Many people tend to think that all bacteria are harmful and should be avoided. While it’s true that you should worry about bacteria, not all bacteria are dangerous – in fact, there are actually certain types of bacteria that are good for you.
And some of that “good” bacteria is important for your body’s digestion. Probiotics are living bacteria that live in your digestive system, helping to regulate your body’s natural process by stimulating natural enzymes and boosting the absorption of nutrients. But the connection between your gut and your body goes deeper than that, especially when it comes to these bacteria.
Probiotics are greatly beneficial for absolutely anyone. This good bacteria is known to help with digestion, but it can also reduce depression, improve heart health, and make your skin look better. If you’re wondering how to work more probiotics into your diet, here are a few great sources of probiotics you can easily eat.
1. Dark Chocolate
Were you expecting a selection of weird foods when you thought about probiotics? Bacteria is found in surprising places, like dark chocolate!
While dark chocolate is not a probiotic per se, it’s actually a prebiotic. This means it’s the food the bacteria need to survive in your gut. Eating dark chocolate essentially helps the probiotics already living in your digestive system.
Dark chocolate is an ideal source of fiber and polyphenols, an antioxidant, which the bacteria feed on. It reduces gut inflammation and also regulates the pH, creating the right environment for bacteria to flourish.
Yogurt is probably the most famous source of probiotics, and it’s one of the best ways to manage your gut health. It’s made from unpasteurized fermented milk of cows, sheep, and goats using friendly bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria. And sometimes, it can also be infused with lactobacillus or acidophilus.
The benefits of yogurt are associated with reduced diarrhea in infants and the relief of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. It’s also a great source of protein and minerals, and extremely versatile in the kitchen; it can be eaten with your favorite granola or fruit, or turned into a tasty, savory sauce.
Natto may not be part of your usual diet, but it’s a common food in Japan. It’s usually mixed with rice and served for breakfast in Japanese households, and it’s made by cooking soybeans, then using the Bacillus subtilis bacteria for fermentation. Nacco has a distinctive flavor and smell, but its benefits are well worth it.
The bacteria is believed to help improve the cardiovascular health and stimulate the immune system. Natto also contains vitamin K2, which is associated with higher bone mineral density, and nattokinase, which prevents blood clotting. In addition, natto is also a great source of protein, vitamins, and fibers.
4. Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is fermented using cultures of lactobacillus. While the bacteria die from the heat in the baking process, it actually produces a healthy quantity of lactic acid. This acid reduces the amount of phytic acid, which in turn creates favorable conditions for the body to absorb nutrients.
Unlike white bread and other types of bread cooked with dried yeast, sourdough bread also contains live yeast and whole wheat, which helps it stay fresh for longer without requiring any additional preservatives. And that spells good news for your digestive system, as it offers plenty of probiotics.
If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably tried some miso soup as you wait for your main meal. Miso is a paste made by fermenting soybeans, brown rice, and barley with a fungus called koji (Aspergillus oryzae). The fermentation can take days or even years to complete.
Apart from soups, it can also be used in sauces, marinades, or even on crackers as a replacement for butter. It’s a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins, and health benefits include reduced risk of strokes and lower risk of breast cancer. Though miso has a bit of a bite, it’s very beneficial for digestion.
Tempeh skyrocketed into the spotlight when the vegan movement exploded. A popular meat substitute, tempeh offers protein and plenty of gut-friendly benefits. It’s originally from Indonesia, and like other Asian probiotic foods mentioned here, it’s also made from fermented soybeans. It has a firm texture and a somewhat earthy flavor, which some say is similar to mushrooms.
The fermentation process produces vitamin B12 (which is also great for vegans, but shouldn’t be the only source) and decreases phytic acid, helping the body absorb more minerals such as iron and zinc. Tempeh can be eaten baked, fried, or just crumbled on salads or soups, and it’s considered a flexible ingredient for many recipes.
Originating some 2,000 years ago in Japan, kombucha is a drink made from fermented green or black tea. It’s so beneficial that it’s known by the Chinese as “Immortal Health Elixir.” Recently, it’s become popular in western culture, making it much more readily available.
The fermentation process through which kombucha is made includes sugar and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, which basically means they’re friendly bacteria. The carbonated drink contains B vitamins, enzymes, and even small amounts of caffeine and alcohol. Health benefits include liver detoxification, prevention and healing of stomach ulcers, and even regulation of cholesterol.
Sauerkraut is a traditional dish in Central Europe. Made from shredded cabbage fermented with lactic acid, sauerkraut originally came from China but grew popular throughout western culture. It has a sour and salty taste and is often consumed with sausages (particularly in Germany), or is eaten just as a side dish.
And sauerkraut is packed with vitamins B, C, and K. It’s also a great source of fiber. Due to antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin, Sauerkraut is also linked to improved eye health. If stored in an airtight container, it can last for several months, but make sure you choose unpasteurized sauerkraut as the process kills all the bacteria.
Considered by some the Asian Sauerkraut, Kimchi is a spicy Korean dish made of cultured vegetables with cabbage being the main ingredient. After the fermentation process, which uses the Lactobacillus kimchii bacteria, garlic, red chili peppers, and garlic are added to the mix.
Because of the high concentration of enzymes, it’s linked to better digestive health. It’s also a source of B and C vitamins, calcium, iron, and fiber. Kimchi is most commonly eaten as a side dish, but it can be easily made into a stew, soup, or even pancakes.
Kefir is a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt that’s been consumed for over 3,000 years. Its name comes from the Turkish keyif, which means “feeling good.” The process through which kefir is made involves adding kefir grains to cow’s and goat’s milk; however, these are not cereal grains. They’re cultures of friendly bacteria.
It’s believed to contain up to 34 strains of bacteria, making it an excellent probiotic. It’s associated with an improved digestive system, better bone health, and good against inflammations. Because of its low lactose content, it’s a perfect alternative for those with dairy intolerance.
Also known as gherkins, pickles are cucumbers that have been fermented and brined in salt water. They date back to 2,000 BC Mesopotamia as it was the preferred method for preserving food in ancient times. Today, pickles are an excellent option for anyone in need of a probiotic boost.
Much like other probiotics, pickles are full of lactic acid bacteria, which has long been linked to improved digestive health. It also contains vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting, and potassium, which helps the heart function better. But make sure you buy pickles that are not made with vinegar as they kill all live bacteria.
12. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is basically vinegar made from apples, which involves a fermentation process involving sugar and yeast. However, the production process is different from normal vinegar as it’s often unpasteurized, which ensures the good bacteria stays alive.
It’s associated with a plethora of health benefits, most notably for controlling weight loss, diabetes and cholesterol. It’s also a natural remedy for heartburn, can help with some skin conditions, and also improves bowel movements.