Eating during pregnancy already feels so hard – between supplements, making sure to consume enough water, including that extra snack or two – add in keeping up with food fads, and this can make things even more overwhelming. In Western culture, fermented foods and beverages have been gaining popularity more recently than ever before, due to their health benefits and association with a healthy gut microbiome (1, 2). Whether you have always included fermented foods and beverages as part of your diet or are looking to incorporate them now that you are pregnant, it is important to know what you are consuming and if it is safe during pregnancy. Read on to learn more about fermented foods during pregnancy.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods and beverages are defined by the controlled breakdown of food components into other products. The fermentation process was initially developed as a method to preserve food and enhance sensory characteristics, such as flavour (1), but is now known to be beneficial for human health. While there is research to prove these health supporting benefits contributing to a healthy gut microbiome, research on the pregnant population is minimal.
Examples of fermented food and beverages include:
- Sourdough bread
What are the benefits of fermented foods?
Fermented foods not only offer the nutritional benefits of the food item itself, such as vitamins and minerals, but they also offer many other benefits, including the following (3):
- Increasing immunity
- Protecting against pathogens
- Fighting against diabetes and heart disease
- Alleviating symptoms of intolerances, such as lactose intolerance
- Increasing levels of some vitamins (e.g., Vitamin B12, Folate and Vitamin K, all of which are important during pregnancy)
One additional benefit of consuming fermented foods during pregnancy is the affect that the brain-gut axis may potentially have on brain activity and mood (1). Generally speaking, this is evidence that what we eat not only improves our physical health, but also our mental health.
Precautions to Consider
Fermentation contains trace amounts of alcohol, especially Kombucha, so be sure to check labels and talk to your Dietitian and healthcare providers about which fermented items are safe for you during pregnancy.
The Bottom Line
Although fermented foods and beverages are known to have many proposed health benefits, there is minimal research currently available, especially within the pregnant population. Just like most nutritional guidelines during pregnancy, moderation is key. Adding a tablespoon of sauerkraut, kimchi, or kefir to your plate each day can offer your body the proposed health benefits that fermented foods during pregnancy have to offer.
- Marco, M. L., Heeney, D., Binda, S., Cifelli, C. J., Cotter, P. D., Foligné, B., Gänzle, M., Kort, R., Pasin, G., Pihlanto, A., Smid, E. J., & Hutkins, R. (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 44, 94-102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copbio.2016.11.010
- Dimidi, E., Cox, S. R., Rossi, M., & Whelan, K. (2019). Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients, 11(8), 1806. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081806
- Şanlier, N., Gökcen, B., B., & Sezgin, A., C. (2019). Health benefits of fermented foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 59(3), 506-527. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355
~ Written by Rebecca Woods