Most folks know by now that yogurt is rich in probiotics. But while eating plain yogurt with fruit is a great way to naturally boost your good gut bugs, it’s far from the only probiotic food you can put on your menu.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that fight off bad bugs to help keep us healthy. In fact, over 75 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive tract.
But your good belly bugs do a whole lot more than simply fight off colds and infections. In the last few years researchers have uncovered a mountain of proof that your gut flora influences everything from your weight to your heart health. There’s even evidence that an imbalance between good and bad bugs can play a role in depression.
In other words, keeping your gut supplied with plenty of probiotics is an important part of getting and staying healthy. And the following five fermented foods can help you do just that.
You’ll find kefir in some mainstream grocery stores and in almost any natural foods store such as Whole Foods or MOM’s. It’s typically located near the yogurt section or where the coffee creamers are found.
Kefir is a fermented milk product made by mixing yeast and lactic acid bacteria into the milk. The result is a deliciously creamy, slightly fizzy drink with a pleasant tart, yogurt-like bite.
Although yogurt is the probiotic of choice in most American households, kefir actually provides far more friendly gut bugs. If you’ve seen it in the dairy section before, but avoided it I urge you to give it a try. I wouldn’t be surprised if once you do, kefir earns a spot in your fridge right next to your favorite yogurt.
Yes, it’s true. Your favorite sandwich side, pickled cucumbers, are a terrific source of probiotics. If they’re fixed the traditional way, which means they’ve been allowed to ferment on their own without adding vinegar. In other words, most supermarket pickles, which are made with vinegar, don’t qualify as fermented foods.
The deliciously tart taste of a traditional, fermented pickle comes from the lactobacilli bacteria found on the veggies surface fermenting and producing lactic acid. And it’s also what’s responsible for their probiotic properties.
Some natural food stores carry pickles made with live cultures, so carefully read labels. A brand we like is Bubbies. You can also check your local farmer’s market for traditional fermented pickles. Just be sure to ask the vendor how the pickles are made before buying them. If they use vinegar the pickles might still be delicious, but they will not provide you with the probiotics you’re looking for.
To make sure you’re getting the real deal your best bet might be to make your own at home using a starter, salt and filtered water. And keep in mind there’s no need to stick with just cucumbers, other veggies taste terrific fermented too.
Homemade fermented pickles are super easy to make, and delicious. Check online for instructions, or if you’re a visual learner try YouTube. We recommend you consider investing in a fermenting crock pot to make the process fool proof, if you plan to make fermented veggies a regular part of your routine.
Pro tip: To get the most out of your pickles don’t toss out the pickling juice, eat it right along with your pickles.
Usually I’d advise you to steer clear of soybeans, which can affect your body’s ability to absorb minerals. But once the bean is fermented its benefits typically outweigh any negatives. Which is why tempeh, a firm patty made from fermented soybeans, makes our list.
Tempeh is made adding a starter of rhizopus oligosporus to partially cooked soybeans, and allowing the mix to ferment for a day or two. Its earthy, nutty flavor reminds some folks of mushrooms.
You’ll find tempeh in most grocery stores these days. It’s often located in the produce section. Just be sure to pick a product that’s marked non-GMO.
Try stir frying your probiotic-rich tempeh with veggies or use it in just about any dish you’d typically used meat in. Tempeh can also be lightly boiled and served with miso to get even more probiotics into the mix.
Pro tip: Our favorite way to eat tempeh in my home is tempeh “bacon.” You can buy it already sliced in strips that you pan fry just like traditional bacon. Delicious!
4. Cultured pastured butter:
You might have to head to a natural foods grocery store to find cultured pastured (grass-fed) butter, but it’s worth the trip for this creamy, delicious treat.
During pasteurization any probiotics in dairy are killed off right along with the bad bugs. But culturing the butter adds probiotics, such as lactobacillus planterum and lactococcus lactis, back in.
To reap the probiotic benefits of cultured butter avoid cooking with it. We recommend spread it on sweet potato toast or stirring it into steamed veggies instead. One brand we like, that’s widely available, is Organic Valley. While you’re picking up your butter look for cultured sour cream too.
Most store bought sauerkraut is made with vinegar and has been pasteurized killing off any beneficial bacteria. But in natural foods stores and online you can find traditional raw sauerkraut made by allowing the cabbage to naturally ferment producing lactic acid, which is rich in beneficial belly bugs.
To be sure you’re getting the real deal read labels carefully. Two brands we like are Bubbies and Gold Mine Organic.
Plain yogurt is great, but if you want to step up your probiotic game add these other natural probiotic foods to your menu.
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