When we think of bacteria, often what comes to mind are the bad bugs responsible for making us sick and causing infections; however, there are plenty of “good” bacteria that are found naturally in our digestive system. Known as probiotics, this type of bacteria play an important role in gut health, which has a prominent effect on our overall health. Probiotics keep our “bad” gut bacteria in check and research has shown that having a healthy gut flora can have a myriad of other health benefits, like strengthening the immune system, calming inflammation, preventing obesity, supporting mental health, and even clearing skin conditions like acne or eczema.

There are hundreds of probiotic strands, but the two most commonly studied are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Plenty of food sources are natural sources of probiotics, and as more research comes out, it seems to be that food companies are supplementing their products with them so that their benefits can reach a larger audience.

Various factors like stress, diet, illness, and the use of antibiotics can upset the ratio of good to bad bacteria in our digestive system. This is why it is key to eat a diet filled with a variety of these beneficial probiotics.  Also, beneficial gut bacteria LOVE fiber so having a diet that is fiber-rich is important.  Remember, fiber is the backbone of plants and can only be found in whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Here are five excellent sources of natural probiotics:

  1. Yogurt– Probably the most popular source of natural probiotics, yogurt is an easy and delicious way to help your gut. Look for yogurt brands that are either lower in sugar or plain (you can always add fruit or sweetener to taste). The Living Plate team is a huge fan of Siggi’s yogurt but non-dairy yogurts are another great option.
  2. Kombucha– A few bottles of this centuries-old, probiotic-rich fermented tea can always be found in our Living Plate refrigerator and can be found in grocery chains such as Dean’s Natural Market .  We love its effervescence and tangy flavor. Beware of homemade varieties as tending to the culturing process can introduce bad bacteria – make sure your kombucha comes from a reliable source.
  3. Sauerkraut/Kimchi– Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables, and Kimchi is its spicy Korean counterpart. Both are rich in gut-friendly bacteria, and make for great side dish or condiment with a variety of meals.  Check out the recipe for Daikon Radish Kimchi from our guest contributor, SuJin Beckerman of Saucy Korean.
  4. Kefir– A popular drinkable yogurt containing over 30 strains of probiotics, kefir is made by fermenting kefir grains in milk. The bacteria and yeast break down lactose, which makes this a suitable dairy product for most who are lactose intolerant.
  5. Miso– This staple seasoning in Japanese cooking is made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans, brown rice, or other beans with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. Miso is also high in calcium, B-vitamins, iron, and magnesium. Its sweet, salty, and sour flavors have led us to include it in many of our recipes. It’s just terrific in dressings!

Written by Michelle Davies, MS nutrition candidate at Hunter College

Reviewed and edited by Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN