What are probiotics?
If you're wondering how to improve your gut health, probiotics are a good place to start. They are live micro-organisms which should be consumed in adequate amounts. Many of these micro-organisms occur naturally in cultured or fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. However, because these foods vary in their contribution and diversity, it’s not always possible to evaluate their benefit to our health. For this reason, foods can’t strictly be described as ‘probiotic', but are often referred to as such. We’ve used the term to describe foods brimming with these gut-friendly microbes.
Why are probiotics good for gut health?
Probiotic bacteria perform some important functions including supporting a healthy immune system, metabolism and digestion. Research indicates that imbalances in the gut microbiota may be linked to numerous diseases, including cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Your gut microbiota is also strongly influenced by your food choices and you can easily support this by including more probiotic as well as prebiotic-rich foods into your daily diet.
Discover even more top tips for digestive health, including does diet affect gut health? Also, check out some of our delicious gut-friendly recipes from satisfying soups to salads, including a whole range of tasty plant-based options.
What gut health foods should you add to your diet?
Made from milk fermented by friendly bacteria (mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria), yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. Widely available in shops, yogurt is also super easy to make at home.
Add yogurt to your meals to enjoy the benefits with our overnight oats, roast aubergines with yogurt & harissa, and beetroot, cumin & coriander soup with yogurt & hazelnut dukkah.
Made from the liquid left over from churning butter, only the unpasteurised, cultured version will contain beneficial bacteria, so you will need to check labels carefully.
Made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk, kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria and yeast, making it a diverse and potent probiotic. In fact, kefir benefits from a more diverse composition of beneficial bacteria and yeast than even yogurt.
Learn how to make your own kefir.
4. Water kefir
Made by adding kefir grains to a sugary water solution, this version is dairy-free and vegan, it creates a slightly fizzy drink that is typically flavoured with fruits and spices.
Learn more about the health benefits of kefir.
Made from soybeans that have been cooked and fermented, tempeh has been shown to increase the concentration of good bacteria.
A Korean favourite, kimchi is made primarily with fermented cabbage and contains large amounts of the gut-friendly bacterium, Lactobacillus.
A sweetened fermented black tea from China, kombucha is known to contain a host of gut-beneficial bacteria and yeast species.
Why not try making your own kombucha?
A fermented drink from Eastern Europe, kvass has traditionally been made from stale rye or malt sourdough. In more recent years, kvass has been created using fruits and beets combined with other root vegetables.
Used in Japanese and Asian foods, miso is a paste made from fermented soy and contains large amounts of the gut-friendly bacteria, Aspergillus oryzae.
Learn more about natto and what makes the Japanese diet so healthy.
Discover the health benefits of sauerkraut.
12. Soft and aged cheese
13. Green olives
The natural salt-water fermentation process of brined olives means that they’re rich in the gut-friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus.
14. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made by crushing apples and allowing yeasts to ferment the natural sugars into acetic acid. It’s the unfiltered vinegar that retains the benefits because it contains the ‘mother,’ a collection of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria – you’ll recognise an unfiltered product because it will appear cloudy in the bottle.
Including apple cider vinegar in your diet may help improve fasting blood sugar and reduce HbA1c, a marker of long-term blood sugar control.
Typically made from just four ingredients – flour, water, salt and a starter culture – sourdough is easy to digest and highly nutritious. It’s the starter combined with the long fermentation which holds the key to sourdough’s taste, texture and health credentials.
Although the beneficial microbes in the starter are lost during the baking process, compounds called polyphenols become more bio-available. These act as an important fuel source for our gut microbes and, unlike many commercially produced loaves, sourdough is beneficial for blood sugar levels.
Discover more health benefits of sourdough.
Looking for more on gut health? Now read….
What's your favourite way to get beneficial bacteria into your diet? Comment below and let us know...
Tracey Randell is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) and certified Institute for Functional Medicine practitioner (Dip BCNH, IFMCP, CNHC). She lectures at the nutrition college where she trained on various subjects including IBS, Celiac disease, the gut-brain axis and food intolerances. She also offers post graduate training to other health care professionals.
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