Probiotic foods help to repopulate your gut microflora. These are millions and billions of beneficial microorganisms that naturally reside in your intestine or gut. They protect us from many ailments and keep us healthy (1).
Bestowed with numerous health benefits, probiotic foods are sure shot solutions to several problems that we face today. These good bacteria help maintain the integrity of your gut, keep your inflammation down and kill pathogens. They have antiviral properties as well. They help recycle and modify bile salts that protect you from bacterial infection.
Keeping all this in mind, we have listed the 25 best probiotic foods from all over the world. They are super healthy, affordable, and easily available.
What are probiotic foods?
Our body is home to both good and bad bacteria (pathogens). A delicate balance is always maintained amongst them that ensures we are healthy.
However, certain conditions such as prolonged illness, antibiotic consumption, and continuous intake of refined/processed foods, can jeopardize this balance. The good bacterias reduce in number while the colony of bad bacteria increases. This results in illness and bad health.
Probiotic foods help restore this balance. It fights off the bad microbes. These foods survive the harsh environment of the stomach and reach the intestine intact.
Probiotic food helps you make vitamins such as B-vitamins: B1, B6, and B12; biotin and vitamin K2. They support the absorption and metabolization of essential nutrients, help maintain your gut health, boost your immunity, keep your skin glowing and the list goes on.
Therefore, if your body doesn’t contain sufficient amounts of these good bacteria, you can face massive nutritional deficiency in addition to other health-related problems.
The most common bacteria in probiotic food is Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) (2). The other common strains of probiotics are:
- Saccharomyces boulardii, which is a type of yeast
- Enterococcus faecium
There is a wide range of probiotic foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet for a healthier option.
Who hasn’t heard of the benefits of yogurt?
Yogurt is one of the best foods for a good gut. If you are suffering from constipation, yogurt is probably the best probiotic food for you. The fermentation process converts the milk sugar (lactose) to lactic acid. This makes it more suitable for people with lactose intolerance who normally can’t consume dairy.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp Bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two predominantly good bacterias in yogurt (3).
Yogurt is high in calcium, is a rich source of B-vitamins and protein, and contains essential fat. Go for yogurts that are organic and made from grass-fed milk animals.
Summary: Yogurt is the most popular probiotic food all over the world. Good bacterias help in keeping your gut healthy. A variety of yogurt is available in the market amongst which sheep yogurt is the best.
2. Miso soup
The next in the line is miso soup. Considered a secret soup that has bestowed the Japanese the gift of long life, miso soup is sheer joy in every mouthful.
The miso paste that is used to make this soup is a fermented soybean paste. Sometimes rice, wheat, barley, or seaweed is used.
Studies have shown that miso has approximately 102 to 107 colony-forming bacteria per gram of probiotics. The potent probiotic bacteria in miso is Aspergillus Oryzae. This particular strain is very good for the body, especially the upper GI tract. It also protects from radiation and prevents certain types of cancer (4). Miso paste is also used in salads and marination of protein.
People suffering from acid reflux or LPR (Laryngopharyngeal reflux) have found respite by including miso soup in their diet but in moderation. This is mainly because it also contains soy which can increase acidity if taken in high quantities.
Summary: Miso is a probiotic food that is part of Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in Japan. It is a fermented paste made from soybean. Miso contains billions of colony-forming bacteria that can replenish and restore your intestinal microflora (the good bacteria in the intestine).
Sauerkraut is made from cabbage that already contains lactic acid bacteria. So a basic fermentation process helps those same bacteria to be active and give optimum advantages.
Many types of sauerkraut are available in the market but the unpasteurized kinds are the best. Sauerkraut is most popular in European countries, especially Germany.
Sauerkraut contains Lactobacillus Plantarum. It is highly beneficial for your immune system. People with allergies have reaped the benefits. Therefore, sauerkraut is one of those foods which are naturally full of good bacteria (5).
Summary: Sauerkraut is fermented raw cabbage that is eaten as a side for meat. It mostly contains lactic acid bacteria and is highly beneficial for the gut.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean food made primarily from cabbage, additional vegetables, and spices.
The most prevalent bacteria in kimchi is Lactobacillus plantarum. Therefore, kimchi is a superfood that contains both the benefits of sauerkraut as well as the antioxidant effect of the added spices such as ginger, garlic, and red pepper (6). Kimchi can be eaten as sides or can be incorporated into soups and stews and eaten.
