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.

Roast aubergines with yogurt & harissa topped with herbs

What gut health foods should you add to your diet?

1. Yogurt

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.

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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.

2. Buttermilk

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.

Try cultured buttermilk in our green salad with buttermilk dressing and herby buttermilk mash.

3. Kefir

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.

Enjoy kefir in our raspberry & kefir overnight oats and our kefir breakfast smoothie.

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.

Tempeh and vegetables in a tray

5. Tempeh

Made from soybeans that have been cooked and fermented, tempeh has been shown to increase the concentration of good bacteria.

Find out more about the health benefits of tempeh, and give it a go with our recipes for chilli tempeh stir-fry and tempeh traybake.

6. Kimchi

A Korean favourite, kimchi is made primarily with fermented cabbage and contains large amounts of the gut-friendly bacterium, Lactobacillus.

Try our quick kimchi recipe. Then, add to our kimchi fried rice, kimchi noodles and kimchi scrambled eggs.

7. Kombucha

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?

8. Kvass

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.

9. Miso

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.

Be inspired by our delicious miso recipes, including miso aubergine and miso soup.

10. Natto

A traditional Japanese dish consisting of fermented soybeans, natto is high in gut-boosting bacteria.

Learn more about natto and what makes the Japanese diet so healthy.

11. Sauerkraut

A type of fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is packed with good bacteria and is super easy and inexpensive to make at home.

Discover the health benefits of sauerkraut.

12. Soft and aged cheese

Some cheese (such as cheddar, parmesan and Swiss cheeses, particularly gouda) are better than yogurt for delivering intact probiotics to the GI tract.

Satisfy your cravings with our top cheese recipes, including cheese, oat & spring onion soda bread.

13. Green olives

The natural salt-water fermentation process of brined olives means that they’re rich in the gut-friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus.

Discover more benefits of olives and their oil. Add olives to our chicken & olive casserole, cod with olives & crispy pancetta, and tuna, olive & spinach spaghetti.

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.

Discover more health benefits of apple cider vinegar. Use it to make our spicy black bean tacos.

15. Sourdough

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.

Give sourdough a go with our step-by-step recipe to make your own starter, and use it to make our classic sourdough loaf.

Looking for more on gut health? Now read….

Does gut health affect weight?
How does diet affect gut health?
How to avoid indigestion
What to eat for... better digestion

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.


All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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