Top Probiotic Foods to Eat for Optimal Health

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While coconut oil, chia and kale are always heavy hitters in the good health department, the biggest new trend is actually microscopic. We're talking probiotics. These “friendly” microbes that populate your digestive tract offer a ton of health benefits -- and they're gaining more and more buzz as essential for optimal health.

(Image: Getty)

Probiotics are great for keeping your digestive tract healthy, from preventing food-borne illness to lowering your risk of certain digestive conditions, like IBS. But they might even help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of obesity.

Best of all, you don’t need to invest in expensive probiotic supplements to get these friendly microbes (unless you want to!). You can easily get healthy probiotics from wholesome, unprocessed foods -- including a few that might already be part of your diet!

Dine on Probiotic Yogurt and Kefir

When you think probiotics, you likely picture yogurt -- and for good reason. Probiotic yogurt offers ample amounts of L. Acidophilus, a probiotic shown to boost immune health and prevent mild digestive upset.

Yogurt with live and active cultures has probiotics to support digestive health.
Yogurt with live and active cultures has probiotics to support digestive health. (Image: Getty)

If you’re looking for a change from regular yogurt, try kefir. Like yogurt, kefir has a tangy taste (thanks to its probiotic content!). It supplies L. Acidophilus, just like yogurt, and also contains B. Bifidum, a probiotic that boosts digestive health, lowers inflammation and helps control allergies. Most kefir is thin and drinkable, so you can sip it on the go or blend it into smoothies. (Check out our recipe below!)

Tip

  • Always check the label of your yogurt and kefir to ensure you’re actually getting probiotic benefits -- the label should indicate it has live and active cultures.

Try Fermented Kimchi and Sauerkraut

Fermented foods are all the range, thanks to their healthy probiotic content. The cabbage used to make both kimchi and sauerkraut naturally contains a healthy mix of probiotics that multiply as it ferments, so you end up with a probiotic powerhouse to boost your digestive health. And you’ll get other nutritional benefits, like vitamin C and fiber, to boost digestion and heart health. Virtually any kimchi offers probiotic benefits, but you’ll get the most benefits if you opt for a raw variety or make your own at home.

Spicy and sour, kimchi adds a punch of flavor (and probiotics) to your cooking.
Spicy and sour, kimchi adds a punch of flavor (and probiotics) to your cooking. (Image: jukree/iStock/Getty Images)

You’ll get similar benefits if you pick up raw sauerkraut -- as long as you avoid the shelf-stable varieties that are most common at grocery stores. Most grocery store sauerkraut is pasteurized, which keeps it fresh longer, but also destroys the healthy probiotics. Instead, look for raw sauerkraut in the health food section (it should be stored in the fridge).

Tip

  • Enjoy a serving of raw ‘kraut as a healthy probiotic salad, serve ginger-flavored kraut as a healthy side for stir fries or add dill-flavored sauerkraut to your sandwiches in place of actual dill pickles.

Shop for Probiotic Tempeh and Miso

Give your #MeatlessMondays a probiotic makeover by adding more fermented soy to your diet. If you typically pick up tofu, opt for tempeh -- it offers the same high-quality protein, fiber and minerals, but also supplies a range of helpful probiotics. You’ll also get the probiotic benefits of soy by adding miso -- a fermented soybean paste -- to your diet. In addition to offering a range of healthy microbes, miso has a potent savory “umami” flavor so it can take your cooking to the next level.

Swap out tofu for tempeh to get more health probiotics.
Swap out tofu for tempeh to get more health probiotics. (Image: danikancil/iStock/Getty Images)

Tip

  • Use tempeh the same way you would firm or extra-firm tofu -- whether that’s breading it with whole-wheat breadcrumbs and baking for tempeh “chicken” nuggets, adding slices to your sandwich or cutting it into chunks for grilled shish-kabobs. Mix a spoonful of miso in hot water for a simple miso broth, or add miso to your favorite broth soups for a little extra flavor -- it works especially well in a beef and vegetable soup.

Mix Your “Pros” With “Pre's”

You’ll get the most health benefits from your probiotics if you eat them along with prebiotics. Unlike probiotic foods, which actually contain the beneficial microbes, prebiotics offer nutrients that boost probiotic growth -- they’re the food that keeps friendly microbes healthy.

Here’s the good news -- you probably already eat lots of prebiotic foods! You’ll find ‘em in cashews and pistachios; chickpeas, beans and lentils; veggies like onions, leeks, asparagus, beetroot and snow peas; grains like wheat bread, oats and pasta; and fruits including apples, watermelon and grapefruit.

Prebiotic foods, like chickpeas, enhance the benefits of probiotics.
Prebiotic foods, like chickpeas, enhance the benefits of probiotics. (Image: yasuhiroamano/iStock/Getty Images)

Tip

  • Mixing prebiotics with probiotics is easy -- add a few snow peas and cashews to a tempeh stir fry, include onions and leeks in your miso, beef and veggie soup, top your yogurt with apples, or make probiotic apple smoothie (see below!).

Prebiotic and Probiotic “Apple Pie” Smoothie

Things You'll Need

  • 1 cup vanilla unsweetened almond milk (or nonfat milk)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla or plain kefir
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: handful of baby spinach
  • Optional: honey, agave or maple syrup, to taste

Add all the ingredients to your blender; blend on low speed until just combined, and then on high speed until smooth.

Warning

  • Always check with your doctor before making changes to your diet, especially if you have an underlying digestive disorder. Your healthcare provider can let you know if probiotics are safe for you -- and the best ones to choose.

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