It is low in calories, helps reduce inflammation, and supports a strong immune system. Kimchi prevents the growth of Helicobacter pylori. It also neutralizes the free radicals thereby preventing oxidative damage.
Summary: Kimchi is a Korean side dish that is packed with the goodness of probiotic bacteria. Very much like sauerkraut, it has Lactobacillus species. Kimchi has shown to prevent oxidative damage.
Tempeh or tempe is a traditional Javanese food made from fermented soybeans. It is nutty, chewy, and easily absorbs marinades.
It is low in calories but is filled with essential nutrients. Tempeh is high in potassium, iron, and magnesium. It is a great source of vegetable protein and is often used as a substitute for meat (7).
Tempeh is a complete protein as it contains all the nine essential amino acids. To make tempeh, a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus is used. This tempeh starter accompanied by a controlled fermentation process produces tempeh which is a whole soybean product. Therefore, it retains the nutritional benefits of soybean while increasing the nutritional value manifold with fermentation.
Summary: Tempeh is made from soybean that is fermented with Rhizopus oligosporus. It is a great replacement for meat and one of the most nutritious probiotic foods.
Natto is fermented soybean from Japan. It is a Japanese staple found in every kitchen there. It has a distinctive smell and a slimy texture. Natto is mostly served on top of cooked rice with seasonings such as chives, mustard, and soy.
Natto contains bacteria called Bacillus subtilis which is naturally present in soybeans. Once kept for fermentation, the sugars present in the beans convert these into natto.
It is a great source of vitamin K2, a mineral that helps pull calcium buildup out of the arteries. It is also high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Nattokinase is an enzyme that is found in natto. The potential benefits far exceed any other probiotic food (8). It is neuroprotective, anti-atherosclerosis, anticoagulatory, and anti-hypertensive. Known as a natural blood thinner, nattokinase has been known to lower blood pressure and the chances of cerebral stroke.
Summary: Natto is a Japanese staple that is eaten with cooked rice. It is a fermented soybean and is super nutritious. As a probiotic food, it provides a wide range of health benefits.
Kefir is a fermented drink originating from Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. It is mainly made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk. It is a tangy yogurt drink that has a much more liquid consistency than yogurt.
However, because of the bioactive compounds such as organic acids and peptides, it is far superior to regular yogurt. Kefir is extremely supportive of digestion and gut health. Kefir also improves bone health, strengthens your immunity, and in some cases combats cancer (9).
Those who are allergic to dairy can go for a dairy-free version. It can be made from coconut water, coconut milk, or some other sweetened liquid. However, in that case, the nutrient profile will change
The main organism in Kefir is Lactobacillus kefiri. It inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Helicobacter pylori, and E. coli. With an estimated 1 million to 1 billion colony forming units per millimeter, the good bacterias in kefir are the ones that synthesize Kefiran. It is a polysaccharide that is associated with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Summary: Kefir is a probiotic food that is comparable to drinkable yogurt. It mostly contains lactic acid bacteria and the potent one is Lactobacillus kefiri. Both dairy and non-dairy options are available. Kefir aids in digestive problems and boosts immunity.
8. Kombucha tea
For 2000 years, Kombucha tea has been a health tonic in China, Japan, and Russia. The basic ingredients are black or green tea, yeast, and sugar. To make kombucha, these drinks are kept aside for a week or more for fermentation. The probiotic bacteria in Kombucha is lactic-acid bacteria.
These bacterias, yeast, and acid that is secreted from a film on the top of the liquid called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). As the film looks like a mushroom, Kombucha tea is often known as “Mushroom tea”.
This can be further used to ferment more kombucha. Kombucha is known to aid digestion, overcome diarrhea, improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and strengthen your immune system. It also is beneficial in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels (10).
Summary: Kombucha is a type of fermented tea popular in China and Japan. Packed with lactic acid bacteria and yeast, kombucha is a probiotic food that supports your digestion and prevents gastrointestinal problems.
Kvass is a traditional Baltic fermented beverage that has earned a name as a popular health drink. Even though not as extensively known as kombucha tea, its health benefits are gaining recognition.
Kvass has a tangy sour flavor which is very similar to kombucha. It is packed with magnesium, vitamin B12, selenium, niacin, copper, and manganese. The beneficial bacteria in Kvass help replenish the good bacteria in the intestine and prevent various gastrointestinal problems. It also acts as a liver cleanser and blood tonic (11).
