Probiotics are microorganisms naturally present in the digestive tract that aid in digestion and reduce inflammation.
While a person can take probiotic supplements, there are also many probiotic foods available. Learn more about probiotic foods in this article.
While there are several different classes and types of probiotics, some of the most common include:
- Saccharomyces boulardii, which is a type of yeast
Food manufacturers may also call probiotics “live culture” or “active cultures.” Many fermented products contain probiotics, which means the bacteria in them are still living.
Often, the food production process destroys living bacteria. If a product is available on a shelf and is not refrigerated, it may not contain live and active probiotics.
Examples of dairy products that contain probiotics include:
- aged cheeses, such as cheddar, gouda, or mozzarella
- kefir, a probiotic milk drink
- traditional buttermilk (must not be cultured)
Not all foods must be dairy to contain probiotics. Examples of other probiotic foods include:
- non-dairy yogurts
- fresh, sour dill pickles
- kombucha, a fermented tea
- natto, a food made from fermented soybeans
- tempeh, a popular meat substitute
- water or brine-cured olives
There is a wide range of probiotic foods available, so people can include as few or as many as they like into their diet, according to their tastes.
Examples of ways to add probiotic foods to a healthful diet include:
- Enjoying a breakfast of probiotic yogurt with berries, flax seeds, and nuts.
- Cooking a stir-fry, using tempeh as a meat replacement. However, it is best to incorporate tempeh at the end of cooking as excessive heating can destroy the active cultures.
- Incorporating miso into soups. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a recipe for black bean soup with miso and ginger.
- Drinking probiotic-rich beverages, such as kefir or kombucha, as a mid-morning snack.
- Serving sauerkraut as a side dish to main meals.
It is essential to keep in mind that certain foods, especially yogurt, may contain added sugars.
Look for foods that have minimal artificial sweeteners, sugars, and other artificial flavorings.
Misconceptions about probiotic foods
There are several misconceptions about probiotic foods.
Just because some food types can contain probiotics, it does not mean they all do. For example, not all yogurts contain live and active cultures. The ones that do are usually clearly marked.
Also, not all fermented foods contain live cultures. Examples of fermented foods that do not have probiotics include:
- sourdough bread
- soya sauce
These and other foods like them go through additional processing that inactivates the live cultures. Examples of these processes include baking, filtering, or pasteurization.
Some people experience side effects when they eat probiotic foods, such as gas or nausea.
A person can minimize potential side effects by adding one or two new foods to a diet on a weekly basis.
Anyone who has a compromised immune system, is pregnant, or eats a special diet due to a pre-existing medical condition, should ask their doctor before eating more probiotic foods.
A nutritionist may also be able to recommend safe ways to incorporate probiotics into a person’s diet.
Researchers are continually doing new studies on the benefits of probiotics, testing everything from their effect on the common cold to their ability to reduce inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
While researchers do not know which specific dosages or food types can deliver the best results, incorporating probiotic foods into the diet could help improve digestion.
Always read food labels carefully to ensure the foods contain live and active cultures or try a supplement.
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