Gut health and dairy foods

Gut health benefits

There is growing evidence around diet and gut health including the role of fermented foods, such as yoghurt, in helping to achieve a healthy, functioning digestive system.

A growing body of research supports the role of gut health in overall health and wellbeing. The gut microbiome (that is, the collective term for microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your digestive system) plays an important role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients.1 In recent years, the gut microbiome has been linked to the development of conditions such as obesity2 and inflammatory bowel disease.3

The foods we eat play an essential role in maintaining the diversity and proper functioning of our gut.4 There is a growing body of research around the role of diet and gut health, and this includes the role of fermented foods in promoting a healthy digestive system.


What is it about fermented foods that contribute to health?

Historically, fermentation has been used as a traditional method of preserving food. This process involves the conversion of raw foods via the metabolic activity of microorganisms. For example, live cultures (a blend of one type or several strains of microorganisms) help transform milk into yoghurt.  

As the ‘good’ bacteria multiply, they produce compounds that change the characteristics of the product including flavour, texture and nutrients. The fermentation process can also alter the nutritive and bioactive properties of foods that can benefit health.5

Some fermented foods contain probiotics; active bacterial cultures with unique characteristics that allow them to survive in the gastrointestinal tract. When consumed in adequate amounts, they provide a health benefit6 and have the potential to maintain the natural balance of the gut microbiota.


What foods contain probiotics?

Nowadays, probiotics are easily incorporated into the daily diet. Fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, culture drinks and kefir are some of the most common and easily available sources of probiotics. Other fermented foods and drinks include kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Fermented dairy foods are a common vehicle for probiotics as the composition of milk (which includes protein and fat) acts as a protective matrix to help the survival of probiotics from the digestive system through to the gut, including the adverse conditions of the stomach.7

Not all fermented products however have demonstrated beneficial effects on health. It will depend on the presence of living ferment and the type of ferments provided by the products, together with the ability to survive the acidic conditions of the stomach and reach the intestines alive. Particular strains of probiotics may also have different beneficial effects in the body.


What's the science around dairy and gut health?

The most commonly studied fermented dairy product in relation to gut health is yoghurt, however the relationship between dairy and gut health doesn’t stop there.  

Read more about dairy’s role in gut health by accessing our new report, Dairy’s Role in Gut Health.



1 Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018 Jun 13;361:k2179. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2179.

Graham C, Mullen A, Whelan K. Obesity and the gastrointestinal microbiota: a review of associations and mechanisms. Nutr Rev. 2015 Jun;73(6):376-85. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv004. Epub 2015 Apr 6.

Hedin CR, van der Gast CJ, Stagg AJ, et al. The gut microbiota of siblings offers insights into microbial pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease. Gut Microbes. 2017; 8(4):359-65. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1284733.

Wu GD et al. Linking long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science. 2011 Oct 7;334(6052):105-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1208344. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

5 Marco MLet al. Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Curr OpinBiotechnol. 2017 Apr;44:94-102. 

6 Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, Cordoba, Argentina, October 1-4,200.

7 Saxelin M, Korpela R, Mayra-Makinen A. Introduction: classifying functional dairy products. In: Mattila-Sandholm T, Saarela M, editors. Functional dairy products. New York: CRC Press; 2003. pp. 1–15.