Author: Scott Pack
Right now, whether you know it or not, there’s a battle of good versus bad happening in your gut. Good and bad bacteria, that is.
Your digestive tract is home to thousands of species of bacteria—some good, some not so good. The good bacteria helps with proper digestion (including, in science-y terms, proper waste elimination), helps synthesize vitamin K, and also plays a role in healthy immune function. But when your gut microbiome is out of balance, with the bad outweighing the good, it’s potentially harmful. Gut imbalance can be caused by a number of things, including illness, stress, eating a poor diet, living a harmful lifestyle, or even the natural aging process.
Enter probiotics. These are the good guys, and there are many probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet to help keep your belly balanced and happy.
While there are a number of foods that can help give your gut some good bacteria, some of them are hard to find and require specialty stores or a special order. So here are five common foods you can pick up on your next grocery run.
Some yogurts contain live and active cultures, which produce lactic acid that helps keep bad bacteria in check. Keep in mind, not all yogurt is created equal when it comes to probiotic benefits. Live cultures are used to ferment foods. It’s this fermentation process that cultivates the healthy bacteria (a common thread for all the foods on this list).
Greek yogurt is a good bet, but make sure to check the label for live or active cultures. And if it’s a bit bitter at first, stir in a spoonful of honey to sweeten it up.
Kefir would be the result if yogurt and milk had a baby. It’s made by combining milk with fermented kefir grains (yeast and bacteria). Over time, the grains ferment the milk to create an antioxidant-rich drink high in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria. But kefir isn’t just a one-trick pony. It has been shown to have a number of additional health benefits.
If you haven’t tried kefir before, prepare yourself. Plain kefir has a bit of an acidic taste because of the fermentation process. To combat this, it comes in a variety of flavors. Just know, these options will have a lot of added sugar. Try it in its natural state over granola, or mix it with fruit into a smoothie.
Kimchi and Sauerkraut
It may be cheating to combine these traditional fermented cabbage dishes, but it does seem to make sense. When brined with salt water (and other spices), the bacteria found in cabbage breaks down its natural sugars into lactic acid, which, in turn, ferments the cabbage turning it into a probiotic superstar.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean cabbage dish with garlic, peppers, and additional vegetables, which gives it a unique flavor, in addition to vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and additional benefits. It can be eaten as a side dish or on its own. One idea is to use it to spice up scrambled eggs.
Traditionally a German dish, sauerkraut is simply fermented cabbage. If you’re not a huge fan of the spiciness of kimchi, you’ll get the same probiotic benefits from this sour and salty option. You may have had it as a hot dog topping or on a Reuben sandwich, but, like kimchi, it can be eaten as a side or on its own.
For both of these cabbage dishes, you’ll want to make sure it’s non-pasteurized. The pasteurization process will help it stay on the store shelves longer, but it will also kill the beneficial bacteria.
Kombucha is made from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast—SCOBY—mixed with green or black teas. During the fermentation process, probiotics and B vitamins are produced. People who regularly drink kombucha have reported a number of positive health benefits, in addition to digestive support.
By itself, it has a vinegar-like flavor. You can find it in a variety of flavors, however.
Miso is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji—a type of fungus—and is often mixed with grains like rice or barley. Like other fermented foods, miso is an excellent source of probiotics. Rich in soy, it’s also an excellent source of antioxidant minerals and was linked to a lower heart rate in a study of Japanese adults who include miso in their diet.
Miso paste can be dissolved in broth and mixed with vegetables for a savory soup. It can also be used to make dips or meat rub prior to baking or grilling, and so much more.
Supplement Your Diet
In addition to probiotic foods, adding Prebiotics foods to your diet is another great way to help keep your gut healthy. These foods are generally high in fermentable fiber that helps your natural good bacteria. They include foods like beans, onions, and green bananas.
You can also add a probiotic supplement —like this one from USANA Health Sciences®†. A supplement can help increase the good bacteria in your gut, but it won’t make up the difference of poor diet or other factors. However, you choose to add probiotics, it’s best to do so slowly. Any change in diet can upset your system, and this will help you avoid discomfort and bring your belly back to balance.