Probiotics are credited with a host of health benefits, including improved heart health, better digestion, and even clearer skin. And while you can get probiotics from popping a pill, there are also a handful of healthy, natural sources that can deliver a probiotic punch while also providing other vitamins and minerals to nourish your body.
Today we’ll go through five great sources of probiotics and explore how to incorporate these foods into your daily diet.
You’ll notice that many of the foods on this list are fermented in some way, and kimchi is no exception. This spicy dish originated in Korea and is made by fermenting chopped cabbage, radish, scallions, garlic, and ginger. Non-vegetarians can also add fish sauce or shrimp paste. All the ingredients are mixed together and left to ferment for a few days, allowing beneficial probiotic bacteria to multiply.
This is the most labour-intensive food on this list, but the health benefits are more than worth the wait. If patience isn’t your strong suit, however, pre-made kimchi is readily available at most grocery stores and Asian markets. You can either eat kimchi on its own or mix it together with rice.
If strong flavours and spicy tastes aren’t your thing, yogurt might be a better bet for you. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with lactic acid bacteria and is widely available in many different styles and flavours.
Although yogurt is one of the best sources of beneficial probiotic bacteria, you may need to read a few labels before finding one with the benefits you’re looking for. The way some yogurts are processed and prepared can kill probiotic bacteria, so look for a tub that specifies Live Culture or Probiotic content. It’s also worthwhile to check the sugar content of flavoured yogurt. Strawberry or coconut flavours may taste better, but their sugar content can sometimes rival that of ice cream – hardly a health food.
Adding plain yogurt to cereals, smoothies, or fresh cut fruit is one way to take advantage of the probiotic content without overdosing on added sugars.
This dish is kind of like the European take on kimchi. Sauerkraut is also made from fermented cabbage but has more of a sour/salty taste instead of the spicy flavour of kimchi. Sauerkraut is rich in probiotics but also contains fibre, and vitamins C, B, and K.
Sauerkraut is simple to make at home but is also available in stores and can keep for a few months if stored properly. Just like yogurt, however, the benefits of sauerkraut can disappear if not processed properly, so make sure to read the label of any store-bought sauerkraut. If it has been pasteurized, all those helpful gut bacteria have been killed off. Make sure the label specifies raw or unpasteurized sauerkraut before you buy it to ensure you’re really getting a serving of probiotics.
Many people enjoy eating sauerkraut on its own, but its salty flavour also makes it a popular topping for hot dogs and sausages.
This bubbly, flavourful drink is a convenient way to get a serving of probiotics while also quenching your thirst. Kombucha is brewed by steeping black or green tea with a syntrophic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The fermentation process produces carbonation, and by using different flavours of tea and adding different fruits to the fermentation process, kombucha makers can produce a dizzying array of flavours.
This probiotic drink does have a slightly bitter, vinegar taste, so try a few to find one you like. Choosing strong flavours like grape or mango can be good choices for those new to kombucha.
Kombucha is packed with probiotics and antioxidants, but those who abstain from alcohol may want to skip this one. Kombucha does contain a small amount of alcohol – typically 0.5% or less.
If you like to play it safe and avoid trying new foods, the humble pickle is a great choice to get a serving of probiotics. These sour, crunchy sandwich toppers are made by pickling cucumbers in a solution of salt and water, which creates probiotic bacteria.
Pickles are rich in potassium and vitamin K, but they have a high sodium content, too, so if you’re on a low-salt diet they may not be the best choice for you. And take care when choosing your pickles, those in a vinegar-based brine don’t have the same probiotic advantage as those in a saltwater mixture.
Any of these five natural foods is a great choice for boosting your probiotic bacteria. Getting to try a delicious snack (or drink!) plus benefitting from a powerful dose of probiotics sounds like a win-win to us!
If none of these options appeals to you, however, or your lifestyle makes meal-planning challenging, choosing a good-quality probiotic supplement can be a great backup plan. In our next article, we’ll discuss what to look for in a probiotic supplement and explore a few options to make sure you’re consistently getting a full serving of beneficial probiotics each and every day.