Kvass is made from stale, sourdough, rye bread, black bread, or beets. The latter (beet Kvass) is the most popular. It also contains yeast and is often flavored with honey, fruits, berries, birch sap, and raisins.
As beet in itself is a nutritional powerhouse, beet kvass is very healthy. Kvass can also be made from other vegetables. The probiotic in Kvass is Lactobacillus casei, Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Saccharamyces cerevisiae.
Summary: Kvass is a probiotic beverage popular in the Baltic countries. Made of stale or rye bread, Kvass is a nutritional powerhouse packed with essential vitamins and minerals. It helps in preventing gastrointestinal problems and works as a body cleanser.
Did you know that tofu was accidentally discovered by a Chinese man about 2000 years ago when he curdled soymilk by mistake? And in present, it is one of the most popular vegetarian, non-dairy options amongst fitness enthusiasts.
Tofu is low in fat and carbs, gluten-free, high in good quality protein and iron. It is one of the most nutrient-dense probiotic foods made from condensed soy milk or soybean curd.
The most common probiotic bacteria present in tofu is lactic acid bacteria (LAB). It is a great source of iron, calcium, manganese, and phosphorus. In addition, there are other minerals but in lesser quantities. They include magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin B1 (12).
The benefits of tofu are many. It promotes weight loss, controls blood sugar levels, Strengthens immunity, improves fertility, and protects against heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
Summary: Tofu is a probiotic food made from soybean curd. It is a vegan-friendly complete protein food filled with the goodness of essential nutrients such as manganese and zinc. Tofu has been known to defend against cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
11. Acidophilus milk
It is a probiotic drink that has taken the largest segment of the functional food market in Southeast Asia and Europe.
Some examples of acidophilus milk are Yakult, Actimel, and LC-1 (13). The common probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus subspecies. Amongst them, the most common one is Lactobacillus acidophilus.
These particular probiotic bacteria have been shown to make vitamins, decrease pathogens, decrease inflammation, convert fat into small chain fatty acids and help strengthen the immune system. That is not all.
Acidophilus milk can help reduce cholesterol levels, prevent diarrhea, and help with IBS, liver disease, gallbladder problems, vaginal yeast, UTI, arthritis, intestinal inflammation, colic problems, etc. It promotes healthy weight loss. It also reduces allergic symptoms and can prevent eczema.
Summary: Acidophilus milk contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic bacteria known for its several health benefits. These can be a great way to replenish your intestinal good bacteria and help reduce gastrointestinal problems.
12. Sourdough bread
Sourdough bread is considered one of the healthiest bread because of its probiotic and prebiotic character, thanks to the fermentation process it undergoes. Traditional sourdough bread is fermented both by wild yeast as well as lactic acid bacteria.
This mix of yeast, lactic acid bacteria, flour, and water that is used to make sourdough bread is called a “starter”. In comparison to other bread, sourdough bread contains more minerals. The lactic acid bacteria help reduce the pH of the bread that naturally lowers the plant antinutrient “phytate”. A lower phytate can lead to higher mineral absorption.
There is also a release of antioxidants during sourdough fermentation. It makes the bread richer in folate. The presence of LAB (Lactic acid bacteria) lowers the glycemic index of bread. Therefore, sourdough can be a better alternative for diabetics (14).
Summary: Sourdough bread is fermented by yeast and lactic acid bacteria traditionally bestowing it with the goodness of probiotic properties. It helps control diabetes and is more nutritional than most bread on the market.
13. Apple cider vinegar
Whether or not Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can be listed under the category of probiotic food is still not confirmed. However, gastroenterologists and dieticians confirm that ACV should be considered as one.
ACV undergoes a fermentation process and does contain bacteria. Whether these bacteria survive the harsh environment of the stomach and reach the intestine intact is still not confirmed.
It should always be taken with the mother, which is the cloudy and murky appearance in the liquid with the wispy strands.
ACV is a good source of Acetobacter bacteria in their unpasteurized forms. The organic acids that they contain help balance the gut pH that naturally brings up your own probiotic. A teaspoon to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar can be consumed a day mixed in warm water.
