Fermented foods are all the rage. In fact, sales of these stinky foods have increased by 149% just in 2018 alone.1 Fermentation happens when the carbohydrates in food are converted to organic acids or alcohol by utilizing microorganisms. Fermented foods are typically vegetable items, but can also include dairy, meats, and beverages. You may have even noticed that your local grocery store has been carrying fermented teas or Asian vegetables lately.
The process of fermentation isn’t new. In fact, fermentation dates back thousands of years and recipes have been passed down for many generations.2 Fermented foods have been praised for their natural beneficial bacteria, nutritional value, and ease of digestibility.3 However, a recent study published in 2015 has found a unique perk of eating fermented foods; a decrease in social anxiety.
How do fermented foods impact social anxiety?
Two researchers and psychology professors, Hilimire and Forestell, knew that fermented foods offered many health benefits but wanted to see if there was any connection with the probiotics in fermented foods and social anxiety. Clinical studies have found that the bacteria in your gut can impact your mental health, but these researchers wanted to take it one step further. Hilimire stated, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety…I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
Animal studies have found that when consumed, probiotics like lactobacilli have a strong correlation with the animal displaying less anxiety. In fact, animals that have taken certain probiotics produced more GABA, a neurotransmitter that often is associated with feeling calm and relaxed. Instead of using probiotics, Hilimire and Forestell asked 710 young adults about their fermented food consumption and social anxiety.4 People with social anxiety, or social phobia, can experience a multitude of symptoms all centered around being placed in settings with other people. The results of the study were very pleasing to the lead researchers; fermented food intake was indeed associated with a reduced likelihood of social anxiety tendencies. In an interview after the study, Hilimire stated, “I think there is some skepticism that there can be such a profound influence, but the data is quite substantial now.”3
What are examples of fermented foods?
Adding fermented foods into your diet can be easy! Here are examples of popular fermented foods you can include in your daily routine.
- Fermented cottage cheese
- Some aged cheese (check label for “live and active cultures”)
- Apple cider vinegar
Keep in mind that not all foods are fermented using natural processes, so be sure to keep an eye out. Barbara Olendzki and Kelly Sanders, authors at University of Massachusetts Medical School explain, “Pickling is another food preservation process, that uses an acid such as vinegar or a brine (salty water) to preserve the food. Only pickles fermented with salt, not vinegar, contain probiotics. You will likely find the truly fermented foods in the refrigerated section rather than on the shelves.”5
Focusing on gut health isn’t just for digestion, but for your mental health as well.