of your daily routine! Supporting gut health is absolutely critical for optimal health, and probiotic-rich foods are an easy first step.

If you’re interested to improve your gut health, make sure to download my eBook “Supporting Your Gut Health” which includes gut-healthy recipes and a list of foods to focus on for better gut health (spoiler alert: fermented foods is on this list!).



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