Summary: Apple cider vinegar can be considered a probiotic drink as it undergoes fermentation and contains live microorganisms. ACV helps balance the gut pH and is known to have several health benefits.
14. Aged cheese
Aged cheese from unpasteurized milk such as cheddar, gouda, Edam, Gruyere, cottage cheese, and mozzarella is another good example of probiotic foods. Probiotics are in cheeses that are not heated afterward and allowed to age.
Gouda delivers the most amongst them all in the soft cheese bracket. Some blue cheese such as Roquefort also contains probiotic bacteria that are important for gut health and preventing cardiovascular diseases. However, processed cheese does not contain these beneficial effects.
Another cheese that needs a special mention is feta cheese. It is rich in Lactobacillus plantarum bacteria which contains anti-inflammatory compounds and therefore highly beneficial (15).
Summary: Cheese that is left to age before consumption and is not treated with heat afterward is a probiotic food and contains a decent amount of probiotic bacteria. Cheddar, parmesan, and gouda are some of them.
15. Fermented sour pickles
Some pickles are fermented in brine that contains good bacteria. They are probiotic foods that protect the body’s microbiome and support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
They are highly effective in potentially aiding the treatment of chronic stomach health issues.
The other health benefits that they offer are reduction of urinary tract infections, preventing allergies, managing diabetes, and lowering the risks of certain cancers such as colon cancer (16).
Summary: Fermented pickles are a great way to introduce probiotic bacteria into the food. They contain beneficial strains of bacteria that aid in the prevention and treatment of stomach problems.
16. Sour cream
Sour cream is made by fermenting milk cream with lactic acid bacteria (17). This makes it a very good probiotic food.
However many commercial brands are now pasteurizing sour cream to reduce the risk of food poisoning. This kills the good bacteria and reduces its beneficial properties lent by them. Therefore, as a solution, some popular brands add an extra dose of good microbes back after the pasteurization process is completed.
Sour cream is most popularly used as a garnish or a topping. It promotes the absorption of certain vitamins, especially fat-soluble vitamins, and is low in carbs making it a great addition to the keto and Atkins diets.
Summary: Sour cream is a rich, tangy fermented cream with the goodness of probiotic bacteria. It is usually taken as a garnish or topping and can be a great way to support optimal health.
17. Fermented fish
Fermented fish is also known as Utonga-kupsu and is a staple in the Northeastern part of India.
They are also popular in many Asian countries along with fish paste. It has at least six potential probiotic strains of the Staphylococcus species that have a higher tolerance to stomach acids and bile salts.
Studies have observed that this whole process of fermentation causes the fish protein to break down, which helps stimulate your immune system and control blood sugar (18).
However, fermented fish comes with its own pungent smell and saltiness that people with restricted sodium intake should watch out for. They are good for digestive health and also prevent cancer.
Summary: Fermented fish and fish paste is popular in Asian countries and contain potent probiotic bacteria that support a healthy gut in addition to a number of other health benefits.
18. Traditional buttermilk
Buttermilk is a readily available fermented food. It is the by-product that is left while making butter. Buttermilk has live cultures of lactic bacteria (LAB). These bacterias maintain the gut microbiome that boosts your immune system.
In addition to its probiotic qualities, buttermilk is also high in essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and enzymes (19).
However, cultured buttermilk that has swamped American supermarkets do not give the same health benefits. You should therefore go for the traditional ones for a complete probiotic benefit.
Summary: Traditional buttermilk contains lactic acid bacteria that replenish your gut microflora. They are high in nutrients and support a healthy digestive system.
Umeboshi is a pickled plum. “Ume” means plum and “boshi” means pickled. It is sour and salty like most other pickles and is savored as a side with rice by most Japanese.
Nicknamed as “Samurai’s secret pill”, they have been highly popular for their unique medicinal properties. Umeboshi contains a very high concentration of citric acid, benzoic acid, and probiotic bacteria. Even a very small ume contains two-three times more citric acid than lemon.
Apart from containing a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals, umeboshi has probiotic bacterias whose growth has been promoted by the fermentation process (20).
Summary: Umeboshi is fermented plum with high medicinal value. It contains probiotic bacteria and is very rich in nutritional properties.
20. Greek yogurt
Even though a yogurt, Greek yogurt is a tad different from your usual yogurt. Since this yogurt is strained, the whey is removed. This is the liquid part of milk that is separated when milk is curdled.
