How and Where to Find Probiotics in Food

Probiotic bacteria are some of the most useful bacteria in your body, as they provide excellent benefits in terms of digestive regularity, immune system support and resistance to harmful gut bacteria. Although many of us choose to take special (and sometimes costly) probiotic supplements, plenty of others get sufficient supplies from ordinary food items you can find in any supermarket or health food store.

Below, we take a look at some of the more easily available foods that offer a significant source of probiotics, before taking a look at some more interesting and exotic choices as well. Enjoy!

Common and readily-available probiotic food

1. Yoghurt

How and Where to Find Probiotics in Food - YogurtA product of fermented milk, yoghurt should be top of any list that looks at probiotic-rich foods, as many varieties are full of useful probiotic strains such as lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. In fact, some brands of organic yoghurt are estimated to contain up to 500 billion Colony Forming Units (CFUs) per serving, making them far more potent sources of friendly gut bacteria than most capsule-based probiotic supplements. Source

The probiotic content of a store-bought yoghurt can vary intensely however, and some major brands of yoghurt have little to nothing in terms of digestive benefits. The process of sterilizing the yoghurt through pasteurization of other measures, can effectively kill all of the useful probiotic strains contained within.

If you’re interested in finding yoghurts with the best probiotic potential, try organic, non-heat treated brands or brands that are specifically labelled as offering a certain amount of probiotic bacteria per serving. Popular brands that guarantee a hefty serving of probiotic bacteria include Activia, Yoplait Original, and Stonyfield. Source; Source

2. Gouda, Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Cottage Cheeses

Cheese is not always a great source of probiotics, but certain soft cheeses can be a handy, cheap, and effective way of getting your daily dose! From cheddar to swiss, all the way to parmesan, numerous soft cheeses have been found to contain relatively high doses of probiotic bacteria that stand a good chance of surviving the acidity of the stomach. The reason for this lies in the way that cheese is produced; lactic bacteria is initially used to form the curds and whey that ferment to create cheese, and this same bacteria eventually form the probiotics we need to stay healthy! Source

Gouda appears to be an excellent choice for those looking for a big probiotic dose, particularly those brands that are labelled as “probiotic gouda” – this specially-made cheese has been shown in studies to improve the overall health and digestive health of elderly consumers. Another great choice is cottage cheese, especially those that are specifically labelled as having “active live cultures”. Source

3. Olives cured in brine

Another fermented food, olives can act as a great source of probiotic bacteria. As well as an excellent antioxidant and nutrient profile, olives are also packed with various strains of probiotic lactobacillus bacteria, meaning that they can offer a range of benefits to the digestive system, waistline and other problem areas. Source

Even though olives naturally offer useful supplies of probiotic bacteria, a European Union project called probiolives is attempting to amend the way olives are produced in Europe. The new strategy aims to boost the probiotic profile of olives far higher with clever fermentation strategies, making them even better for gut health when consumed in the EU than elsewhere! Source

Keep an eye out for olives cured in brine above all others, as the saltwater gives the probiotic bacteria the best chance of surviving all the way to grocery store shelves.

4. Pickles

How and Where to Find Probiotics in Food - PicklesLike with olives, ordinary dill pickles can act as a great source of probiotics, but only when prepared in the right way.

Gherkins are traditionally pickled in vinegar. However, this method fails to form the healthy gut bacteria that readers of this article are looking for! Instead, try to find pickles that have been formed in salt and water, a process that encourages natural fermentation and the formation of lactic acid bacteria. Source

Finding pickles that have been prepared this way might be difficult in stores, but we have fortunately stumbled across a few websites and recipes that can tell you how to make your own! Source

As you might expect, the process is very quick and easy to prepare, and essentially amounts to combining fresh dill with filtered water, salt, and a jar. With a little patience, you can have a tasty, homemade snack filled with billions of healthy gut-boosting bacteria per serving!

5. Kefir

Kefit is a fermented milk drink that was originally produced in the mountains of Central Asia, and has since become popular in trendy grocery stores throughout the USA and Europe. The concoction is made by placing “kefir grains” (a gelatinous bead filled with bacteria and yeast) in milk, before leaving it to ferment for at least 24 hours. If you haven’t tried it before, imagine a yoghurt drink with a slightly fizzy and sour taste.

It also comes with a host of excellent health benefits! Kefir grains reportedly offer up to 30 different strains of healthy gut bacteria per serving, meaning that the drink can be used to ease digestive disturbances and improve overall gut health. It may also be one of the only milk-based products out there that’s actually suitable for those who are lactose intolerant (which is always a plus). Source

6. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a finely-chopped, fermented cabbage, and a staple of German cuisine. It’s still relatively widely-available outside of Germany (especially at international stores), and can be used as a great sandwich filling or burger/hot dog topping!

