17 Probiotic Foods to Build a Strong Internal Army

A strong internal army is important for wellness. Learn about the 17 probiotic foods that can strengthen gut health.

Naturally found in your body, probiotics are live microorganisms acting as your personal warriors by fighting off “bad” guys who want to make you sick. By eating probiotic foods on a regular basis, you build a strong internal army that defends your immune system and wards off pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.

Including probiotic foods as part of your diet is crucial if you eat poorly, drink alcohol, smoke, or use recreational or medicinal drugs (especially antibiotics). Unfortunately, poor lifestyle habits create an environment for disease. Following are 17 foods high in probiotics to help your microbiome and overall health.

To learn more about probiotics, please read: What are Probiotics and Why Take Them?

17 Foods High in Probiotics

You will need to include probiotic foods as part of your diet if you eat poorly, drink alcohol, smoke, or use recreational or medicinal drugs (especially antibiotics). Unfortunately, a pattern of poor eating and drug use only equips the bad guys in your gut with weapons to overtake the good guys, thereby creating an environment for disease. The good news is you can still win the war by eating a diet rich in probiotics. Following are 17 foods high in probiotics to help you win the raging war on your gut and overall health.

Cultured Vegetables & Legumes

Kimchi: A staple in Korean cuisine is a traditional spicy side dish made from fermented vegetables. Napa cabbage, radish, and cucumbers are most commonly used and then seasoned with red chili pepper, garlic, ginger, and scallions. Traditional fermented kimchi has tremendous health benefits as it has proven to significantly decrease blood pressure, fasting glucose, total cholesterol, body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio. Certain probiotic strains in kimchi provide anti-adhesion activity against foodborne pathogens and antidiabetic properties.

Olives: Traditionally a condiment, table olives are recognized as a source of probiotics. An in vitro study determined 49 strains of Lactobacillus derived from Nocellara del Belice table olives fermented with the Spanish or Castelvetrano methods. The majority of strains showed high survival rates under in vitro simulated gastrointestinal conditions. Another study found the bulk of 31 strains of Lactobacillus pentosus in Alorena green table olives that demonstrated good growth capacity and survival within the gut. In general, the Lactobacillus provides a plethora of health benefits for the gut, urinary tract, vagina, respiratory system, and skin. The pentosus strain specifically improves mucosal immunity and resistance against infection in the elderly. When choosing olives, be sure it doesn’t contain sodium benzoate which is a chemical preservative and is carcinogenic when combined with ascorbic acid.

Pickles: Also providing a plethora of health benefits are traditional pickles. Probiotics in fermented pickles exhibit antimicrobial activity against food borne pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Staphyloccus aurea, and Shigella dysenteriae. When choosing pickles, be sure to choose one that is fermented as not all pickles are.

Sauerkraut: Established in the fourth century BC, sauerkraut is one of the world’s oldest and most prevalent fermented foods. Probiotics are rapidly established after fermentation begins. Constituents of sauerkraut have proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer and can stop stomach cancer in its tracks. In addition to its probiotic qualities, sauerkraut has rich bioactive compounds such as glucosinolates, Vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenols. Organic sauerkraut also contains significantly more total polyphenols as well as flavonoids than conventional varieties.

Fermented Dairy

Yogurt: Over the last several years, there has been much controversy amongst researchers when it comes to the topic of probiotics in yogurt being beneficial for health. However, a May 2018 study in International Immunology reported that “long-term” intake of yogurt that contained specific probiotics has the potential to maintain systemic homeostasis. Regular consumption of this particular yogurt can protect your gut barrier function. When buying yogurt, be sure to select a non-genetically modified (non-GMO) Greek yogurt from grass-fed animals that is not pasteurized with live cultures.

Kefir: While similar to yogurt, kefir is more like a smoothie drink and is a unique combination of milk and fermented kefir grains. Originating from Russia and Turkey, kefir means “feeling good.” Kefir is fermented with yeast and more bacteria than yogurt; therefore, it contains more probiotics. According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kefir improves lactose digestion and may be a potential strategy for overcoming lactose intolerance. For people with lactose intolerance, kefir reduces the severity of flatulence by 54 to 71 percent.

