Fermenting your way to a healthier brain: Top fermented foods for cognitive wellness

Many countries eat fermented foods as part of their culture. Researchers say fermented sugar-based and vegetable-based products are best for gut health and brain health [1].

There’s no way that this can be a coincidence. Fermented foods are more than just a preservation method, it would seem. Earlier research has shown that some foods are particularly good for positively impacting your mental health [2].

Food and brain health

Several aspects of brain function, including mood, are influenced by serotonin, a brain messenger produced by fermented foods. Besides brain messengers (neurotransmitters), raw foods may contain other compounds.

It’s no surprise that research has shown that eating these foods may have long- and short-term impacts on brain function. This may also include reducing stress [3].

But which foods have the greatest impact on brain health? Researchers at APC Microbiome, University College Cork and Teagasc (Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority) in Moorepark, Cork, Ireland, are working on an extensive study.

Ramya Balasubramanian and the team at APC compared sequencing data from over 200 foods worldwide. Here, they aim to look for a variety of metabolites known to be helpful to brain health [4]. 

Promising results

Although the study is still in its early stages, preliminary results have surprised researchers. Ramya said she expected only a few fermented foods would appear. Out of 200 listed, almost all improved gut and brain health to some extent.

It’s hard to know which fermented foods are best for the human brain without more research. Still, results show an unexpected victor. Products made from fermented sugar and fermented vegetables “are like winning the lottery when it comes to gut and brain health”, explains Ramya. 

“For all that we see on sugar-based products being demonized, fermented sugar takes the raw sugar substrate, and it converts it into lots of metabolites that can have a beneficial effect on the host,” she adds. In a final metabolomic screen, sugar gets used up by the microbial community in the food and turned into these metabolites that can be cherry-picked by researchers for further analysis.

Ramya’s next step will be to pursue these further studies. Using an artificial colon and animal models, she plans to test how these metabolites affect the brain in her top-ranked fermented foods [5]. 

As a natural way to support mental health and general wellbeing, Ramya hopes that the public can use these preliminary results to include fermented foods into their diets.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9003261/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904694/
[3] https://fermentationassociation.org/fermented-foods-reduce-stress/
[4] https://www.linkedin.com/in/ramya-balasubramanian-643b471a5/?originalSubdomain=ie
[5] https://neurosciencenews.com/fermented-food-brain-health-23005/

Photograph: Masson-Simon/Envato
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