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Have you heard the expression that your gut is your second brain?
It's true—the gut contains 100 million neurons that control not only your digestion but also your mental and physical health. That said, it's no wonder why you want to make sure to keep your gut healthy.
In order to maintain a healthy gut, you have to make sure to eat a proper diet (and reap the great benefits of probiotics). This means that it’s important to make sure that you’re eating enough foods with probiotics.
With so many other good healthy diet choices available today, it’s easy to miss probiotic-rich foods, considering that most of them have strong flavors that may be unfamiliar to your taste buds. But they can be an acquired taste, and after you start to enjoy them, you will be able to see and feel the health benefits that they are giving you.
In this article, we will talk about 13 foods that are rich in probiotics that you should consider adding to your diet. But first let’s break down the different kinds of healthy bacteria.
Seven Types of Good Bacteria (Probiotics Found in Food)
1. Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lactobacillus acidophilus (also known as L. acidophilus) is a bacteria that can be found in your intestines, and plays a large role in your health. This bacteria turns lactose (the sugar found in milk) into lactic acid with its enzyme called lactase.
L. acidophilus has been studied extensively since the 1890s, and has been shown to actually be vital to human health. In fact, it can possibly provide a wide variety of health benefits. But there are several strains of this bacteria, and each can affect the body differently.
2. Lactobacillus d. bulgarius
Lactobacillus d. bulgaricus (L. d. bulgaricus) can be found in the digestive tract. This beneficial bacteria helps maintain the strength of the intestinal walls and keep harmful bacteria away from the GI tract. It can also help reduce the risk of chronic disease. L. d. bulgaricus is used in the production of yogurt by producing amino acids from milk proteins. Its production of lactic acid allows L. d. bulgaricus to be a preservative as well.
3. Lactobacillus reuteri
Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) is one of the most commonly studied strains of bacteria, possibly due to its wide range of health benefits. L. reuteri is a common strain of lactic acid bacteria that can either live in the intestines or the stomach. Different strains of this bacteria have different physiological effects. For example, while one strain that is trademarked “Pylopass” is used to fight the dangerous bacteria H. pylori, another strain (trademarked “Cardioviva”) is used to reduce cholesterol.
L. reuteri is not found in every person. In fact, in the 1960s, around 40% of the population had this bacteria in their microbiome. Today, it is only present in 10-20% of the population. This is why it is important to get this healthy bacteria from your food.
4. Streptococcus thermophilus
This powerful strain of probiotics has well-researched health benefits. Streptococcus thermophilus is typically found in the colon, and is used to culture cheese and yogurt. This strain of probiotics also creates lactase, helping people digest dairy products more efficiently. It also produces antibiotic chemicals that can work to prevent infections.
5. Saccharomyces boulardii
Several studies suggest that Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii) is a biotherapeutic agent that can help prevent and treat various gastrointestinal diseases. S. boulardii mirrors the protective effects of healthy gut flora that are normally present in the gastrointestinal system. The multiple actions of S. boulardii and its healthy properties lead to its efficacy in treating acute and chronic gastrointestinal diseases.
6. Bifidobacterium bifidum
Bifidobacteria bifidum has gotten a lot of attention lately for being a bacteria that is potentially very beneficial to one's health. While studies are limited up to this point, many possible benefits have been explored.
7. Bacillus subtilis
Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis) is a type of bacteria that is found in soil and the gastrointestinal tract. This bacteria is rod-shaped and has a protective endospore, which lets it live in extreme environmental conditions. B. subtilis is often used to study gram-positive bacterium, bacterial chromosome replication, and cell differentiation. While it has health benefits, it is also often used for industrial purposes by biotechnology companies.
What Foods Are High in Probiotics?
Yogurt, which is the most common food source of probiotics, is a form of cultured or fermented milk that is thickened by the addition of lactic acid-producing bacteria and bifidobacteria. The probiotics in yogurt help maintain a bacterial balance in the digestive system that is needed to boost the immune system and promote healthy digestion.
Not only does yogurt help relieve gastrointestinal problems such as IBS, but it is also a good food to consume to improve bone health due to its high calcium content. When shopping for yogurt, it is important to look for the National Yogurt Association’s “Live & Active Cultures” seal. This seal lets consumers know that the product has significant levels of live bacteria in it.
Kefir originated in areas of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. Its name comes from the Turkish word keyif, which translates to “feeling good” after a meal. Kefir is high in nutrients and probiotics, which makes it beneficial for digestion and gastrointestinal health. Specifically, kefir helps improve the digestion of lactose, and can even boost the immune system.
Kefir is a fermented beverage made from either cow's milk or goat's milk. It is made by adding a starter kit of yeast cultures and lactic acid bacteria (also known as kefir “grains”) to milk. After sitting for 24 hours, the bacteria multiply and ferments the milk's sugars, resulting in kefir. Kefir is also a great source of protein and calcium.
Sauerkraut is a thinly sliced, fermented cabbage that originated in China as a food source over 2,000 years ago. It has major health benefits due to the fermentation process that it goes through, which far outweigh the benefits of fresh cabbage.
