Fermented Foods for Your Paleo Diet

Is Kombucha Paleo? How about Kim Chi? I’m often asked if fermented foods such as these are Paleo approved or not. After all, our Paleolithic ancestors consumed honey, fruits, berries, and their juices, which were unintentionally subjected to natural microbial fermentation.1


Fermented foods have many known health benefits. Organically fermented foods are rich in enzyme activity that aid in the breakdown of our food. These enzymes help us absorb the important nutrients we rely on to stay healthy.


Further, fermented foods have been shown to support the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract and in our current environment with chlorinated water, antibiotics in our meat, our milk and our own bodies, and antibacterial everything, we could use some beneficial bacteria in our bodies.2


The shift away from traditional diets is marked with not only changes in gut micro-flora, but also an increase in depression and negative mental health conditions.3 This is yet another example of how incorporating refined foods has led us down an unhealthier path!



So, is it safe to assume we should all regularly incorporate fermented foods into our daily regime? Not necessarily. 


First, we have to be mindful of the source. For instance, while it may be more cost effective to make your own kombucha, if you aren’t extremely savvy in the process it can be dangerous. Experts warn about the dangers of home-brewed and unpasteurized kombucha prepared in nonsterile conditions and the risk for unhealthy bacteria getting into the tea.


“If you want to drink kombucha, a safer bet is to go for one that is commercially prepared and pasteurized,” says Janet Helm, MS, RD, a Chicago nutritionist and author of Nutrition Unplugged blog.4


Another example of one type of fermented food that we should look out for are those which are high in sugar, such as some commercially available preparations of kefir that have added fruit or even corn syrup to make them more palatable to the typical consumer who is accustomed to sweeter taste.  One popular brand of honey-flavored kefir has 38 grams of sugar in a one-cup serving!



Fermented vegetables of all kinds such as cabbage, carrots, kale, collards, celery spiced with herbs like ginger and garlic top the list of foods most likely to help you reap the many health benefits including:5


  • Providing important nutrientssuch as vitamin K2 and many B vitamins.


  • Optimizing your immune system. Probiotics play a crucial role in the production of antibodies to pathogens, making a healthy gut a major factor in maintaining optimal health.


  • The beneficial bacteria in these foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals.


  • Cost-effectiveness. Adding a small amount of fermented food to your diet can offer 100 times more probiotics than a supplement.


  • Natural variety of micro flora.As long as you vary the fermented and cultured foods you eat, you’ll get a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria.



It depends how far along you are on the spectrum of healing your leaky gut. Most people following a Standard American Diet (SAD) are likely experiencing at least some degree of leaky gut.


Then you need to factor in specific occasions, such as a recent course of antibiotics you may have taken for an acute ear infection, for example, which should take precedence.


Once you’ve reached a state of optimal health and you’re feeling great, taking the pressure off and following the same idea as we do with all foods through – balance – will allow you to find your groove and dial in the appropriate servings to incorporate in your Paleo diet.


Pass the kim-chi, please!





[1] Steinkraus KH: Comparison of fermented foods of the East and West. In Fish Fermentation Technology. Edited by Lee CH, Steinkraus KH, Reilly PJ. Tokyo: United Nations University Press; 1993:1-12.

[2] “Fermented Foods Bubble with Healthful Benefits.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.

[3] Hidaka BH. Depression as a disease of modernity: explanations for increasing prevalence. J Affect Disord. 2012;140(3):205-14.

[4] Expert Commentary: The Truth About Kombucha.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.

[5] “Fermented Foods – Your Ultimate Guide to Fermented Food Lists.” Mercola.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.