Cheese: Some cheese types have demonstrated its effectiveness as a delivery system for probiotics. According to Harvard Medical School, any soft or hard cheese that has been aged and not heated afterwards contains probiotics. Examples include cheddar, cottage, Edam, feta, goat, Gouda, mozzarella, and Swiss.

Traditional Buttermilk: Left over from making butter from milk is “buttermilk.” This liquid is fermented for a specific time and becomes a slightly sour dairy drink. It is widely used in baking products as well as pancakes. Buttermilk contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc. It is also high in probiotics which provide health benefits. The Nutrition journal also reported that short-term buttermilk consumption reduces blood pressure in some individuals.

Fermented Legumes

Green Peas: A 2014 Japanese study found that green peas contain a potent probiotic, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, which helps protect the mucosal barrier of your digestive tract. Be sure to choose fresh rather than canned peas.

Miso: A traditional Japanese seasoning, miso is made into a thick pasty substance from fermented soybeans with salt and koji and sometimes rice, barley, or other grains. It adds savory to soups, salads, vegetables, potatoes, fish, salad dressings, condiments, and more. Miso also contains probiotics which are broken down when heated. Therefore, add it at the end of cooking to help preserve them. Also, use miso sparingly as it is high in sodium and rich in tyramine which may trigger headaches in people who take certain medications such as MAO inhibitors as well as those used for Parkinson’s disease.

Natto: Another fermented soybean dish is natto, a popular Japanese breakfast food. Certain probiotic strains in this food can stimulate the immune system and improve hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular disease. On a side note, natto also contains a very powerful anti-inflammatory enzyme called nattokinase which studies have proven to dissolve dangerous clots in blood vessels, improve blood flow, and prevent damage to tissues and organs.

Tempeh: As an alternative to bacon for vegans, tempeh is an Indonesian fermented soy product. The fermentation process gives tempeh its meaty flavor, texture, and nutritional quality which includes probiotics to stimulate immune response.

Fermented Beverages & Liquids

Apple Cider Vinegar: Made from fermented apple juice, apple cider vinegar is a fermented, functional food for probiotic delivery. Apple cider vinegar improves gastrointestinal health and provides antiviral properties.

Kvass: In ancient times, kvass was a common fermented beverage. Traditionally, it was made from fermented barley or rye and has a mildly sour flavor. However, beets and other root vegetables are currently used to make it. Kvass contains Lactobacilli probiotics that cleanse the blood and liver.

Non-Dairy Kefir: Similar to dairy kefir, non-dairy kefir is made from coconut milk, soybean milk, fruit juices, and/or sugar and molasses solutions. Probiotics in kefir may contribute to a wide range of therapeutic effects as it has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic activity. It may also positively impact the gastrointestinal tract, reduce total cholesterol, and stimulate the immune system. If dairy kefir is not an option for lactose-intolerant people, non-dairy kefir is a good replacement.

Kombucha: Made from green or black tea, Kombucha is a slightly effervescent Japanese drink. It is fermented using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Kombucha is suitable for prevention against broad-spectrum metabolic and infective disorders due to detoxification, anti-oxidation, and energizing potencies. If you want to try this super drink, make it at home. Pasteurized Kombucha won’t provide probiotic benefits, and unpasteurized versions have been linked to bacterial infections, allergic reactions, and liver damage.

Other Probiotic Foods

Chocolate: Who would have ever guessed that dark chocolate is a fermented food? According to Frontiers in Pharmacology, “the effect of cocoa on the intestinal microbial ecosystem mimics the effect of prebiotics and probiotics” in the gut. In fact, chocolate has been shown to play a role in different human diseases and disorders. This doesn’t mean that any chocolate is good for you. When selecting chocolate, be sure to choose one with the highest proportion of cocoa and avoid those with high sugars, maltodextrin, and other additives.

Probiotics are Necessary for a Healthy Immune System

Be sure to choose wisely when selecting any functional food containing probiotics. Pick certified organic and non-GMO products. When purchasing dairy products, elect unpasteurized and grass-fed. You may even want to search online for recipes to make your own probiotic foods. Experiment to see which you like best. Just be sure to include some in your daily diet for a healthy immune system.

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