9 Foods That Are High in Probiotics
With the holidays just around the corner, many of us are thinking about how to balance indulgent foods (especially your Thanksgiving feast) with more mindful eating choices. Did you know that you can combat the feeling of bloat and heaviness from your favorite celebratory meals by incorporating probiotics into your diet?
When it comes to keeping our gut happy during prolonged periods of eating rich and creamy meals, probiotics are indispensable. These good bacteria can help us absorb the right type of nutrients, assist with healthy digestion, and protect the lining of the stomach from damage.
What Are Probiotics?
Our gut is home to an intricate system of microorganisms – between 30 to 100 trillion of them! We each have a unique microbiome (the bacteria that make up our gut) which is why we all respond differently to what we eat daily. But, why is it so important for us to include foods high in probiotics to our diet? The research shows that our gut microbiota acts as a barrier for our intestines, which helps with:
- Promoting healthy digestion
- Proper nutrient assimilation
- Defense against pathogens
- Strengthening the immune system
- Regulating sleep and mood
Probiotics are healthy bacteria or live cultures that protect our digestive tract and gut from pathogens and feed our gut microbiota so that it can work optimally – especially when it comes to digesting heavy meals.
Probiotics are commonly used as supplements, but did you know that there are many foods high in probiotics as well? Consuming probiotic-rich foods can help keep your digestion on track and bloating at bay this holiday season.
In this article we will discuss the various types of foods high in probiotics and how they can provide essential nutrients to help you feel your best this holiday season. It’s also important to note that focusing on eating a variety of foods rich in probiotics is beneficial as there are many different strains of probiotics that all serve different purposes.
Foods That Are High in Probiotics
Sauerkraut is fermented shredded cabbage, and the fermentation process is what turns cabbage into a probiotic powerhouse. It’s important to shop for unpasteurized sauerkraut to ensure that it still contains live probiotics – pasteurization kills all bacteria (good and bad). Sauerkraut is widely popular in Europe and can be consumed as a side dish as well as in soups and stews. In addition to probiotics, sauerkraut also contains fiber and antioxidants for additional health benefits!
Yogurt is one of the most commonly consumed probiotic-rich foods, simply because it is packed with beneficial bacteria! Yogurt is produced by adding strains of bacteria to milk, which thickens the milk to create the creamy treat many of us love. Not all yogurts contain probiotics – some are heat-treated, which kills all bacteria. That’s why it’s important to read the labels to make sure they contain these live and active cultures. In addition to providing digestive health benefits, yogurt also promotes bone health, and may also be a better choice for those who are lactose intolerant but still want to include some dairy into their diet.
Similar to yogurt, kefir is traditionally a fermented milk drink packed with probiotics. Now, however, there are many different types of kefir that are created from non-dairy beverages like coconut milk. Kefir is different than yogurt as it has a thin consistency and is drinkable. This beverage is created by adding kefir grains – a blend of yeast and lactic acid bacteria – to milk. Most kefir has even more probiotics than yogurt, along with antibacterial properties and many additional nutrients.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product originating from Indonesia. It has a cakey consistency and is a very popular meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. It tastes similar to mushrooms and has a slight nutty flavor. Tempeh is a wonderful way to get probiotics into your diet if you do not consume dairy, and in addition to containing probiotics it is also very high in protein, minerals and contains B vitamins.
Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is fermented napa cabbage and sometimes contains additional vegetables. The fermentation process of kimchi converts the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid which creates the probiotics and gives a tangy/sour flavor. Kimchi is also typically quite spicy since red chili flakes and additional seasonings are added into the concoction during the fermentation process. This condiment also contains important minerals and vitamins like iron, vitamin K and B vitamins.
Miso is another fermented soy and koji (a type of cooked grain) product that originates in Japan. The fermentation process again breaks down sugars in the soybeans and koji into lactic acid thus turning it into a probiotic staple. There are various types of miso that all have different strains of probiotics based on where they are produced. When cooking with miso, it’s important not to add this ingredient to high heat recipes as boiling water or high temperatures can kill off the probiotic content. It’s commonly added to soup recipes at the end of cooking to give a salty, umami flavor. In addition to probiotics, miso is a great source of fiber, vitamins and protein.
Kombucha is a popular health beverage packed with probiotics. This beverage is made from fermented tea and sometimes blended with fruit or other ingredients to create unique flavors. Kombucha is a common soda alternative as it is fizzy but with less sugar. The fermentation process to create kombucha includes the use of alcohol, so some brands do contain trace amounts of alcohol in each bottle. Black or green tea are most widely used as the base to create kombucha. The vitamins and antioxidants found in the teas add additional nutritional benefits to kombucha as well.
Pickles are created by fermenting and pickling cucumbers in a water and salt formulation. This specific type of concoction and process is what creates the probiotics, as pickles that are fermented using vinegar are not a probiotic-rich food. Pickles also contain vitamin K – an important vitamin to maintain healthy blood clotting, and as an added bonus, this fermented veggie is also extremely low in calories.
Typically, cheeses like gouda, gruyere, Parmesan and cheddar contain probiotics as they are created during the aging process. Cottage cheese and mozzarella are also generally rich in live cultures. Even though the majority of cheeses are fermented during production, they do not all contain probiotics. That’s why it’s important to check labels to make sure the types you are shopping for do include probiotics. Additionally, these types of cheese are high in minerals like calcium and protein.
Since olives are also fermented, they also contain probiotics! The same type of bacteria that is used in the majority of fermented foods, lactobacillus, is also used in the fermentation process of olives. Olives are also a great source of healthy fats and antioxidants.
Happy Gut, Happy Holidays
There are many different ways you can incorporate these foods into your diet, such as enjoying yogurt for breakfast, incorporating miso into your soups, serving kimchi alongside tofu or meat dishes, or simply snacking on olives and cheese. When looking for probiotic-rich foods, it’s always important to read the labels and make sure you are sourcing products that do not have a lot of added sugars or additional preservatives.
Probiotic-rich foods will help you to keep your gut in balance throughout the holiday season and beyond. Find creative ways to work them into your holiday meals to keep the whole family healthy and happy in the months ahead.
Sarah Baker is a certified holistic nutrition and health coach, certified business consultant with a focus on brand strategy, and founder of BalancedBabe.com. In between working with clients and growing her wellness brand, she spends most of her time as a media and TV personality advocating an approachable and fun holistic lifestyle.