Sauerkraut is fermented by lactic acid bacteria, which creates conditions that encourage the growth of healthy probiotics. It is also an excellent source of vitamins C, A, and K. When it comes to shopping for sauerkraut, look for an uncooked, unpasteurized, and unheated product to help give you the full benefits of its live enzymes.
Tempeh is originally from Indonesia and is a fermented soybean product that takes on a cake-like consistency. Tempeh is simple to prepare and high in protein, making it an easy source of probiotics for your diet. It has a more meaty taste and texture when compared to tofu, and contains about twice the amount of protein.
Tempeh was once only popular among people following a vegan or vegetarian diet because it is known as a high-protein meat substitute, but it has now become a kitchen staple. It is versatile and can be incorporated into any delicious dish that would otherwise include meat to create an impressive and nutritious meal.
Tempeh is a great source of probiotics, antioxidants, and isoflavones, and can be eaten raw or boiled with your favorite sauce. To make a dish that is exceptionally high in probiotics, mix tempeh with miso.
This fermented Korean vegetable side dish can be a spicy addition to noodles, or it can be eaten by itself. It is typically made from salted, fermented vegetables.
Many people add kimchi to soups, sandwiches, and stir-fries as well because of its multitude of health benefits. There are over 300 varieties of kimchi that offer benefits such as immune protection and anti-aging properties. Kimchi is also known to improve skin health, fight cancer and obesity, and even help relieve constipation.
Miso is a traditional Japanese spice that is made from fermented soybeans, barley, or brown rice, and incorporated with a fungus called koji. After fermenting anywhere from days to years, miso ends up as a thick paste that is then used to make sauces, spreads, and soup stock, or as a pickling agent for vegetables or meats.
Pickles are simply cucumbers that have been fermented in a solution of salt and water using their own lactic acid bacteria. Pickles are a rich source of probiotics and are low in calories, so they are perfect for most diets.
Pickles are a great source of vitamin K, which helps the body properly clot blood. Pickles also contain vitamins C, B5, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. When choosing your pickles, make sure that you avoid those that are made with vinegar, because these do not contain live probiotics.
8. Traditional buttermilk
There are many varieties of buttermilk out there these days, but traditional buttermilk is the only kind that contains probiotics. Traditional buttermilk is made from the leftover liquid that is the result of churning butter out of cultured cream.
Before people had the ability to skim cream from whole milk, the milk would just sit until it separated into cream and milk. While this process was happening, the bacteria that naturally produced lactic acid in the milk was able to ferment it, making it into a great probiotic.
Buttermilk is sometimes referred to as “Grandma's probiotic” because it is considered to be old-fashioned when made in its traditional way. But this slightly misunderstood dairy product is great for one's health, and can help reduce the growth of colon cancer and decrease blood pressure.
Natto is a Japanese fermented soybean product that contains the bacteria strain B. subtilis. In Japan, natto is usually mixed with rice and served for breakfast.
It has a very distinctive smell, sticky texture, and strong flavor, which may make it an acquired taste for some people. It is a rich source of protein and vitamin K2, which can improve bone health and even fight osteoporosis.
10. Some types of cheese
Not every type of cheese is a good source of probiotics, but some soft fermented cheeses such as Gouda, mozzarella, Parmesan, cheddar, Swiss, and cottage cheese contain healthy bacteria that can thrive in your GI tract and benefit your health.
These cheeses are made from a lactic acid bacteria that curds milks and whey before fermenting, which then creates probiotics. Be sure to check the label on your cheese for live and active cultures.
11. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao content can help improve brain function, reduce stress, and fight fatigue. The darker the chocolate, the healthier it is for you.
The healthy bacteria in your gut ferments dark chocolate, turning it into a probiotic. You only need to eat about one ounce of dark chocolate in order to get its health benefits.
Microalgae is a food additive that is created from ocean plants such as spirulina, chlorella, and blue-green algae.
It is a great addition to a morning smoothie, but can also be added to salads and other foods throughout the day. Microalgae can serve as both a food and a supplement, and has potent probiotic compounds.
13. Brine-cured olives
These naturally fermented olives are rich in Lactobacillus, and a great source of healthy fats. They are a great snack for people who follow a Paleo diet, and have other health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.
It is easy to brine-cure your own olives, but it takes some time. You can make your own brine and simply submerge olives in it and cover it with a cheesecloth to keep them underwater. Just keep the jar in a dark and cool place, and check your olives every week until you determine they are finished and ready to eat.
With this list of 13 foods that are good sources of probiotics, you can make it a habit to include at least one or two in your meal plan. Start with one that you know you like, and then branch out a bit to experiment with some of the options that you may not have tried yet.
An increasing number of studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your gastrointestinal system is directly linked to your overall health. The great thing about probiotic-rich foods is that they don’t easily spoil, so you can always keep some on hand. Just be sure to check the food label when you shop so that you know you’re buying a product with “good bacteria.”
Finally, if you want to focus on a great HEALTH habit that increases your energy and helps with your weight goals, then take 30-seconds each morning to prepare this drink to feel energized throughout the day.