Which Fermented Foods are Best for your Brain?

Fermented foods are a source of tryptophan, an amino acid key to the production of serotonin, a messenger in the brain which influences several aspects of brain function, including mood. The foods may also contain other brain messengers in their raw form.

Researchers at APC Microbiome, University College Cork, and Teagasc are currently working on a large study to finally answer the question “which foods have the biggest impact on brain health?”. Ramya Balasubramanian and the team at APC compared sequencing data from over 200 foods from all over the world, looking for a variety of metabolites that are known to be beneficial to brain health. 

Researchers are already surprised by preliminary results. “I expected only a few fermented foods would show up, but out of 200 fermented foods, almost all of them showed the ability to exert some sort of potential to improve gut and brain health” says Ramya. 

“For all that we see on sugar-based products being demonised, fermented sugar takes the raw sugar substrate, and it converts it into a plethora of metabolites that can have a beneficial effect on the host. So even though it has the name ‘sugar’ in it, if you do a final metabolomic screen, the sugar gets used by the microbial community that’s present in the food, and they get converted into these beautiful metabolites that are ready to be cherry picked by us for further studies.”

Ramya mentions that more research is needed to understand which groups of fermented foods have the greatest effects but that we can take these early results and get more motivated to 

Ramya hopes that the public can utilise these preliminary results and consider including fermented foods in their diet as a natural way of supporting their mental health and general well-being. 


Microbiology Society. “Kombucha to kimchi: Which fermented foods are best for your brain?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230413154458.htm>.

Society, M. (n.d.). Kombucha to kimchi: which fermented foods are best for your brain? Microbiology Society. https://microbiologysociety.org/news/press-releases/kombucha-to-kimchi-which-fermented-foods-are-best-for-your-brain.html

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Photo by Tim-Oliver Metz