How to use fermented foods to your vaginal advantage

Fermented Foods for vaginas and guts

The importance of prebiotics and fermented foods cannot be overstated when it comes to supporting your vaginal microflora and reproductive health. Your bowels affect not only microbial communities but also hormone levels.

You can swallow as many of the highest-quality probiotics as you can afford, but it is a waste of money if the bacteria don’t have anything to eat. You poop them straight out, dead. Soluble fibre is an ideal food source, known as a prebiotic.

Pre – coming before
Biotic – living organisms

It’s important to ensure you get enough fibre, with a particularly good source being inulin-containing foods. Around 25-30 grams (0.85-1.0 ounces) of fibre per day is recommended. You can find the fibre content of foods broken down into nutrient categories on many websites and apps.

We like Cronometer, but there are many services on offer.

Why inulin?

Inulin is a protein found in food and can be taken as part of a meal or as a supplement. Other sources of inulin are bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, and wheat.

Here are good sources of 6 grams (0.2 ounces) of inulin

  • Garlic 6 cloves
  • Onion 1 onion
  • Asparagus 9 spears
  • Leek 1.2 cups

Watch out in IBS: Inulin is a FODMAP!

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) driven by FODMAPs, avoid inulin. It is a FODMAP.

If you have ongoing digestive issues, you may be FODMAP intolerant – onion, garlic, beans, milk, etc. are key clues. If they upset you, check out the low-FODMAP diet from Australia’s Monash University.

Probiotic capsules – when to use and why

Probiotics can become very expensive as a daily supplement, and it might not be smart to take one every day forever.

Eating prebiotics and probiotic foods aims to increase your protective commensal bacteria count in as many cheap and effective ways as possible, ongoing. Why spend money on probiotics when you can eat them?

Food is a far better source of probiotics than a pill for general gut health. However, probiotics definitely have their place therapeutically! Overall, aim to use the natural resources we have at hand, prebiotic and probiotic foods, and your gut – and the rest of you, including your vagina – will thank you.

Understanding fermentation

Daily milk kefir and other fermented foods can keep your gut microbiome healthy.

Fermenting food involves the chemical breakdown of a substance by microbes, usually bacteria and/or beneficial yeasts.

Fermentation is an age-old and fantastic way to preserve foods (cheese, pickles, wine, vinegar – all ferments), but home fermenting is much less common since the invention of the refrigerator.

Proper fermentation is an art form that has gone out of fashion somewhat because we have mass-produced food supplies: in real fermentation if you leave the lid on for too long, it will burst off as the pressure of the gas produced by the bacteria fermenting (feeding and breeding) becomes too great.

For obvious reasons, this exploding isn’t allowed on a supermarket shelf. Supermarket products are pasteurised to prevent exploding, prolonging their shelf life and saving a lot of mess.

Live yoghurt can be hard to find in some places

Americans may even find they do not have a source of live yoghurt at the store, though many other countries have these products in the supermarket. Making ferments yourself may be your only viable option. Luckily, it’s pretty easy and can be very enjoyable once you understand the basics.

One issue with fermented foods is that their actual microbe count can vary wildly, and it is very difficult to measure without a laboratory test. It depends on the raw materials used (vegetables, milk, etc.), freshness, temperature, starter culture, and other critical aspects. This shouldn’t deter you, though.

Milk kefir for vaginas and guts

For vaginas, milk kefir, unless you have a dairy issue, is going to be your first port of call. The part of fermentation that gives these foods their characteristic tang is lactobacilli production of lactic acid.

The beauty of these foods is that they contain many microbes, not just a couple of Lactobacillus strains, as a probiotic does. Store-bought milk kefir is made in a vat and only contains a few strains of bacteria that remain constant, so home-fermenting is far superior. You get the wild cards.

Vegetables contain microbes found in the ground, which you won’t find in fermented dairy products, adding another element to your microbe diet. Variety is optimal, and even if a microbe passes through from one end to the other of your digestive tract, it eats and wages war as it goes, so it isn’t wasted.

Others cling to the walls and colonise certain areas of your digestive tract. This part is massively complex, so don’t get too involved—as previously mentioned, researchers still don’t understand the human gut biome that well.

To get plenty of microbes, you could have your daily milk kefir shots, yoghurt for breakfast, sauerkraut with lunch, and tempeh for dinner, all washed down with water kefir.

Think of all the good germs in your day, then! The greatest anti-BV diet there ever was. Fermented food is also already a ‘bit digested’, making your system work far less than if you ate the raw version, with some vitamins being released or created as a by-product of fermentation, including vitamin C and Bs.

