Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to improve your gut health?
Perhaps you’ve suffered from leaky gut or a similar digestive issue?
Or maybe you’re just looking to achieve clearer skin, brighter mood, and better overall health?
Here’s the thing: probiotics will help you with all of the above.
Here at Cates Nutrition, we’ll explain the science behind probiotics – what they are, how they benefit you, along with the list of the healthiest probiotic foods.
Have a look:
What Are Probiotics?
So what exactly are probiotics?
These are friendly bacteria and active microorganisms that live in your gut. They are also found in probiotic-rich foods (which we’ll list down below).
Probiotics offer many health benefits when ingested. From improving digestion, nutrient absorption to bolstering your immune system.
Not only do probiotics enhance your physical health, they are also shown to boost mood. Thus alleviating depression, anxiety, and stress.
In fact, certain strains of probiotics are linked with higher production of GABA in the brain. (12)
GABA is a neurotransmitter which slows down the firing between neurons. In other words, it relaxes your entire nervous system, making you feel peaceful and calm.
Other research shows that probiotics improve heart health. These friendly bacteria can even improve the quality of your skin.
So if you have acne, probiotics are a must-have in your diet.
Now, before you run to the nearest pharmacy to buy a bottle of probiotics. Know that you can get all of these benefits from eating good old probiotic foods. They are cheap, natural, and above all – effective at boosting your health.
Below we have a list of the 10 healthiest probiotic foods.
Healthiest Probiotic Foods
Kefir is essentially a mixture of milk and starter kefir grains. When left at room temperature, these grains ferment in the milk, serving as a breeding ground for friendly bacteria.
As kefir grains ferment in milk, the bacteria start eating the milk sugar (lactose). During this process, the milk thickens. Eventually, you end up with a yogurt-like substance.
Except kefir is even better than yogurt.
That’s correct – even though yogurt is arguably the most popular probiotic food, kefir contains even more friendly bacteria. (1)
Once ingested, these bacteria colonize your gut. There, they contribute to the balance of your intestinal flora, ensuring that the ratio of friendly to bad bacteria stays in favor of the friendly ones.
Kefir has anti-microbial and anti-tumor properties. It also helps to prevent a whole host of other ailments. It does this by boosting the immune system and improving digestion – two important factors in your overall health. (1)
I know what you’re thinking.
“But what if I’m lactose intolerant?”
Good news: people who are intolerant to dairy usually don’t have the same problem with kefir.
That’s because of the friendly bacteria in kefir, which break the lactose down for you.
Sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. It’s made by shredding cabbage into fine small chunks and letting them ferment in containers.
During the fermentation process, healthy bacteria in cabbage multiply. This process turns the cabbage into sauerkraut – giving it its distinctive taste.
Many Europeans love to eat sauerkraut in winter months. Because it’s brimming with friendly lactic acid bacteria and vitamin C. Both of which boost the immune system.
Alongside these nutrients, sauerkraut also contains vitamins B and K, along with sodium, manganese, and iron. (2)
Not only does sauerkraut contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, but it’s also rich in phytonutrients. These include lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants which improve eye health and prevent macular degeneration. (3)
However, a lot of the sauerkraut from your typical grocery store doesn’t have any benefits. A lot of commercially available sauerkraut products are pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills all bacteria – both good and bad.
So either make your own sauerkraut. Or if that’s not an option, find raw sauerkraut, either in an organic store or online.
Fermented Cucumbers (Pickles)
Pickles, AKA gherkins, are cucumbers that have been preserved in a mixture of water and salt.
Pickles naturally contain lactic acid bacteria. When they sit in the mixture, pickles ferment and good bacteria proliferate.
Not only do pickles contain a large number of friendly bacteria, they are also full of vitamin K. This nutrient is essential for blood clotting.
And the best of all, pickles are low in calories.
The only downside to this food is that it’s usually high in sodium. But if you make your own pickles, you can control how much salt you put into them.
Keep an eye on the ingredients in pickles if you buy them from a grocery store. Avoid those which contain vinegar – it kills the friendly bacteria.
Dark chocolate may not have the highest probiotic content of all the foods on this list, but it’s rich in something else – prebiotics.
What are prebiotics, you ask?
Simply put, these are a form of fiber which your body can’t digest. But your gut bacteria can – and they love it.
When you eat prebiotics, they end up fermenting in your gut, where your friendly bacteria eat them to grow stronger.
So combining probiotics and prebiotics is really one of the best ways to improve your gut health. And dark chocolate is a source of both.
Kombucha is a black or green tea fermented with bacteria and yeast.
This is a popular drink in many parts of the world, particularly the USA and Asia.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding kombucha and its health benefits.
While a lot of it may be overblown marketing hype, the fact is, kombucha is rich in probiotic bacteria.
This in itself says a lot about kombucha. It’s healthy for the digestion, it helps with nutrient absorption, and boosts the immune system.
While human studies on kombucha are lacking, its health benefits are indisputable due to its high friendly bacteria content. (4)
Kvass is a fermented drink that’s been known for its health benefits since ancient times.
