The human microbiome and gut health have been all the rage this year – and for good reason! Did you know that in the human body microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1? While these bacteria only make up about 2-6 pounds of our body weight, it’s important to keep them healthy and happy, because they help dictate everything from our weight to our moods.
Probiotics, or healthy bacteria, receive lots of praise for helping with digestion. And the good news is you don’t have to run out and buy supplements to enjoy their benefits. Fermented foods contain high levels of good bacteria which studies show can also help reduce anxiety.
Here’s a rundown of foods and drinks that can help settle your gut and boost your immune system, among other benefits:
Yogurt is perhaps the most well-known probiotic-rich food, but be sure to check the label to ensure it contains live and active cultures and not too much sugar. Not only does yogurt help digestive health, but it’s also been known to prevent Type 2 diabetes (check out Integrative Nutrition’s tips for helping clients prevent and manage this disease.) Plus, yogurt isn’t just for breakfast—you can incorporate it into dinners with recipes like linguine with citrusy yogurt and tuna sauce.
Buyer’s Tip: Try plain greek yogurt for all the probiotics of traditional yogurt but more protein per serving!
Non-Dairy Yogurts and Milks
If you’re not a fan of dairy or you’re lactose intolerant, you don’t have to rely on traditional yogurt for probiotics. Just look for almond, cashew, coconut, or soy yogurt with live and active cultures. And bonus: some non-dairy milks have added cultures too! At Integrative Nutrition, we believe in choosing whatever diet works best for your individual needs, whether it’s dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan or whatever else fuels your body.
Buyer’s Tip: Some live and active cultures are derived from a milk base so if you’re vegan be sure to double check the label to make sure your yogurt is fully dairy-free.
Have you ever heard of yogurt’s cousin, Kefir? Kefir is fermented milk made from “grains” that are actually a mix of bacteria and yeast. Kefir is thinner than yogurt, so it’s commonly consumed as a drink. If you don’t like the idea of drinking it by itself, mix it into a smoothie. Kefir has been known to aid digestion, heal burns, suppress early-stage tumors and boost the immune system.
Buyer’s Tip: Flavored Kefir is often packed with as much sugar as a candy bar so opt for the plain variety whenever possible.
Whether you’re eating miso soup or cooking with miso paste, this food is full of probiotics. According toLivestrong, miso is made through a fermentation process using a cultured starter called koji, which contains a fungal microorganism called Aspergillus oryzae, or other cultures including Saccharomyces rouxii. Keep in mind, however, that miso contains lots of sodium and you must choose an unpasteurized brand.
Buyer’s Tip: Allergic to soy? Try out a chickpea or red adzuki bean based miso instead!
Pickled cucumbers (and other pickled foods, for that matter) that are made without vinegar may contain healthy probiotics. Look for pickles that are brine cured (meaning only salt, water, and spices), which keeps the bacteria alive. You can make your own fermented foods—but just make sure you do it correctly to avoid illness.
Buyer’s Tip: Be aware of the high sodium content of pickles and be sure to enjoy them in moderation.
Made from fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is rich in live cultures and also contains tons of vitamins and fiber. Like pickles, some sauerkraut may not contain probiotics if made from vinegar, so be sure to check to ensure you’re getting beneficial bacteria.
Buyer’s Tip: Get the scoop on sauerkraut from IIN Founder and Director, Joshua Rosenthal in the video below!
What are your favorite probiotic-rich foods and drinks? Let us know in the comments.
This article originally published on Institute of Integrative Nutrition and used with permission.