Fermented Foods and Mental Wellness

Comfort Food. The term conjures images of rich mac and cheese, creamy ice cream or maybe an extra large poutine. Definitely menu items that will satisfy a craving (or maybe a hangover) but what if there were foods that naturally comforted our emotions and promoted mental wellness by reducing the psychological symptoms of social anxiety?

Well it turns out that researchers are discovering that fermented foods can do just that. In a recent study psychology and social work researchers found that students who consumed fermented foods were less likely to experience symptoms of social anxiety. Anxiety symptoms are strongly linked to gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (think about how your stomach feels when you are nervous) so it makes sense that helping your tummy feel better can help calm those anxious feelings.


Fermented foods are foods that are produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms, specifically by the bacteria lactobacilli. These foods are often pickled, but not always, and not all pickled foods are fermented. For an explanation of the difference between fermented and pickled foods, as well as a list of fermented foods click here.

During the fermentation process healthy bacteria or probiotics, are produced. When we ingest these live bacteria, via fermented foods, they colonize and flourish in the digestive system. In addition to warding off symptoms of anxiety, probiotics are known to produce a wide range of health benefits including; aiding in digestion, enhancing the immune system and fighting off harmful bacteria.

Some of the more common and popular fermented foods include:

  • Yogurt and Kifirclassic_miso_soup_450
  • Sour Cream
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi


If you are feeling really ambitious try making your own sauerkraut with this recipe.


References: University of Maryland, Baltimore. (2015, June 9). Decreased social anxiety among young adults who eat fermented foods. ScienceDaily

Matty Hillman is a graduate student from The University of Victoria, currently completing a practicum placement with counseling services at Selkirk College.


4 responses to “Fermented Foods and Mental Wellness

  1. I suffered from chronic fatigue quite severely a few years back. Many doctors’ appointments and tests failed to help, until I started reading about and addressing my gut health. I can now trace my problems back to a trip to Africa in 2006, where I picked up a parasite, and was treated by two strong rounds of antibiotics when I returned. I didn’t know at the time to repopulate my gut with ‘good bacteria’, so my health crashed. My first step to wellness was removing all gluten, then adding probiotics. Since then, my health has steadily improved and as long as I eat probiotic foods/supplement, I can eat gluten without losing my lunch. I’ve made my own kombucha and I make fermented veggies, which I eat every day. It’s super easy and delicious. I use mason jars and weigh the veggies down under the liquid with a small baggie filled with salt water. Now that I can eat gluten again, I want to try making sourdough bread. I am convinced that our gut health and mental health are related– Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book on Gut and Psychology Syndrome is a good read but likely a little out-dated by now. As Matty says above, more and more research is emerging on the connection.

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