11 Super Healthy Probiotic Foods
Probiotics have become the #1 go-to source for immune system support and for good reason: Probiotics support your immune health where it really counts – in your gut.
But, did you know that the bacteria in your gut also influence your overall health – physical, mental, and emotional? The microorganisms that reside in your gastrointestinal tract act as natural controls on your body weight, energy, and nutrition.
That’s what makes foods with probiotics so valuable. The healthy bacteria that exist naturally in probiotic foods can actually alter your gut’s microorganisms or your gut flora, making it more beneficial to your health and well being.
In fact, “reseeding” your gut with probiotic – or fermented – foods may be one of the most important steps you can take for your health!
Why Foods With Probiotics Can Be Even Better Than Taking a Pill
Turning to foods for nourishing your gut with beneficial or “good” bacteria isn’t anything new. Long before refrigeration and other forms of food preservation were available, people got large quantities of good bacteria – or probiotics – straight from their diet in the form of fermented or cultured foods.
Luckily, many of those foods remain popular today and provide significant amounts of natural probiotics. Just one spoonful of certain fermented foods can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria, far more than you could ever get in a probiotic supplement.
To help you get started, I’ve created a list of 11 of the most popular probiotic foods:
Probiotic Foods List: 11 Super Healthy
- Fermented vegetables
- Miso soup
- Kombucha tea
Let’s take a look at each of these foods, starting with my hands-down favorite.
For foods with probiotics, you won’t find a better source than fermented vegetables.
I recently tested the probiotic potency of a batch of fermented vegetables made with our probiotic starter culture and was stunned to discover that just one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! These fermented vegetables contained 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria!
Together with Julie, one of my office team members, I’ve produced a video on how to make fermented vegetables.
At the above link, you’ll also find tips and tricks for fermenting vegetables. We like to sometimes add these vegetables, in addition to cabbage (make sure 80 percent is cabbage): carrots, radishes, turnips, red pepper, celery, and golden beets. Ginger and garlic can add additional flavor. Always choose organic vegetables whenever possible.
I think you’ll discover it’s more fool-proof than you think to make fermented vegetables, and you can make a large batch to share with others or store in your refrigerator. The time you invest will be worth it.
While it’s not necessary to use my starter culture, using it will yield vegetables with exceptionally high levels of probiotics and vitamin K2, a nutrient that’s important for bone and cardiovascular health.
Cabbage alone can provide adequate probiotics for the fermentation process, but using a starter culture provides much higher levels. I believe that if you are going to the trouble to make your own fermented vegetables, it makes sense to use a starter culture to get the highest level of probiotics possible.
You can buy fermented vegetables commercially if you don’t want to make your own. However, be prepared to pay a steep price. A quart can run as high as $20! When you make your own at home, not only do you save money, you can customize the recipe to suit your taste.
A type of fermented raw vegetable, traditionally, sauerkraut is made from cabbage. Cabbage is an exceptionally healthy food: It’s an excellent source of vitamin C and A. It’s also an abundant source of vitamin K – one serving provides 85 percent of the daily required amount your body needs!
Research has also revealed that cabbage has high levels of a substance called glucosinolate that helps support normal cell growth and development. Sauerkraut also contains phytonutrient antioxidants that are valuable for supporting a healthy inflammatory response in your body.
Sauerkraut is one of my personal favorite foods with probiotics. It tastes good and it’s rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria, especially when made with my starter culture. In fact, I recommend customizing your sauerkraut with the addition of other vegetables – there are many recipes you can try!
- 1 whole green cabbage
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 carrots, grated
- Celery juice
- Starter culture
- Grate, shred, or slice the cabbage thinly, except for the outer leaves (set them aside). Shred the carrots and ginger, and add to the cabbage.
- Mix the starter culture in the celery juice, making sure it’s completely dissolved. Add the juice to your vegetables, spreading it out evenly.
- Put as much as sauerkraut in a ceramic pot or glass container as you can.
- Get a masher, and mash the vegetables down. This will release more juices in your sauerkraut and eliminate any air pockets.
- Place a cabbage leaf on top of your sauerkraut, and tuck it down the sides. Cover the jar with the lid loosely (Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which will expand the jar).
- Store the container in a place with a controlled temperature, like a cooler, for 5 to 7 days. On the seventh day, transfer the sauerkraut to the refrigerator.
Kimchi is a well known fermented vegetable dish from Korea. Depending on which vegetables are used and the region or season in which it’s made, you can see more than 300 different varieties of kimchi!
There is no shortage of ready-to-eat kimchi brands in US supermarkets today, but many of these products are loaded with artificial flavorings, toxic fillers, and harmful additives. Because they likely have gone through excessive processing, there’s a good chance the beneficial live bacteria they might have originally contained is no longer there.
Just like sauerkraut and fermented vegetables, you can make your own fresh, high-quality kimchi at home. Here’s a recipe I like to use:
- 4 cups of water
- 4 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 head cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup daikon radish grated or 1 cup asparagus cut into one-inch pieces
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- In a large bowl, mix a brine of the water and salt. Mix well to thoroughly dissolve salt. Add the cabbage and daikon radish. Cover with a plate or other weight to keep the vegetables submerged. Soak for 12 hours.
