Did you know your gut is brimming with bacteria? But it’s not all bad!
With all that bacteria in you digestive system, it must come as no surprise that some are good, and some are … less than desirable. When most of your gut bacteria are the good kind, you know it. Because you can feel it.
In fact, the good bacteria in your gut help you –
- Process food properly
- Keep your skin healthy and glowing
- Eliminate yeast and fungal infections
- Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
- Oust certain pathogens that cause illness 1
So, you need bacteria – the good kind – to keep your system up and running. And probiotics help you do just that! They give your immune system backup, so you can keep health issues at bay.
But when bad bacteria take over, it can get really hard to keep things running smoothly. Oftentimes, that’s when you start to pack on the pounds or crave sugar. And it’s a slippery slope, too, because more sugar leads to more fatigue, rashes, and colds, et cetera.
It’s no joke. When bad bacteria set up camp in your gut, you’ve got to take care of it. For many people, that means balancing your gut microbiome with probiotic foods.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are ‘live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”2 So, essentially, probiotics are living bacteria lining your digestive tract that can help your overall health.
It’s weird, because people normally associate bacteria with sickness – but probiotics replenish the good bacteria that keep you strong.
That’s one reason why they’ve become a profound way to support your immune system – as well as your overall physical, mental, and even emotional health. Lots of people choose to “reseed” their guts with probiotic supplements – and that’s a great way to get probiotics into your system. But, you can do even more to improve your health by adding probiotic foods – aka certain fermented foods – to your daily diet.
You see, before we had refrigerators, people fermented certain foods to preserve substantial amounts of it. They’d use lactic acid, alcohol, or alkaline fermentation to get rid of antinutrients or even reduce cooking time in an effort to hold onto their fuel supplies. And lots of those traditional foods they came up with have stayed popular – they’re an amazing natural source of probiotics.
Turns out, a just a dollop of some of these fermented foods can fill your gut with lots of good bacteria. The better your intestinal health, the better your general health. So, work these probiotic treats into your routine to boost your intestinal health.
10 foods that pack a healthy probiotic punch
Yogurt’s a creamy, delicious treat made from fermented dairy. Not only is it a great source of protein, it’s also got magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and certain beneficial enzymes. Made from goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, or cow’s milk, yogurt is one of the most popular fermented dairy products in the U.S.
When buying yogurt, make sure you see the words “live and active cultures” on the label – this way, you know for sure it’s probiotic. It’s yummy when added to smoothies, topped with nuts or fruit, or even used in chilis and soups.
2. Homemade pickles
Now, not all pickles are probiotic. In fact, most store-bought pickles aren’t – they’re fermented in vinegar. Turns out, if they’re pasteurized, it’s likely the probiotic bacteria have been destroyed. So make sure you grab grandma’s pickles – or try making your own.
Pickling cucumbers is an awesome way to enjoy serious servings of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B5, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. And, they’re full of healthy polyphenols like lignans and other phytonutrients that boost cell development. Salt, water, and a few days in a jar are all you need to turn a cucumber into a crunchy, tasty, probiotic-rich pickle.
Kombucha is a traditional, beneficial Chinese cocktail made by fermenting sweetened black tea. Once mixed with sugar, the colony of bacteria and yeast in kombucha become responsible for initiating fermentation. After fermentation, kombucha becomes carbonated. This healthy beverage is chock full of probiotics, b-vitamins, enzymes, and high concentrations of lactic acid – known for its ability to stimulate the immune system and its antioxidant properties.3
You can find kombucha in the refrigerated section of your local market or even order a home-brew kombucha kit online and brew it yourself.
Now, many people assume kefir and yogurt are the same things, but it’s simply not true. While they’re both cultured dairy products, kefir not only consists of probiotic bacteria, but it’s got about 10g of protein … per cup!
Another cool thing about kefir … it actually colonizes the intestinal tract. That’s because it consists of several strains of good bacteria, like Lactobacillus caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus.
It’s also full of beneficial yeasts which help destroy dangerous, disease-causing, pathogenic yeasts by penetrating the mucosal lining where the unhealthy yeasts wreak havoc. The beneficial yeasts then strengthen these areas of the intestines.
Have a cup of kefir as an on-the-go breakfast, or add it to your cereal instead of milk. Look for kefir in the dairy or natural-foods section of your grocery store; it’s available in plain and fruit flavors.
Natto is a favorite Japanese dish – an odorous, fermented soybean often served for breakfast. Bacillus subtilis – a powerful probiotic – is what’s used to ferment the breakfast staple. And while the bean packs a probiotic punch, it also serves up a healthy dose of vitamin K – known to help your bones absorb calcium and even help heart health.4 It’s an odd dish for some due to its odor and gooey texture, but it’s certainly worth trying if probiotics are a priority.
