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Fermented Foods vs Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

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Probiotics vs Fermented Foods


Fermented Foods

Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, provide certain health benefits.1
Fermented foods are foods or beverages that are produced by controlled microbial growth.2
What Forms do they come in?
Probiotics come in various forms. They can be found in certain foods, such as some probiotic yogurt and kefir, or in pill or powder form.
When looking in the grocery store, products should display each strain’s designation, though some probiotics sold on the market may also use a simplified trademarked name instead. 
What forms do they come in?
Depending on the food, certain species of bacteria, yeasts and molds will carry out fermentation. Microbes that carry out fermentation can still be alive in some fermented foods. However, other foods that undergo fermentation are then processed by pasteurization, smoking, baking, or filtering, which destroys the active microbes. Foods that do not contain live microbes after fermentation include beer and wine, sourdough bread, and chocolate.
On the other hand, fermented foods that do contain live microbes at consumption include:
– Yogurt 
– Kefir 
– Uncooked sauerkraut
– Miso 
– Some Kombuchas, dependent on processing techniques
– Traditional Kimchi 3
Health Benefits:
Each probiotic is unique, has a very specific intended purpose, with specific types of strains helping to manage specific conditions. These may include:
– Reducing antibiotic-associated diarrhea
– Managing IBS symptoms
– Help us digest fibre and other nutrients5
Health Benefits:
Fermented dairy products, like yogurt have certain health benefits:
– Improved ability to digest lactose
– Weight management
– Improvement in bone health
– Improvement in blood pressure
– Reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and of developing colon cancer4

Only a few fermented foods meet the accepted definition of probiotics.

This is because although some fermented foods have live microbes in them, their strains have not been defined, and the exact number of microbes in them is unclear. Products also need to have undergone research for the health benefits of the particular strain at the specific dose to meet the definition of a probiotic.

There are some yogurts, and some kefirs that meet the definition of a probiotic. This means that their strains are specified, have a therapeutic dose, and has been researched for a particular health benefit. On the other hand, while sauerkraut undergoes fermentation, the strains are not defined, and the counts are not guaranteed throughout shelf life – therefore it cannot be defined as probiotic. 6

View our handy chart to understand the differences:

In conclusion, fermented foods and probiotics differ and have different health benefits. While fermented foods are not a substitute from the use of a probiotic supplement for a specific therapeutic benefit, they are a great way to include variety in the diet, and do have health benefits. More research is emerging to continue to explore the benefits of fermented foods on human health. Probiotics, when taken in the right dose, can help specific health conditions like managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Work with a health care professional if you are looking to add probiotics to your diet to treat a specific ailment.  

Learn more at

1. Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G.R., Merenstein, D.J., Pot, B., Morelli, L., Canani, R.B., Flint, H.J., Salminen, S., Calder, P.C., & Sanders, M.E. (2014). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 11(8), 506-514.  
2. 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.    
3. Marco ML, Sanders ME, Gänzle M, et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on fermented foods. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2021;18(3):196-208.
4. Savaiano, D.A., & Hutkins, R.W. (2020). Yogurt, cultured fermented milk, and health: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 79(5), 599-614.  
5. Alliance for Education on Probiotics (AEProbio). (2021). Understanding probiotics. Retrieved March 6, 2021, from
6. Hardy, A. Fact vs Fiction: Fermented Foods and Gut Health Nutrition Reviews in Gastroenterology,

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