These fermented foods are great sources of healthful probiotics.
Ask an American to name a good food source of healthful probiotics, and yogurt, that mainstay of the dairy aisle, is likely to top the list. Lesser-known sources of probiotics include pickles, red wine, dark chocolate and some cheeses.
But in many countries, from Japan to India to Poland, people enjoy a much wider variety of delicious probiotic-packed foods—and you can enjoy them here in the US, too.
Until recently, probiotics were known mostly for their ability to help with digestion—which they are very good at doing.
Now: Researchers are discovering that probiotics also can boost the immune system, reduce allergy symptoms and even improve one’s mood. Several probiotic superfoods also rid the body of yeast overgrowth—a powerful one-two punch when it comes to good health.
Here are the best probiotic foods you’re probably not eating…*
A staple in the Korean diet, this fermented side dish consists of vegetables and an assortment of seasonings. A traditional kimchi dish includes Chinese cabbage, red chili pepper flakes, ginger, garlic and green onions. Other vegetables used to make kimchi include white or red radishes, leeks and carrots.
Upon opening a jar of kimchi, you’ll see bubbles rise to the surface, a sure sign that this superfood contains lots of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc and Weisella. Kimchi is also a good source of vitamins B-1, B-2 and C, niacin, fiber and beta-carotene.
How to use it: Try kimchi on top of a burger…mix it with fried rice…or add it to eggs to give your breakfast an extra kick. Just one-half cup a day will go a long way toward soothing your intestines.
Where to find it: Look for kimchi in the refrigerated section of Asian food stores, in the dairy section of natural-food stores, such as Whole Foods Markets and Trader Joe’s, or at Rejuvenative.com, which offers different varieties of kimchi.
Miso, a paste made from soybeans, salt, grains and a fungus called koji, has been enjoyed in China and Japan for more than 2,500 years. In the US, it’s commonly served as the main ingredient in miso soup. The darker the hue of miso, the longer the fermentation process, which means that it’s chock-full of good bacteria. Dark varieties, such as barley miso or brown rice miso, taste earthier and saltier than the lighter ones commonly used in miso soup.
Dark miso is a good source of protein, vitamins A and K, minerals like calcium and potassium and Lactobacillus probiotic cultures.
How to use it: You can thin out dark miso with cooking water and then use this as a sauté sauce for vegetables or add dark miso to stews and soups. Use sparingly, as it’s powerful stuff and contains a lot of sodium.
Where to find it: Miso is typically sold as a thick paste in small, plastic containers or glass jars. It’s carried in major natural-food stores, typically in the dairy section—but these days, you can find it in many supermarkets, too. Good brands include South River Miso Company (SouthRiverMiso.com) and the American Miso Company (Great-Eastern-Sun.com).
COCONUT WATER KEFIR
Kefir is a silky-smooth, probiotic-rich drink popular in northern and eastern Europe. It’s made by adding kefir grains to cow, goat or sheep milk. An excellent nondairy version is derived from coconut water—the juice of the young, or green, coconut. Coconut water kefir is packed with several kinds of Lactococcus cultures, along with magnesium, potassium, calcium and B vitamins.
How to use it: Use kefir instead of milk in smoothies and dressings or enjoy it right out of the bottle (it has a mild, sweet taste and will not add the strong taste of coconut).
Where to find it: Kefir is available in most supermarkets and, of course, at most natural-food stores. Coconut water kefir is available at natural-food stores.
You probably know that a mound of sauerkraut on a hot dog gives you a nice helping of probiotics. In fact, cabbage, the key ingredient in sauerkraut, is one of the best probiotic–producing foods, as it stands up well to days of fermentation.
Classic sauerkraut is made from three ingredients—cabbage, salt and vinegar. But it contains lots of good stuff, including vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, fiber, folate, iron and the Leuconostoc, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus strains of probiotics.
How to use it: You may not have much experience using sauerkraut creatively. But in fact, it goes great with lots of meats besides hot dogs, including corned beef and pot roast, and in stews and soups, such as potato leek soup.
For a tangy guacamole dip: Chop sauerkraut and mix with avocados, garlic and a dash of lemon juice.
Where to find it: Buy sauerkraut labeled “raw” and “unpasteurized.” Good choices: Deep Root Organic, available at Whole Foods, and Ultimate Kraut at Rejuvenative.com.
GET YOUR PROBIOTIC KICK
When cooking with probiotic foods, add them at the very end of the heating process—for example, just a minute before you serve stew—to preserve the live cultures. Also, be sure to choose brands that are unpasteurized for the same reason.
The Vinegar Trick
So, if a probiotic is a healthful type of bacteria that stays viable in the gut after eating, what is a prebiotic? A prebiotic acts as food for a probiotic. In other words, it’s the fuel in your body that probiotics need to thrive.
An excellent example of a prebiotic is raw, organic, unrefined apple cider vinegar, which contains strandlike chains of protein enzyme molecules rich in nutrients. Apple cider vinegar—be sure it’s the unrefined kind!—is nirvana for probiotics. Sprinkle it on vegetables or use in salad dressings to help your good bacteria help you!
*Fermented foods should be refrigerated to preserve probiotic properties.