6. Ginger beer
Cheers! This next fizzy fermentation hails all the way from England and has been around for the last few centuries. Enjoyed all over the world, its taste is refreshing and it’s primary ingredient – ginger – has been known to help relieve nausea and fight inflammation.5
Ginger beer is a tasty, good-for-you summer treat that can be found in most grocery stores.
This Korean low-fiber, high-fat, fermented cabbage condiment gets its heat from salt, chili peppers, vinegar, and garlic. The reddish fermented cabbage can be eaten alone or tossed into rice or noodles. Plus, kimchi is loaded with vitamins C, A, and B. But its biggest benefit is, of course, lactobacilli. This good bacteria aids digestion and may also help prevent yeast infections.6
A probiotic powerhouse, this favorite hot dog topper can actually help counter indigestion. Like kimchi, sauerkraut is fermented, shredded cabbage. When picking out your kraut, try to stay away from the pasteurized variety – instead, opt for raw, refrigerated varieties which are sure to give you the probiotic benefits you’re looking for.
Like Natto, tempeh is also made from fermented soybeans, but it’s more like tofu in odor and texture, and its taste is more earthy than sour. An Indonesian favorite, tempeh comes as a firm, white cake and provides much-needed protein for vegans and vegetarians.
And because of the way tempeh is fermented, the whole bean is retained, allowing tempeh to hold onto its high protein content. It’s also a great source of dietary fiber and vitamins.
There are two main types of buttermilk: traditional and cultured.
After reading this far, you may be able to guess which one contains probiotics and which one does not. Traditional buttermilk is what’s left after making butter (hence the name) and contains probiotics. Cultured buttermilk, which can be found in most American supermarkets, does not contain probiotics.
Traditional buttermilk isn’t easily found in the U.S., so if you’re interested in incorporating it into your probiotic foods arsenal, you’ll probably end up learning how to make it yourself.
When it comes to probiotics, not all cheese is created equal. Many of them are fermented, but that doesn’t mean those cheeses also contain probiotics.
If cheese is one of the probiotic foods you’d like to include in your diet, Cheddar and Gouda are two reliable choices.8 Probiotic cheeses contain a number of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains. Cheddar cheese also contains two Lb. paracasei strains, which can survive the digestive process due to the cheese’s low acidity and fat content.
Miso is a traditional Japanese savory seasoning – a thick paste with a salty and tangy flavor. You can usually find it added to soups or as a poultry rub, fish rub, glaze, or sauce thickener.
Also produced by fermenting soybeans, this probiotic favorite differs from those mentioned above because of the presence of koji-kin – a mold grown on a steamed rice (koji) – cultivated and then incubated for about 45 hours.
You can usually find it in the refrigerated section of your local market. It’s so delicious. To get you started on a new probiotic recipe collection, we’ve added a super-simple, tasty miso soup recipe below!
Probiotic Miso Soup (4 servings)
What you need –
- 1/3 cup miso
- 4 cups water
- 5 thinly sliced green onions
- 1 tbsp nori seaweed
- 4 oz silken tofu
What to do –
Start by sautéing the seaweed and green onions for approximately 6 minutes. Add water and stir for 30 seconds. Then add the miso and the tofu, and simmer on a low heat for 3 minutes. Do not let the soup reach a boil. Serve and enjoy!
And there you have it. These probiotic foods will really help you to keep your gastrointestinal health in check and might even help you boost your immune system. Remember, the foods listed above are all natural sources of probiotics and when used regularly, they can help you improve your well-being.
1 NCCIH. (n.d.). Probiotics: In Depth. [online] [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
2 Mack, D. (2005). Probiotics. [online] [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
3 Nguyen, N., Dong, N., Nguyen, H. and Le, P. (2015). Lactic acid bacteria: promising supplements for enhancing the biological activities of kombucha. SpringerPlus, 4(1).
4 Schiffman, R. (2016). Are You Ready to Eat Your Natto?. [online] Well. Available at: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/are-you-ready-to-eat-your-natto/?_r=1 [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
5 Bode, A. and Dong, Z. (n.d.). The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.[Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
6 Park, K., Jeong, J., Lee, Y. and Daily, J. (2014). Health Benefits of Kimchi (Korean Fermented Vegetables) as a Probiotic Food. Journal of Medicinal Food, 17(1), pp.6-20.
7 Selhub, E., Logan, A. and Bested, A. (2014). Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33(1), p.2.
8 Stanton, C., Gardiner, G., Lynch, P., Collins, J., Fitzgerald, G. and Ross, R. (1998). Probiotic Cheese. International Dairy Journal, 8(5-6), pp.491-496.