- Drain the brine from the vegetables, reserving the brine. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. If they are too salty, you can rinse the vegetables. If they are not salty enough, sprinkle with a little more salt (one quarter teaspoon at a time).
- Combine the asparagus, green beans, scallions, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Add to the cabbage mixture.
- Put the whole mix into a jar or crock. Pour the soaking liquid over the vegetables, making sure that they are completely submerged in liquid.
- Cover loosely with a clean cloth and set aside for three to seven days. The ideal room temperature to help with the fermentation is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is colder, the fermentation takes longer.
- Check the kimchi daily. Make sure the vegetables stay covered in brine. After three to seven days, the kimchi will taste ripe. Once this happens, place in glass jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for months.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type)
When homemade, or carefully prepared commercially and stored properly, kimchi offers an impressive array of nutrients: vitamins A and C, fiber, Lactobacilli and lactic acid, capsaicin, allicin, and indole-3-carbinol. And, of course, fresh kimchi contains high levels of probiotics, making it one of the top super healthy probiotic foods.
Before you run to your refrigerator and grab your favorite pickle jar, you need to know that the pickles you buy at your local grocery store are most likely not a fermented or probiotic food.
If you look at the jar label, you’re likely find they are packed in salt, vinegar, and are pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys beneficial probiotic bacteria!
Pickling cucumbers is an excellent way to enjoy cucumbers’ many health benefits. Cucumbers contain abundant amounts of vitamin K (even before fermenting), vitamin C, vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, and minerals like manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
Cucumbers also contain health-benefiting lignans and other phytonutrients that support healthy cell growth and development.
Yogurt can be an excellent probiotic food, but only if you choose carefully. Most of the yogurt products you find in the grocery store, including "probiotic" yogurt, are NOT recommended for many reasons: they are pasteurized and typically contain added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, dyes, and/or artificial sweeteners, which can be detrimental to your health.
You can find out more about which commercial brand yogurts are best avoided, according to this recent Cornucopia Institute report.
I recommend choosing a fermented raw milk yogurt that contains live cultures and no sugar. Your best bet is to make your own using a starter culture and raw grass fed milk.
Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows contains beneficial bacteria that support your immune health. It's also an outstanding source of vitamins (especially vitamin A), zinc, enzymes, and healthy fats. Perhaps best of all, raw organic milk is not associated with the health problems found with pasteurized milk.
Lassi is an Indian yogurt drink that’s traditionally enjoyed before dinner. While lassi can be a good probiotic food, be aware that many recipes call for added sugar and large amounts of fruit. Lassi is typically made from blending together yogurt, water, fruit, and sometimes sugar or another sweetener.
Resembling a thin, drinkable yogurt, kefir can be made from cow, goat, or sheep milk (preferably raw), or even coconut or rice milk. However, kefir and yogurt contain different types of good bacteria. Kefir contains strains of bacteria or probiotics not found in yogurt, along with beneficial yeasts that can promote health in your gut.
While yogurt’s beneficial bacteria nourish your digestive system and “feeds” the good bacteria, the unique probiotics in kefir can actually help colonize your intestinal tract. Traditional kefir is made with gelatinous white or yellow particles called “grains” that ferment the milk. These grains contain the probiotic culture, and during the fermentation process, incorporate these live, beneficial organisms into the milk to create the cultured product. The grains are removed with a strainer before the kefir is consumed and added to a new batch of milk.
Like lassi, you must be aware of added sugars in the finished product, as many commercial kefirs contain high levels of sugar. It’s best to make your own using a special kefir starter culture.
Popular among the Japanese, this type of fermented soy is largely unknown to Westerners. Once you acquire the taste (and IF you can) for this unusually sticky, strongly flavored food, it can be an outstanding source of probiotics and vitamin K2. In fact, just by eating one small serving or about a half ounce (15 grams) of natto daily, you’ll receive all the K2 your body needs.
Be sure to buy organic natto to avoid bioengineered soy, which is common in the US today. Most importantly, please keep in mind that fermented soy is the ONLY type of soy I recommend, and the only type of soy that truly offers health benefits.
Miso is a paste made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley. When mixed with hot water, you create miso soup that’s a mainstay with the Japanese and macrobiotic cooking. Miso soup makes a quick nutrient-dense meal that’s full of high quality probiotic bacteria. If you choose miso made from soybeans, be sure to purchase organic miso as regularly soybeans are largely bioengineered in the US.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor that makes a great addition to stir-fries and other mixed dishes, including salads. A good probiotic food, it’s also high in vitamin B12. Be sure to buy only organic tempeh to avoid bioengineered soy.
Kombucha tea is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Sometimes tricky to make safely at home, Kombucha tea is made by adding a colony of bacteria and yeast to a mixture of sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The liquid that results contains B vitamins and other chemical compounds.
Even though it is a probiotics food, I don’t tend to recommend Kombucha tea because of its high sugar content and risk of contamination when prepared at home.
There are so many other super healthy foods with probiotics to include in your diet, it’s not necessary to include one that might present a risk to your health!
Note: If, for some reason, you cannot take any of these foods, then a high-quality probiotic supplement like Complete Probiotics is the best alternative.