Interestingly, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) has 20 times more vitamin C than raw cabbage – the C in raw cabbage is bound by the plant fibres, making it much harder for our digestive system to extract whole.

Doesn’t stomach acid kill the good bacteria?

Valid queries have been raised regarding Lactobacillus’s ability to pass through stomach acid into the intestinal tract.

Fortunately, Lactobacillus are acid-loving bacteria, and they easily survive stomach acid and pass through to the intestines.

Other acid-loving bacteria that aren’t so great are the likes of E. coli, which, as you may already know, is a dreaded intestinal microbe that causes food poisoning.

Stomach acid is an effective weapon against most microbes entering our digestive tract. However, by an incredible stroke of biological genius, the good bacteria get through, and almost all the bad bacteria die.

Pure stomach acid, however, will kill your probiotics, so take probiotics with food after or during as you wish) to buffer the stomach acid somewhat. Avoid probiotics on an empty stomach.

How to find ‘alive’ fermented foods

Real fermented food containing live bacteria is difficult, if not impossible, to find in supermarkets, so check out your local markets, the old lady who lives down the road, or online suppliers that offer starter kits to make your own. Fancy health food stores often have a local supplier, so ask around.

You need to ensure that the food is fermented and still ‘alive’ instead of simply pickled in vinegar or pasteurised (heated to a high temperature to kill all the bacteria to avoid explosions and infections).

Look for labels that say ‘traditionally fermented’ and ‘containing live probiotics’, and don’t be shy to ask the shopkeeper or contact suppliers. They will know the answers to your questions and always provide a phone number or contact information on the label.

Don’t be afraid to ask suppliers. It’s important.

All of these foods have so many health benefits that you could write several books on each. However, all we are interested in at this point are the microbes. You won’t like some of these foods, but try them out in different ways or skip the ones you don’t enjoy.

Following are some (arguably) tasty fermented foods you can add to your diet immediately.

Adding in new microbes to your gut could cause gaseous wind storms to flare up. These storms will pass unless you are legitimately intolerant. Your body may need an adjustment period to start greater production of certain enzymes – give it a chance of a few weeks, and start slow. If it doesn’t improve, try something else or book in with a practitioner.

Choosing your fermented foods

Check out recipes online for these foods. These ferments can be eaten in many ways to suit your palate.

Heating fermented foods kills the bacteria we want to keep alive, so cooking with these foods should be avoided. Do not microwave fermented foods or probiotics.

You will find many of these live fermented foods in the store fridge since the bacteria goes dormant when cooled and comes back to life when heated, including inside your warm body. This means these bacteria can tolerate some gentle warming.

Milk kefir

An old favourite, milk kefir is pretty easy to make at home using these instructions.


Sauerkraut is finely chopped cabbage plus salt fermented with Lactobacillus. Layer sauerkraut on just about anything you like, including meats, sandwiches and vegetables. It is a tangy favourite straight out of the jar with a fork.


Miso is a traditional fermented food made from soy and grains. It is a paste and is most often seen in miso soup offered with your bento box wherever you get your sushi.

You can cheaply buy miso at your local Asian grocer and make your own soups using miso but don’t stop there.

You can make thousands of dishes and sauces with miso – the internet is full of great recipes. Go nuts, but remember to ensure it is alive when you buy it! You will probably kill the bacteria by boiling them in soups, so add them afterwards or use them in different ways.


Tempeh is originally from Indonesia and is made from soybeans. Tempeh is a good source of protein, particularly for vegetarians and vegans, because it uses the whole bean.

Tempeh, like tofu, tends to take on the flavours of whatever you cook it with, which makes your options endless. Recipes abound. Tempeh is edible raw.


Kimchi is Korea’s national dish. It is a side dish of fermented vegetables seasoned with salt. There are many varieties of kimchi, and many dishes contain it, such as pancakes, soups, and fried rice.


Yoghurt is an average source of probiotics, but you must find a brand that ensures as many live bacteria as possible reach your gut.

Alternatively, you can buy DIY yoghurt makers, buy the dried powder, and ferment overnight, just like milk kefir. Easy-Yo is one brand, but there are many. Search for home yoghurt makers.


Kombucha is available in some health food store fridges, and you can grow your own SCOBY (which is like the home base for the bacteria) from one bottle bought at the shop.

Water Kefir Grains

Water kefir grains are very similar to milk kefir grains, and are available online. They can be made into a delicious fizzy drink when made with fruits.  

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)