Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human body. They’re often called “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria” due to the many health benefits they offer. Probiotics help to keep your body — specifically the gut — healthy. The human body is full of both good and bad bacteria. When it loses good bacteria, probiotics can help replace them, to balance the bacteria and keep the body functioning properly.
There are plenty of probiotic supplements on the market, but if you prefer to stick to natural foods to get your fill, here are eight probiotic foods that can improve digestion, help fight depression and promote heart health to keep things running smoothly.
With so many types of yogurt on grocery store shelves, how do you choose? Most yogurt brands in the United States contain probiotics, but the organisms should be added after heat processing in order to reap the health benefits. If the label says “live and active cultures,” it’s a safe bet for probiotics. Yogurt has been linked with bone health, lowering high blood pressure and relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink, made by adding kefir grains to cow or goat milk. It contains probiotics and it’s been credited with various health benefits. It has been shown to help with digestive problems and protect against infection. Those who are lactose intolerant should be able to tolerate kefir without much difficulty.
Sauerkraut is often used on top of sausages or as a side dish. You may have a tradition of eating it for New Year’s. Not only does it contain probiotics, it’s rich in fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B and Vitamin K. It also contains iron and maganese, along with antioxidants that are important for eye health. Look for unpasteurized sauerkraut. The pasteurization process kills the good bacteria.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, and it has somewhat of a nutty taste. Many vegetarians use it as a protein source in their diet, to substitute meat. While soybeans are high in phytic acid, a compound that impairs the absorption of minerals, the fermentation process lowers the amount of phytic acid so the body can successfully absorb the minerals in tempeh. It’s also a source of Vitamin B12, which is usually found in animal and dairy products.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean dish usually made from cabbage or other vegetables. It contains a lactic acid bacteria known as Lactobacillus kimchii, along with other lactic acid bacteria that may benefit digestive health. It is typically high in vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin K, Vitamin B2 and iron.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning that is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans. It’s a good source of both protein and fiber, and it’s high in various vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Miso contains Vitamin K, manganese and copper. One study reported that frequent consumption of miso soup was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, while another study found that miso soup was linked to a reduced risk of stroke.
Pickles are cucumbers that are left to ferment in a solution of salt and water, using their own lactic acid bacteria to sour. Pickled cucumbers are a great source of healthy probiotic bacteria, which has been shown to improve digestive health. Pickles are high in sodium but low in calories, and they provide a good source of Vitamin K, which is an essential nutrient to prevent blood clotting. Pickles made with vinegar do not contain live probiotics.
Similar to tempeh and miso, Natto is another food made from fermented soybeans. It contains a friendly bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. Nato is typically mixed with rice and served with breakfast in Japanese kitchens. It aids in both bone health and cardiovascular health, it’s rich in protein and Vitamin K2, and some studies suggest that it may help prevent osteoporosis in women.