You’ve probably heard about probiotics by now, but do you know just how important they are when it comes to overall health. Consuming them has been shown to support a healthy and diverse microbiome which, in turn, supports wellbeing. While we don’t know exactly how many probiotics are found in food due to factors like processing, storage and the fact that they’re a natural product, we should still add probiotic-rich foods to our diets over supplements for the benefits they boast.
Gut microbes are tiny microorganisms that live in your gut. They’re alive and play many important roles in the body. We still have so much to learn about the gut microbiome, but we do know that what we eat has a big influence on keeping it (and us) happy and healthy. Diets rich in plant foods have been shown to promote the most favourable changes when it comes to gut microbiome health.
Nutrition research has also gotten more specific. We have started pinpointing specific components in the foods we eat that are promoting the health of the gut microbiome. All of us need to include both probiotics (sources of living beneficial bacteria) and prebiotics (food fuel for these bacteria). But back to probiotics for now!
5 probiotic-rich foods
This is a fermented drink made by adding kefir grains to milk. Unlike the grains you’re probably picturing right now, kefir grains are colonies of a combination of yeast and bacteria. This grain-like combination, when added to milk and stored in a warm spot to ferment, produces billions of live cultures, including over 20 different probiotic strains. Kefir has a similar consistency to yoghurt with a tart tangy flavour. You can also get many different kinds, including dairy-free and vegan versions, plus coconut milk kefir, goat’s milk kefir and kefir yoghurt.
This popular flavour-bomb garnish is a combination of thinly-shredded cabbage and salt. It is then fermented with various lactic-acid bacteria. If you’ve never tried sauerkraut before, it can take some getting used to. It tastes slightly sour, sweet, spicy and salty all at the same time, plus its trademark fermented funkiness, of course. It’s great on sandwiches and burgers, and in wraps!
As you may already know, yoghurt is a fermented dairy product. Milk is fermented using two species of bacteria: Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus) and Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus). In addition to these starter cultures, some yoghurts also contain added probiotics, most commonly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Another well-known fermented food, this Korean specialty is made from cabbage, garlic, ginger, onion, chilli and fish sauce. It is lacto-fermented to create a delicious product that is rich in probiotics.
Did you know that it’s been around for thousands of years? It’s made by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar to tea and allowing it to ferment. It has become hugely popular lately, we don’t have much research backing the probiotic benefits of kombucha. However, it does contain different species of lactic acid bacteria that may have a probiotic function. Plus, it’s delicious!
You can also get your probiotics in supplement form. There is plenty of new research showing how much potential there is for the use of certain strains in certain diseases and conditions. Unlike most marketing campaigns and ads would like you to believe, however, it’s not as simple as taking any old probiotic. To achieve a beneficial outcome, you need to be taking the specific strain, or combination of strains, that have been indicated for your particular condition. Therefore, probiotic supplements can be very beneficial when taken under the guidance of a nutrition professional, for most of us there’s no need, and you’re better off sticking to quality probiotic-rich foods.
What about prebiotics?
These are substances that come from certain foods (mainly fibre) that humans can’t digest. On the surface, it may seem like something we can’t digest is a bad thing, or simply useless. In the case of prebiotics, it is actually extremely beneficial. By resisting digestion higher up in the digestive tract, these substances make it all the way down to the large intestine intact, where they can effectively act as fuel for our gut bacteria. Probiotics need prebiotics to flourish. Good prebiotic-rich foods include onions, asparagus, green bananas, chicory, artichokes, leeks, apples and garlic.
How to add probiotic foods to your diet
It’s easy! Here are some of my favourite ways to boost your intake:
- Choose high-quality yoghurts with live cultures
- Add kefir to smoothies
- Use green banana flour in baking
- Add kimchi to rice and noodle bowls
- Make dressings and sauces with miso
- Have sauerkraut with your salads
- Opt for a small glass of kombucha over a soft drink
- Add leeks to your roast vegetable meal prep
- Make stewed apples to add to your porridge, yoghurt bowls or chia pudding
- Use onions as the base of any sauce or stew-based dish, like pasta, soup and casseroles
Prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods are fantastic to include in the diet to support gut health and overall wellbeing. But for some people, they can cause irritation and uncomfortable gut symptoms. This is because many of these foods are high in FODMAPs, which aren’t always well tolerated by people with IBS and IBD. If you’re trying to include more prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet and are noticing some unpleasant symptoms, book an appointment with one of our team at Verde Nutrition Co. We can work together to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need without the discomfort.