Health and weight loss experts are all very pro probiotics these days, and for very good reason.
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit for the host.” New research continues to pour in about how critical these microorganisms are to maintaining good health, when living in a healthy balanced community in our guts.
This microbial community plays a key role in breaking down our food, supporting good digestion and elimination, alleviating digestive problems, keeping harmful pathogens out, enhancing the immune system, minimizing incidences of illness and disease, nurturing good brain health, providing crucial vitamins, regulating fat storage, and so much more that we’re only just beginning to discover.
How can you take advantage of all these health and weight loss benefits? By making sure that you are regularly including a wide array of probiotic-rich foods in your diet, foods that naturally colonize your gut with friendly health-enhancing flora like this luscious Chocolate Raspberry Probiotic Smoothie Bowl.
It’s also vital to include prebiotics in your meals every day, the foods that help ensure that these good bacteria continue to survive and thrive in your gut.
Live-cultured yogurt has definitely been the belle of the probiotic ball. Made from fermented cow, goat or sheep’s milk, live-cultured yogurt is a natural source of friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles, and has become quite commonplace in the dairy section of most grocery stores. Many probiotic yogurts are also infused with health-boosting Bifidus regularis and Acidophilus.
It’s important to check labels and to select yogurts with the least amount of sugar (and to avoid brands that include high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors). You can also look for the “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which indicates that the product contains at least 100 million active cultures per gram at the time of manufacture (the more, the better), and is the official seal of the National Yogurt Association.
2. Probiotic Cheeses
Raw goat, sheep and cow soft cheeses naturally host active probiotic cultures, but these good bacteria are killed off during the pasteurization process that regular grocery store cheeses undergo. Probiotic cheeses are pasteurized cheeses that have had probiotics added back in afterwards.
Raw cheeses can sometimes be ordered directly from small farms, while probiotic cheeses can be found in health food stores.
3. Sauerkraut & Kimchi
Sauerkraut is an eastern European dish made of raw cabbage that’s been lacto-fermented in brine. Kimchi is a Korean version, fermented in a medley of spices. These cultured cabbages are high in organic acids that help to support the growth of friendly bacteria. They’re also high in enzymes which help support good digestion.
You can buy these in supermarkets, health food stores, or can easily lacto-ferment your own veggies at home. If purchasing store-bought sauerkraut or kimchi, be sure that you are purchasing a raw version that’s been fermented without vinegar, as pasteurization can kill off healthy bacteria.
Kombucha is a fermented black tea that has been around for over 2,000 years, originating in Japan.
You can purchase different types of flavored kombucha (or just stick to the plain kind) at health food stores. Or you can brew kombucha yourself at home by purchasing a SCOBY starter kit (symbiotic culture of bacteria with yeast) for the first batch, and then simply saving a small portion of each brew to ferment the next one.
5. Coconut Kefir
A dairy-free alternative to milk-based kefir, this is made by fermenting coconut milk with kefir grains.
Coconut kefir contains different microbial strains than typical dairy-based kefir. However, it’s still great for your health, tastes great, and is a deliciously versatile way to kick up the probiotic factor in dairy-free smoothies.
6. Raw Probiotic Chocolate
Another reason to eat chocolate. Found in the refrigerator section of many health food stores, raw probiotic dark chocolate is processed at low temperatures. This not only helps to preserve many of the health benefits naturally found in raw cocoa beans, but it also permits live and active probiotics to be added in during the making process as well.
7. Natto, Tempeh & Miso
Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made of fermented cooked whole soybeans. It has a cottage-cheese like texture and is traditionally served on rice, in miso soups or with steamed veggies.
Miso is another common Japanese seasoning, a paste made from fermented soy beans with barley or rice malt.
Tempeh is a 2000 year old Indonesian dish made from cracked cooked soybeans mixed with grains like millet, barley or rice, that’s been inoculated with beneficial bacteria and pressed into a firm, chewy block.
As fermented soy foods, natto, miso and tempeh not only contain extremely powerful probiotic strains of bacteria, but they’re all more easily digested than regular tofu and non-fermented soy foods. They’re also loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory enzymes.
Kvass is a common eastern European fermented beverage that has been around for hundreds of years. Traditionally, it was a beer-like beverage made from fermenting rye or barley. Today, it’s also made using beets and other root vegetables with fruit.
9. Lacto-fermented Pickles
These aren’t the regular store-bought kind, pickled in vinegar and pasteurized. Probiotic-rich pickles have been fermented using lactic acid bacteria and are kept raw. But they taste very similar to the more common vinegar-brined ones, and some prefer the taste of the fermented ones much better.
You can purchase lacto-fermented pickles in health food stores, but many people make their own lacto-fermented pickles at home by submerging cucumbers in a home-made brine of purified water, sea salt, pickling spices, garlic and seasoning leaves or tea leaves for about a week. This process can also be applied – with delicious results – to a variety of other vegetables (and even fruit), such as sweet or hot peppers, zucchini, yellow summer squash, onions, Swiss chard stems, fennel, cauliflower florets, tomatoes, Brussel sprouts, watermelon, pineapple, pears and others.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar
Aside from many other great health benefits, like helping to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and even weight loss apple cider vinegar provides both probiotics as well as a type of acid that helps to promote the positive growth of probiotics.