As long as the sauerkraut isn’t heated, it also represents perhaps the best source of probiotic bacteria out there. Each serving of sauerkraut contains billions (or even trillions) of live cultures, and more than 13 different strains. According to some fans, homemade sauerkraut packs even more potential than the store-bought variety, with one recipe reportedly containing an astonishing ten trillion culture-forming units in a 4-6oz serving! Needless to say, this powerful probiotic food is often far more potent than the best capsule-based probiotic supplement out there, as well as being far less punishing on the wallet. Source; Source

Rare and exotic probiotic foods

7. Tempeh

How and Where to Find Probiotics in Food - TempehThis vegan-friendly dish from Indonesia is made up of fermented soybeans. As with all of the other entries on this list, it’s this process of fermentation that gives this otherwise unassuming tofu-substitute its probiotic benefits.

Tempeh is made by adding a fungus to half-cooked soybeans, before allowing to mixture to ferment for 1-2 days. The finished product is a kind of solid cake, formed as the fungus fills the gaps between the beans to create a solid mass.

Although tempeh is often consumed deep-fried in its native South-East Asia, it can be served raw or boiled in order to preserve its probiotic health benefits.

When prepared and served appropriately, studies have shown that tempeh is an excellent source of the Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus paracasei (amongst others), making this a great source of probiotics if you can find it! Source

8. Kimchi

A genuinely delicious dish, kimchi has to rank as one of the most interesting foodstuffs from which to get your probiotic fix! This Korean staple is made by mixing cabbage with a host of interesting ingredients (including ginger, garlic, chilli peppers, fish sauce, onions, and more), before leaving the mixture to ferment for several days. The resulting taste is extremely strong and often very spicy, and it is often used as an accompaniment to rice, as a condiment or as a cooking ingredient. Source

As with many of the other items of this list, you should always be careful how you prepare kimchi if you want to maintain its impressive probiotic profile – cooking the mixture too thoroughly will have the unintended effect of killing all of the healthy bacteria! To stay on the safe side, consider eating the mixture raw as a side dish to a main meal.

9. Miso

This Japanese seasoning is almost unmissable when indulging in Japanese cuisine, turning up everywhere from soups to snacks. Even if you’ve never tried it, you’ve surely been exposed to this strong, salty flavour at one point or another; the liquid residue left behind during the miso creation process is actually what gives us soy sauce!

Like tempeh, miso is created by fermenting soybeans, along with a host of other grains in order to create a kind of buttery paste. The resulting mixture is then left for up to 3 years, with older batches generally preferred for their richer flavour.

Along with being generally healthy, miso packs a significant probiotic punch as long as it is prepared with as little heat as possible (when making miso soup, consider adding the paste to water that has come off the boil). Customers should also keep an eye out for unpasteurized batches of miso, as these are the only brands that will maintain their probiotic content. Source

10. Kombucha

How and Where to Find Probiotics in Food - KombuchaThis fermented tea is made by mixing tea, sugar, and flavourings, with a culture of yeast and probiotic bacteria. It’s known for its extremely distinctive flavour and appearance, with a vinegary, carbonated flavour, and a distinctive solid “cap” that floats on top of the liquid.

Although kombucha’s stock is on the rise in trendy health stores across the USA, this bizarre drink is actually one of the least useful ways to source your supply of probiotic bacteria. Due to health and safety concerns, most batches of kombucha sold in the USA are pasteurized, meaning that all of the bacteria have been heat-treated and eliminated. Source

Of course, home-brewing is still an option, but here’s where the problems really start to pile up. Kombucha’s safety profile is actually disputed and the drink has been accused of all kinds of problems, including producing side effects ranging from gastrointestinal discomfort all the way up to heart attacks and death (seriously). Better probiotic options are out there. Source

11. Traditional Buttermilk

This term refers to the liquid leftover from making butter. Although it is not typically available to buy in American and European stores, this traditional mixture is an excellent source of probiotic bacteria in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Frustratingly, a similar mixture which is often called “cultured buttermilk” is often sold in American health stores, with the implication often made that it offers the same benefits as its South Asian cousin. Unfortunately, food health and safety standards in the USA means that cultured buttermilk offers little to nothing in terms of probiotic benefits. For the real deal, you’ll have to visit India and its neighbours! Source

12. Natto

Another dish from Japan, our final entry is a pungent-smelling dish that is not thought to be overly popular outside of its homeland. Despite its slightly controversial stringy and sticky nature, this fermented-soybean dish is a clear winner when it comes to providing probiotic benefits!

Natto is an excellent source of a probiotic strain called bacillus subtilis, and is also rich in cysts of “dormant” bacteria. In a nutshell, this means that each serving of natto contains a powerful dose of healthy gut bacteria (as long as customers can get past this dish’s infamous smell and texture). One for the adventurous! Source

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