Adding probiotic foods to your diet may ease digestive problems and improve health.

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What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms found naturally in some foods. 

Not all microbes are probiotics. Probiotics can:

  • Survive in the intestines after ingestion
  • Be safe to consume
  • Have proven health benefits

Probiotics help maintain a healthy microbiome, aid digestion and support immune function.

Plant-based Foods With The Highest Probiotic Content

Some of the best probiotics are found in plant-based foods. Add these probiotic foods to your diet:

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea consumed widely for its health benefits. Sweetened black or green tea, and yeast allow good bacteria to grow during the fermentation process. 

People claim kombucha may improve health problems like hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol. There is no evidence or research to prove these claims but it does contain beneficial probiotics.

It also contains vitamin B and antioxidants which contribute to good health. Kombucha is becoming widely available. You can also invest in a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to make kombucha.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage usually eaten as a side dish. It is one of the best probiotic foods and it contains digestive enzymes.

Finely shredded cabbage and salt allow beneficial lactic bacteria to grow. This process is known as lactic-fermentation.

The sugar in cabbage converts to lactic acid which acts as a natural preservative and gives sauerkraut its sour taste. 

Besides probiotics, cabbage is a source of:

  • Vitamins C: essential for collagen production and iron absorption.
  • Vitamin B: used to build cells and prevent infections. 
  • Vitamin K: vital to blood clotting and bone health.
  • Potassium: a versatile mineral, involved in regulating blood pressure, enhancing muscle strength, and may relieve symptoms of depression.
  • Iron: a mineral necessary for vital functions, such as regulating temperature and supporting brain function.
  • Fiber: necessary to keep the digestive system healthy.
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: antioxidants that are both linked to ocular (eye) health.

It’s easy to make sauerkraut and doesn’t require a lot of special equipment.

If you prefer store-bought sauerkraut make sure you buy the raw, unpasteurized variety with live bacteria.

Pickled Vegetables

Fermenting vegetables in brine (saltwater) is known as pickling. 

The fermentation process is similar to that of sauerkraut.

Cucumbers are the best known pickled vegetable but there are other options available. Pickled onions, beets, cauliflower, and olives are delicious alternatives.

Pickling makes vegetables last longer and preserves nutrients – which means you keep all the advantages of eating raw vegetables.

Be aware that brine increases the sodium content and too much sodium can have negative effects.

Vegetables pickled in vinegar don’t have live bacteria. Make sure to choose brine pickled vegetables if you want to add probiotics to your diet.

Miso

Fermented soybeans and koji (a type of fungus) are the foundation of miso. Miso, a Japanese seasoning, has an umami (rich savory) taste.

Research indicates umami intensifies taste in low-salt foods. Therefore, miso can help reduce sodium intake. 

It’s a good source of protein and has vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Miso might be especially beneficial for women. Studies have found a reduced risk of breast cancer in women who regularly eat miso.

Natto

Natto is a popular Japanese fermented soybean product with a slimy texture and a strong musky smell. 

It has an acquired taste. To tone down the flavors, Japanese eat natto with rice, soy sauce, and Japanese mustard.

Natto has many nutritional benefits but is most noted for its high vitamin K content. 

Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting and bone health. Studies indicate eating natto habitually may increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis

RELATED: 4 Important Ways Gut Health Affects Your Bones

Tempeh

Tempeh is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans wrapped in waru leaves. Waru is a type of tree native to the tropics.

Tempeh has a mild, nutty flavor and can be enjoyed in numerous ways.

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Soybeans, like other legumes, are high in protein and other important nutrients.

Humans lack enzymes that break down the phytic acid found in most legumes. Phytic acid prevents some minerals from being absorbed. In some cases, the ‘antinutrient’ effect of phytic acid can lead to anemia, zinc deficiency or malnutrition.

Fermentation reduces the amount of phytic acid and increases the absorption of minerals. 

It also produces vitamin B12, an essential nutrient the body can’t produce on its own.

Kimchi

The most common variety of kimchi is made with cabbage, radish, garlic, spices, and salted shrimp. 

Kimchi is synonymous with Korean food and is served with most meals.

Lactobacillus kimchi, a lactic acid bacteria, causes fermentation and may aid digestion.

The fermentation process produces antioxidants which may slow down the aging of cells and prevent cancer. Some even claim kimchi is the ‘fountain of youth’.

It contains vitamins A, B, and C needed for cell reproduction, immune support, and visual health.

It also contains allicin and selenium, both of which are helpful to reduce cholesterol reserves.

**Store-bought Kimchi usually contains seafood. Vegan-friendly varieties are available online or can be made at homek

Dairy Products With Natural Probiotics

Fermented dairy products are a great source of probiotics. Including probiotic-rich dairy products may help reduce digestive problems and other health concerns.

Natural Yogurt

Yogurt is one of the best-known sources of probiotics.

Yogurt contains several types of bacteria, most notably Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp., bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and bifidobacterium bifidum. 

The bacteria convert lactose (the sugar found in milk) to lactic acid which gives the yogurt a thick creamy texture and may make yogurt suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

The probiotics in yogurt may prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and alleviate symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The health benefits of natural yogurt aren’t limited to its probiotic properties. Yogurt also contains:

  • Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, essential minerals needed to regulate blood pressure, control muscle movements and promote bone health.
  • Vitamin B12 and riboflavin, which may protect against heart disease.
  • Tryptophan, an amino acid that facilitates serotonin and melatonin production. Tryptophan may improve sleep and depression.

The high protein and low-calorie content may help manage weight.

Not all yogurt contains live bacteria and may contain high amounts of added sugar. If you want all the health benefits of yogurt look for natural, plain yogurt with live cultures and no added sugar.

Kefir

Kefir, a fermented milk drink, contains roughly 30 types of microorganisms.

Kefir is made with a milk base and kefir grains (lactic bacteria and yeast). Dairy-free kefir made from coconut, soy and rice milk is available.

Kefir has a thinner consistency than yogurt but the health benefits are similar.

Kefir might be better at replenishing your microbial colonies while taking antibiotics.

Traditional Buttermilk

To make butter, milk was left to sit until the cream and milk separated. The bacteria found in unpasteurized milk fermented it and made butter churning easier. Traditional buttermilk is the liquid leftover from this process.

Most buttermilk found in supermarkets is made from pasteurized milk which kills all the good bacteria.

Traditional buttermilk is hard to find but can be made at home.

Some Types of Cheese

Aged cheese or cheese made from raw, unpasteurized milk contains probiotics.

Cheese may have some advantages over other fermented dairy products. It creates a barrier that protects probiotics from stomach acid. This allows more bacteria to survive during the digestive process. 

Other health benefits of cheese are similar to yogurt and kefir.

Most commercially available cheese is made from pasteurized milk and doesn’t contain probiotics. 

Some deli’s and farmer’s markets sell raw cheese. Varieties include aged cheddar, Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Alpine cheeses.

Probiotic foods have many health benefits. As more research is done, the impact of gut bacteria and fungi on health becomes more evident. Include foods with natural probiotics in your diet to help aid digestion, prevent disease and maintain good health!

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