Probiotics are important for gut health, but it can be hard to know which foods contain them. If we want consistent consumption of varied types of foods rich in probiotics, knowing what foods to eat is really important.
Most people don't realize that one important key to a healthy gut is eating probiotic-rich foods. Not only do these foods help improve digestion and reduce inflammation, they can also play an important role in keeping your immune system functioning properly.
This guide to gut-friendly foods will show you how to add more probiotic foods into your everyday eating habits. We're sharing a list of the best probiotic-rich foods that will help you optimize your gut health.
Here's a few basics in case you're new to probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacterial microorganisms that are similar to the beneficial bacteria that already live in your gut, the colony known as the microbiome. A live bacterial microorganism that you ingest will only be probiotic if it confers a health benefit to you.
When you consume foods rich in probiotics, they help to stimulate and strengthen the resident microbiome that lives in and on your body, mostly in your gut. Research tells us that probiotics help to improve digestive health, absorb nutrients, boost immunity, and promotes our overall well-being.
What is lactic acid bacteria?
Lactic acid bacteria are the type of 'good guy' live microorganisms found in fermented foods.
Lactic acid bacteria are beneficial to gut health because they help to break down food and produce lactic acid, which is an important component of the digestive process. This 'good guy' bacteria also helps to keep the pH level of your gut balanced, which helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Probiotic-rich foods are good sources of lactic acid bacteria. You can also find lactic acid bacteria in fermented foods, particularly fermented vegetables like pickles, kraut, kimchi, olives and pickle juice.
Is there a difference between probiotic foods and fermented foods?
It's a common misconception that all probiotic foods are fermented, and vice versa. While all fermented foods do contain probiotics, not all probiotic foods are fermented.
The lactic acid fermentation process used to ferment vegetables uses the four components of salt, time, temperature and an oxygen free environment to transform fresh vegetables into preserved ones. Lactic acid bacteria is created in this process which helps to both preserve the food and create beneficial compounds like enhanced vitamins and antioxidants.
Some probiotic foods, particularly mass produced yogurt are fermented, then pasteurized, then cultured. Culturing a food after it is pasteurized reintroduces lab-created probiotics into a food. By contrast, 'wild fermentation' is the natural process of fermentation, without the use of pasteurizing then re-culturing. 100% of our fermented foods here at Olive My Pickle undergo wild fermentation, are never pasteurized, and we do not add lab-created cultures to any of our products.
What are foods with probiotics?
Here's the Top Probiotic Foods:
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that contains active cultures of bacteria. The fermentation process creates lactic acid, which gives yogurt its characteristic tangy taste.
Goat milk yogurt is good probiotic-rich food for people who are lactose intolerant.
Add yogurt to smoothies, use in savory snack dips such as Olive My Pickle's Muffuletta Dip or enjoy yogurt simply as a snack with fruit and nuts.
The key to choosing a yogurt that's good for your gut is one that is full fat and very low in sugar. Raw dairy is also preferred to pasteurized, although raw dairy can be harder to find-- it's typically available at local farmers markets.
Kefir (also called Milk Kefir or Kefir Milk) is a fermented dairy product that is similar to yogurt, but it contains more live and active cultures of bacteria. Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk and allowing the mixture to ferment for 24 hours. The kefir grains feed on the lactose in the milk, which makes kefir milk easier to digest than milk. Coconut Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to coconut milk and allowing the mixture to ferment for 24 hours. Goat Milk Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to goat milk.
Add kefir milk to smoothies, use in creamy salad dressing recipes, or enjoy as a snack with your favorite crackers and cheese.
Kefir water is growing in its popularity and is a non-dairy kefir alternative made with water, organic sugar and kefir grains. It can be flavored in many ways which makes it a hot new trend.
Drink kefir water as is, or add it to smoothies or mock-tails.
Kombucha is a fermented tea made by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to sweetened tea and allowing the mixture to ferment for 14 days. The fermentation process creates acetic acid, which gives kombucha its zesty flavor. This drink can also be flavored in many ways. Look for different flavors that might match your tastes.
Enjoy kombucha as is, or use it in place of vinegar in recipes.
Kvass, a fermented beverage made from rye grains, is also a good source of probiotics. Kvass is traditionally made by fermenting rye bread with lactic acid bacteria. The fermentation process creates beneficial compounds like vitamins and antioxidants.
Kvass is a good probiotic drink for people who are looking for an alternative to kombucha or kefir.