Traditionally, people made kvass by fermenting grains such as rye or barley. However, more recently, kvass has been made from fruits and vegetables – including beets.
Kvass beets contain a friendly strain of probiotics called Lactobacilli. These are well-known for their cleansing properties – healing your gut and helping the liver with detoxification.
Have you ever been told that raw milk should be avoided at all costs?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but once you look at the actual research, you’ll realize that you’ve been lied to.
Not only is natural raw milk not harmful. It’s one of the most beneficial probiotic foods you can feed your body with.
But what exactly is raw milk? In short, it’s milk that comes from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. It’s unhomogenized and unpasteurized. In other words, raw milk is milk in its absolutely pure, natural form – milk that didn’t go through any processing.
In other words, this means that raw milk retains all of its nutrients, enzymes, anti-inflammatory fatty acids, and beneficial bacteria. It’s a complete food in a full sense of the word.
But what about the harmful bacteria in raw milk? Isn’t that dangerous?
Well, according to research, the risk of raw milk being contaminated and leading to food poisoning is extremely low.
In fact, you have a 35,000 higher chance of poisoning yourself with other foods than with raw milk. (5)
But let’s go even further with the facts:
According to the CDC, about 48 million food poisoning cases are reported every year.
Can you guess how many of those are due to raw milk?
That’s correct – only 0,0005% of all foodborne illnesses each year are due to drinking natural, unprocessed, raw milk. (6)
In fact, people have three times higher chance off dying in a plane crash than being hospitalized due to raw milk poisoning. To go even further, you have a higher chance of dying from eating infected oysters than getting sick from raw milk.
Now that we cleared that up, let’s look at what raw milk actually offers, in terms of probiotic benefits.
Benefits of Raw Milk
- Reduces allergies
- Boosts the immune system
- Improves your skin
- Contains an entire microbiota of friendly bacteria that heal your gut
- Has a complete nutrient profile – helping prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Fights infections
And, according to Dr. Axe:
“Most accusations and concerns over raw milk have been overstated, and therefore its health benefits remain underrated. Raw milk benefits are numerous and can help address a large number of nutritional deficiencies that millions of people, especially those eating the standard American diet, are currently experiencing. For instance, raw milk benefits allergies and skin, all while containing beneficial nutrients without the processing dangers.” – Dr. Axe
Besides being one of the best probiotic foods, yogurt also improves bone health and reduces high blood pressure. (7, 8)
Yogurt can also alleviate diarrhea induced by antibiotics. It can even relieve the symptoms linked to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). (9)
Since it’s rich in friendly bacteria, particularly lactic acid and bifidobacteria strains, yogurt improves the digestion and nutrient absorption of the foods you eat. (10)
And just like kefir, yogurt is usually well tolerated by people who have lactose intolerance. Thanks to its beneficial enzymes and friendly bacteria.
However, not all yogurts are probiotic foods. Many processed yogurts you find in store usually don’t contain any live bacteria in them.
For this reason, look for yogurts that have live or active cultures.
Coconut kefir is a great alternative if you don’t consume dairy.
It’s made by mixing the juice from fresh coconuts with kefir grains. Just like with regular milk kefir, these grains ferment in the coconut juice, leading to a proliferation of friendly bacteria.
However, it’s important to note that coconut kefir isn’t nearly as rich in probiotics as milk kefir is.
Still, it has a variety of friendly bacterial strains which makes it one of the healthiest plant-based probiotic foods out there.
On top of all, coconut kefir has a yummy flavor. With a little addition or stevia, lemon juice, and water, it makes for a refreshing summer drink.
Originally from Indonesia, but now becoming popular worldwide, tempeh is fermented soybean.
How do you create tempeh?
It’s simple – just add a tempeh starter culture to soybeans. Then let it sit for a couple of days, and voila – you’ve got yourself a cake-like product full of healthy bacteria.
Tempeh is so rich in probiotics that it benefits everything from digestion to brain health.
It also contains a good amount of vitamin B12, which is produced during fermentation. (11)
This makes tempeh one of the best probiotic foods for vegetarians, and anyone who wants to improve their gut health.
Probiotics are healthy, friendly bacteria that offer many health benefits.
They not only improve your digestion, but also bolster your immune system, help against IBS, and even possess anti-cancer properties.
Some of the healthiest probiotic foods include:
- Raw Milk
- Beet Kvass
If you suffer from any kind of digestive issue, or simply looking to maintain good health, consider adding some of these foods into your diet. Your gut will thank you.
Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. (source)
United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service USDA Food Composition Databases. (source)
Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. (source)
A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. (source)
TED BEALS - A campaign for real milk. (source)
Raw Milk Questions and Answers - CDC. (source)
Dairy products, yogurts, and bone health. (source)
Effect of probiotic fermented milk on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. (source)
Can probiotic yogurt prevent diarrhea in children on antibiotics? A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. (source)
Bifidobacteria in milk products: An overview of physiological and biochemical properties, exopolysaccharide production, selection criteria of milk products and health benefits. (source)
Formation of B-vitamins by bacteria during the soaking process of soybeans for tempeh fermentation. (source)
Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. (source)