Probiotics are live microorganisms—usually beneficial bacteria—that work to provide a healthy balance in your gut when consumed. While it might sound a little strange, studies show that these bacteria can trigger a variety of beneficial reactions, ranging from the relief of gastrointestinal issues to better moods and even improved cognitive function. Below Lifestyle and Food Writer Rory Brown shares some of the most effective and readily available probiotic foods for anyone who is looking to reap their many benefits.
This Korean staple food, made from seasoned cabbage and radishes fermented through a lactic acid process, is one of the most probiotic-rich foods in the world. Kimchi also boasts a bevy of beneficial nutrients, including beta carotene, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Studies on the health benefits of kimchi have linked it to improved colorectal health, a stronger immune system, and lower incidence of chronic constipation and stomach cancer.
Like kimchi, sauerkraut is the product of fermented cabbage, and it has been used as a way to preserve the vegetable since the 4th century BC. Sauerkraut offers powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties, and dozens of studies conducted since the 1930s have repeatedly emphasized this probiotic food’s digestive and anti-inflammatory benefits. Be aware that some modern sauerkraut is packed in vinegar or pasteurized, both of which eliminate beneficial bacteria. Instead, look for sauerkraut sold in a refrigerated section, which lists live cultures on its packaging to ensure that you are getting the probiotic benefits.
Kefir is a cultured dairy product that may resemble yogurt at first glance. However, kefir has a much thinner consistency and a tart taste thanks to the yeast-based fermentation process used to make it. Yogurt is a probiotic-rich food in its own right, but kefir contains significantly more active strains of beneficial bacteria, and research suggests that the cultures found in kefir remain viable for a longer period after digestion than the ones found in traditional yogurts.
Miso paste, made from fermented soybeans and a beneficial rice mold, is a common ingredient in traditional Japanese cooking and a potent probiotic. The most common use for miso paste is to make a broth for soups, though it can also be used as a marinade ingredient, a salad dressing, or to add flavor to a stir fry. When it comes to probiotics, different strains of healthy bacteria have different benefits, so eating a diverse range of probiotic foods is key, and miso paste offers a number of unique bacteria that promote gut health and improved digestion.
Sourdough’s slightly sour flavor and chewy texture owe themselves to a gut-friendly microbe called lactobacillus, which makes the bread a probiotic powerhouse. Not only does sourdough reduce inflammation and promote healthier gut flora, studies found that it also helps to reduce blood sugar spikes in people with pre-diabetes. Sourdough is also rich in fiber, giving it a one-two punch when it comes to a healthy digestive system.
Kombucha is a type of fermented black or green tea, and the recent spotlight placed on it by the health and fitness industry means this once-obscure beverage has become quite popular. Kombucha contains live lactic acid cultures, and studies have linked regular consumption of the tea with reduced inflammation, improved digestion, and even weight loss. It is important to note that many mass-marketed kombucha brands include significant amounts of sugar in their teas, which can have counterproductive effects on gut health. Check labels to find a brand that doesn’t go heavy on the sugar, or consider making your own at home.
Similar to tofu, tempeh is a product made from fermented soybeans and grains and formed into a loaf-like shape. However, tempeh is firmer and dryer than tofu, with a distinctly tangy, nutty flavor that sets it apart and makes it ideal for grilling, stir-frying, or crumbling into salads. In addition to its high probiotic content, tempeh is a great source of protein, and recent studies suggest that regular tempeh consumption may be linked to lower overall cholesterol levels.
While probiotic foods are most widely known for their ability to improve digestion and alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal-related conditions, the truth is that their benefits extend far beyond that, helping to bolster the immune system, regulate mood, and support stronger cognitive functions. The foods above represent some of the most convenient and probiotic-rich foods available, making it easy to incorporate them into your diet.
About Rory Brown (Charleston, SC): After spending the first 40 years of his life in the United States, Rory Brown decided to focus on the quality of life and began living internationally. He now spends his time in Lake Como, Italy, Sydney, Australia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Kauai, Hawaii. His appreciation for simple health food that embraces local traditions of excellence has earned him credit among farm-to-table communities everywhere he goes.
Brown began his career as a technologist and has always focused on healthy lifestyle choices. His well-researched lifestyle writing has increasingly focused on living life to the fullest each day throughout the world.