As whey contains milk sugar and lactose, the straining process makes it very good for people with lactose intolerance. Greek yogurt boosts digestion and GI health, reduces inflammation, and optimizes overall health (21).
The two most powerful strains of bacteria are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. This low-carb probiotic food is an apt nutritional choice for weight watchers.
Summary: Greek yogurt is a creamy, rich yogurt that is strained to remove the liquid part, whey. This contains lesser sugar and carb, making it a great probiotic choice for weight watchers.
Skyr is a cultured dairy product extremely popular in Iceland. Also known as Icelandic cheese, Skyr is made of Lactic acid bacteria cultures.
The flavor is more like fresh sour-milk cheese. In Skyr, rennet is used to curdle the milk.
The probiotic bacteria that are present in Skyr are Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria. It supports good digestive health and boosts your immunity (22).
Summary: Skyr is an Icelandic, probiotic food that resembles yogurt. The potent probiotic bacterias are Lactobacillus species. It is great for intestinal health and boosts your overall health.
Kanji is an Indian probiotic drink, which is salty and sour in taste. One of the richest sources of probiotic food found in the Northern part of India, Kanji tastes very similar to beetroot Kvass.
Kanji is usually made of dark purple carrots and beetroot. In addition, black/brown mustard seeds are used along with sea salt and filtered water.
The good microorganisms identified in kanji are Lactobacillus plantarum and certain other lactobacillus bacteria.
Summary: Kanji is a traditional North Indian drink that is very similar to Beet Kvass. It has been traditionally used to help treat indigestion.
Turshi is a version of pickled vegetables popularly eaten in Iraq. This probiotic food can be made from different vegetables such as cucumber, turnip, eggplants, cabbage, carrots, etc.
Just like Korean kimchi, Persian Turshi is also gaining popularity for its probiotic benefits.
However, Torshi has a cleaner flavor profile than kimchi. The live culture present in Turshi is lactic acid bacteria (LAB).
Summary: Turshi is a Persian pickle and is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. It contains LAB and is highly beneficial.
Lassi is a fermented drink very popular in Northern India. There are many variations of lassi which is a blend of yogurt. Lassi is available in both sweet and salty tastes. Additional flavors are also added like rose syrup, mango, kesar, or khuskhus to enhance the flavor.
This refreshing drink is highly nutritious. It contains B-vitamins, calcium, potassium, folic acid, and beneficial bacteria that help with digestion. It keeps the stomach healthy by killing the bad bacteria in the body.
Did you know that lassi can also prevent sunstrokes? Its cooling effect on the stomach and the body can calm you from the extreme heat of the sun.
Just like yogurt, lassi contains Lactobacillus bacteria that help lubricate the intestine. It aids in the breakdown of food particles into sizes conducive to better absorption. Lassi helps prevent indigestion and other stomach problems.
Summary: Lassi is a yogurt drink prevalent in Northern India. It is famous for its cooling effect during the harsh summers. This fermented drink contains lactobacillus bacteria and is beneficial to health in numerous ways.
Neeragram is a drink that is made from the fermentation of rice and/or millet. Very popular in Southern India, it is usually enjoyed in the morning.
Very popular in Southern India, Neeragram is made by soaking the rice overnight and drinking it in the morning, lightly seasoned with salt.
The fermentation process helps break the outer layer of rice that helps bring out the starch. This makes the drink rich in starch (resistant starch) that provides instant energy in addition to the goodness of probiotics.
Also known as Nisineer or Pulichathanni in the local language, this drink has a lot of health benefits.
Summary: Neeragram is a rice-based starch-rich drink that contains the goodness of probiotic bacteria. Popularly consumed in Southern India, this drink can be one of the easiest solutions to all your gut problems.
The Final Note
Probiotic foods are foods that contain live colonies of good bacteria. When it reaches the intestine, they replenish the intestinal flora (which comprises bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms) that are good for health. Almost all probiotic foods are fermented foods but vice versa isn’t always true.
Some of the famous probiotic foods are miso, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, aged cheese, and kefir. Amongst the lesser-known ones are Neeragram, Skyr, Kvass, and Kanji. The availability of probiotic food depends on the cultural disposition and geographical conditions, but it is always a part of every cuisine.
Make sure to incorporate enough probiotic food to prevent any gut-related problems and keep yourself healthy.