Probiotic drinks are a great way to get your daily dose of live microorganisms. However, it is important to be aware of the sugar content in some probiotic drinks. Some probiotic drinks can contain high levels of sugar, which can offset the gut health benefits of the live cultures. Choose your kombucha or probiotic beverages carefully.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste. Miso is made by adding koji (a type of Aspergillus mold) to soybeans and allowing the mixture to ferment for 12 months. The fermentation process breaks down the proteins in the soybeans, which makes miso easier to digest than soybeans. Easier on the gut is a good thing.
Add miso to homemade salad dressings, soups, stews, and sauces, or use it as a marinade for meats and vegetables.
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple juice. This process produces acetic acid, which gives ACV its sour taste. In addition to being a good source of acetic acid, raw apple cider vinegar contains high amounts of live cultures and antioxidants.
Drawbacks to ACV? It's acetic acid makes it very strong in flavor! If you're drinking a shot of apple cider vinegar daily and the flavor is a little too intense, try switching to pickle juice. You'll get comparable benefits when it comes to the probiotics, plus pickle juice is high in minerals potassium and sodium. To learn more about probiotic pickle juice, read our article Drink It or Dump It? The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Pickle Juice.
Raw dairy is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Raw milk does contains an array of enzymes and live, active cultures of bacteria, which makes it good probiotic-rich food. Raw milk however can also contain harmful bacteria, so it is important to get raw milk from a reputable source.
Drink raw milk as is, or use it in place of milk in recipes.
Raw cheese is cheese that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. As we noted about raw milk, be sure to buy from a reputable source.
Buttermilk is a fermented milk product that has been around for centuries. While buttermilk used to be made from the leftover water from churning butter, it is now made using cultured milk which causes the milk to sour and thicken.
Drink it plain or use it in baking for tiny bit of tang so you get lighter results in your cakes, biscuits or breads.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that is technically fermented by definition, but since it's baked it doesn't contain live cultures.
Tempeh is made by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to soybeans and allowing the mixture to ferment for 24 hours. The fermentation process breaks down the proteins in the soybeans, which makes tempeh easier to digest than soybeans.
Add tempeh to soups, stews, and sauces.
Sourdough bread is a type of bread that is made by allowing the dough to ferment for 24 hours. The fermentation process creates lactic acid, which gives sourdough bread its sour taste. Because sourdough bread is baked, any probiotics or live cultures found in its fermented dough are killed.
Is Sourdough bread healthier than other breads?
There are a few things to consider when looking at the health benefits of sourdough bread.
First, sourdough bread contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than other breads. And sourdough bread contains lower levels of phytates, a compound found in grains that can bind to minerals and make them less available to your body. Therefore, sourdough bread is more nutrient dense than many other bread, and it allows your body to absorb its nutrients more easily than those in regular bread.
Fermented Vegetables like Sauerkraut, Kimchi, and Fermented Vegetables
The process used to make fermented vegetables is the lacto-fermentation (short for lactic acid fermentation) process. This not only preserves the vegetables, but also gives them a distinct, delicious flavor which just may keep you coming back to them again and again. The lacto-fermentation process is used to make a variety of fermented foods, including krauts, kimchi, and pickles. This is how we ferment here at Olive My Pickle.
In addition to being an excellent source of probiotic bacteria, the fermentation process breaks down the cell walls of the vegetables, making it easier for the body to absorb these nutrients.
Add them to your meals and snacks as a side or garnish, use in dressings, sauces and dips. For more ideas check out our recipe posts in our blog, we recently published a popular article, 9 Probiotic Appetizers We can't Stop Eating.
Unpasteurized Salt Cured or Salt Brined Olives
Salt-cured olives are made by adding salt to the olives and allowing them to ferment for long periods of time. This process kills harmful bacteria and helps to preserve the olives. Salt-cured/brined olives are also a good source of probiotics - a tasty one too! Most olives on the shelves at the grocery store are pasteurized. 100% of our olives here at Olive My Pickle are live culture. There are so many other benefits to eating healthy olives, check out our article 10 Benefits of Eating Healthy Olives.
Pickles are a favorite here at Olive My Pickle!
Pickles are made by adding cucumbers, salt, spices, water and time. The fermentation process creates lactic acid bacteria, which gives pickles their unique and addicting taste. Curious about what happens in the process of fermentation? Check out our article How Are Probiotics Created During Fermentation?
How do I eat fermented foods for my gut health?
Our quick guide has the answers. Get 20+ meal ideas, tips, hacks and snacks for your best gut ever.
You now have a full of many probiotic foods that are good for your gut.
As you can see, there are many everyday foods that contain probiotics. By incorporating these gut-friendly foods into your eating habits, you can ensure that you are getting a variety of live and active cultures of bacteria. This will help to keep your digestive system healthy and happy!
Interested in learning about the difference between probiotic Foods or probiotic supplements, and whether you need both? Read the article here.