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Best Probiotic Foods & Benefits for Your Gut
By Jill Levy
April 2, 2023
If you eat a modern, processed diet and don’t regularly eat fermented foods, then chances are you could use more probiotics.
In case you need a refresher on the many benefits of probiotics, these are the “good guy” bacteria that populate your gut microbiome and support many digestive and immune system functions.
It benefits just about everybody to obtain a healthy diversity of probiotics on a regular basis, considering they assist in nutrient absorption, elimination and healthy immune defenses.
How can you consume probiotics naturally? The very best way is to eat probiotic foods such as cultured vegetables, yogurt, kefir and certain soy products, such as natto.
These foods are brimming with a wide range of “live and active cultures” (another name for probiotics), not to mention other nutrients that support digestion and overall health, too.
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
Probiotic foods are those that contain good types of bacteria, yeast and other microbes that help to keep you healthy.
How do these foods wind up containing probiotics? Because they go through a process of fermentation, in which healthy microbes grow from consuming carbohydrates found in certain foods (such as dairy and veggies). The definition of fermentation is “a natural chemical process by which molecules such as glucose are broken down anaerobically.”
These foods also belong in a balanced diet exhibiting food synergy, such as including a variety of whole foods in order to maximize their health benefits.
Consuming probiotic foods is one of the best ways to boost gut health. First and foremost, probiotics help to balance the microbes in your gut and promote positive benefits, leading to healthy immune system and digestive system support.
Some of the benefits that probiotic foods can offer include:
Providing beneficial microbes that populate the digestive tract. Beneficial microbes live elsewhere in the body too, such as the genitals and mouth.
Help to maintain the integrity of the gut lining, which is a crucial part of the immune system.
Support a healthy immune response and immune defenses.
Help your body digest food, plus support absorption of essential nutrients in the gut, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12.
Can help to regulate how you produce neurotransmitters, which impacts your energy, outlook and sleep.
Eating probiotic foods can also help promote a healthy gut microbiome and, therefore, generally promote skin health — supporting the gut-skin axis.
Generally speaking, the terms probiotic foods and fermented foods are describing the same thing. But in some cases, people use the words “probiotics” to mostly describe supplements, and “fermented” when talking about foods and drinks.
Most fermented foods usually wind up containing probiotics in different amounts, depending on the specific type. However, a fermented food may be missing probiotics if it’s been pasteurized, which means it’s important to look for foods that contain “live and active cultures.” Pasteurization and high heat can kill microbes, including both good and bad kinds.
Not every fermented food provides lots of probiotics either; for example, beer and wine are fermented but not full of healthy microbes.
Eating raw fermented (also called cultured) foods and drinking probiotic drinks is the best way to increase the amount of good microbes residing and thriving in your body. You might even already be enjoying some of these foods/drinks without even knowing it, such as yogurt or sauerkraut.
Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of probiotic and high-fiber foods (aka prebiotics) is one of the best ways to support gut health.
Not only should you ideally include several types of fermented foods in your diet regularly, but making sure to eat enough fiber and prebiotics will also help to “feed” probiotics in your microbiome, this way they can continue to thrive in your gut.
What vegetables have probiotics? And what fruits are high in probiotics? Is fermented dairy better than cultured veggies?
Here are the 10+ best probiotic foods to eat regularly for your gut:
This fermented dairy beverage (described as being like “liquid yogurt”) is one of the most concentrated food sources of healthy bacteria. It’s slightly more tart than yogurt but can be enjoyed in the same ways, such as in smoothies, oatmeal, with granola, etc.
If you can’t tolerate dairy well, still consider giving kefir a try, since it’s low in lactose. And if not, opt for coconut kefir instead which is dairy-free.
There are many types of yogurts available, such as those made from cow, goat or sheep milk. Yogurt is a tasty and versatile probiotic food, especially if it comes from grass-fed animals and contains live cultures, plus it provides calcium, protein and other nutrients as well.
Choose unsweetened yogurts for the most benefits, then add your own tasty ingredients like nuts, cinnamon and fruit to keep the sugar content low.
Real, traditional sauerkraut is different from the type you find on most hot dogs. It’s fermented cabbage that hasn’t been heated and pasteurized (and is refrigerated); this way it’s brimming with healthy bacteria. Enjoy it with meat, eggs, potatoes and more.
A traditional Korean recipe, kimchi is similar to sauerkraut because it’s made with fermented cabbage, but it has a completely different flavor. It’s a bit spicy and is made with other veggies and ingredients, too. Kimchi makes a great addition to rice bowls, meat, tacos and bibimbaps. And a little goes a long way!
Just like with sauerkraut, traditionally made pickles are different from the types most often eaten today. The healthiest types of pickles are slowly fermented and then refrigerated to help their probiotics stay alive. Add some to burgers, salads, sandwiches or simply enjoy them as a salty snack.
Now popular in many countries around the world, kombucha is a fermented tea that has a sour, often fruity flavor. It’s naturally a bit effervescent (bubbly), making it a great substitute for sugary drinks like soda.
Found mostly in Eastern European markets, health food stores or farmer’s markets, kvass is a traditional beverage made by fermenting rye or barley. To improve the taste it’s also often made with fruits and beets, sometimes along with other root vegetables. If you find the taste appealing, simply sip on it as a cold, healthy drink, just like you would kombucha.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a surprisingly good source of probiotics as long as it’s raw and unpasteurized (in other words, it should contain its “mother” which gives it a cloudy appearance). Many people love to consume ACV daily for help with digestion and potentially even appetite control. Use it in salad dressings, marinades, or ginger tea or water.
You may not have realized that the miso soup you enjoy in Japanese restaurants is actually a great source of probiotics. Traditionally, miso has also been used in Japanese health traditions as a digestive regulator.
What is miso made of? It consists of fermented soybeans (or sometimes rice) combined with the type of fungus called koji, which together create a nutrient-rich paste. To add some to your meals, try dissolving a tablespoonful of miso in a pot of water filled with seaweed and other veggies, or adding some to marinades and stir-fries.
Similar to miso is natto, another Japanese fermented ingredient made from soybeans that is full of enzymes, vitamin B12 and probiotic strains.
Most popular among vegans and vegetarians, tempeh is a plant-based protein source that’s similar to tofu (both are made via fermentation of soybeans). Tempeh has a hardier, firmer texture than tofu and is easier for some people to digest. Plus, it’s a great source of healthy microbes, B vitamins, iron and calcium.
Aside from emphasizing natural probiotic foods in your diet, you can obtain strains of microbes that are known to benefit overall health by taking a daily probiotic supplement.
Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotics contain not only special types of soil-based organism (SBO) probiotics, but also probiotics and postbiotics for even more positive gut health effects. Together, these three support your digestive system and help keep gut function on track.
What makes soil-based probiotics special compared to other probiotic supplements? SBOs are a particular type of probiotic found in soil that are considered “hardy” and tolerant to the harsh conditions of the stomach, which greatly helps with absorption.
Like eating probiotic foods, supplementing with SBO probiotics can help reduce occasional constipation, bloating and flatulence/gassiness.
Depending on your interests, try Ancient Nutrition's SBO Probiotics Gut Restore, SBO Probiotics Ultimate formula, or our formulas made specifically for women and men. There are also Once Daily SBO Probiotics.