13 Probiotic Foods to Help Balance Your Gut
It’s true that probiotics can be found in some foods. You might already include them in your diet, or you may be able to replace a food currently in your diet with another that specifically contains probiotics. But picking a probiotic food is not as easy as picking any yogurt off the shelves at the store, and not all fermented foods have probiotics in them.
Finding foods with live cultures is easy. Finding foods with live cultures that have proven health benefits (in other words, probiotics) requires attention to detail and research. Plus, you need to make sure you’re getting enough probiotics from those foods in your diet to actually get the health benefit you want.
Yogurt is a classic example. All yogurts do contain live cultures at some point as they are being made. However, as a part of the manufacturing process, the live cultures don’t always survive until the yogurt makes it to store shelves. Alternatively, some yogurts still contain live cultures post-processing, however, the specific strains used to make the yogurt provide no benefits to humans.
The truth is, few yogurts naturally contain a probiotic strain. Oftentimes, probiotics are added to the yogurt, but not used as part of the production process.
If you don’t already eat fermented foods, there are other options to help you add probiotics to your gut without making a significant dietary change. Probiotic supplements like Align DualBiotic Prebiotic + Probiotic Gummies will guarantee you add more good bacteria to your gut.*
Keep reading for answers to the most common questions about probiotic foods.
What are probiotic foods?
It’s important to understand what a probiotic is first. Probiotics are good, live bacteria that you add to your gut via food with a live culture in it or via dietary supplements, and which have a proven health benefit.
Probiotic foods contain live bacteria or yeast cultures that offer proven health benefits. Yes, they are bacteria and they are alive; those are both good things.
However, the good bacteria can’t do this if they aren’t alive. Probiotics need to be living to help support your gut. the cultures aren’t alive, they won’t deliver the intended health benefit.
In short, probiotic foods must have living cultures that provide a health benefit.
How are fermented foods made, and are they all probiotic?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. Many foods you might eat every day go through the fermentation process: yogurt, sauerkraut, cheese, bread. Good bacteria love fermentation, so in turn, fermented foods with live cultures in them can contain probiotics.
But not all fermented foods are probiotic. In fact, the vast majority of fermented foods are not. For example, beer or vegetables that ferment in vinegar have no proven probiotic benefits.
Most foods with live cultures have no scientific evidence that shows they help with anything. True probiotic foods contain a strain of live bacteria that’s been studied and shown to give health benefits.
In short: All fermented foods have live cultures. But not all live cultures have proven health benefits, so not all fermented foods are also probiotic foods.
How do you know if a food has probiotic benefits? Check the label to see if the food reports the specific probiotic strains it contains. Then search to see if those strains have any science to back up their health benefit claims.
13 Probiotic Foods that May or May Not Get Live Bacteria to Your Gut
To ensure you get the probiotic benefits from foods with live cultures, you need to check the label and do research. If you’re looking to add good bacteria to your gut, these 13 probiotic foods are a good place to start your search.
Keep reading to find out if these 13 common fermented or probiotic foods actually contain live cultures once they reach your gut.
Yogurt can have probiotics.
Yogurt may be the most well-known probiotic food. Yogurt typically contains the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus. When you shop for probiotic yogurt, be sure to do your research to see if the live cultures meet the definition of a probiotic by delivering a health benefit.
Kombucha can have probiotics.
Kombucha has been trusted for centuries to promote good gut health. You can find kombucha on plenty of store shelves these days. But like with most food with live cultures, not all kombucha you see actually provide the probiotic benefits you may want. Some kombuchas have live cultures, but most don’t have data to support proven health benefits.
Kimchi can have probiotics.
A traditional Korean food that includes cabbage and spices like ginger and garlic, kimchi is typically made by fermenting cabbage with probiotic lactic acid bacteria. Kimchi can add a kick of flavor to any meal but make sure to eat it cold to keep the cultures alive before they reach your gut.
Saurkraut can have probiotics.
Sauerkraut can add live cultures to your gut microbiome. Similar to kimchi, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, but not quite as spicy. Sauerkraut also shreds the cabbage more thinly, uses different seasonings, and is fermented for a longer time.
Kefir can have probiotics.
If your stomach gets upset with dairy or lactose, there’s still a creamy option: kefir. Plus, it can come with probiotic benefits if you find one that includes strains that have been studied and showed health benefits. Use kefir as the liquid in your next smoothie to add some probiotics to your gut.
6. Dill Pickles
Dill pickles can have probiotics.
Whether you like a pickle on your sandwich, on the side of your burger, or just for a snack, fresh, sour dill pickles are a simple way to help add good live cultures to your diet.
Tempeh does not have probiotics.
Tempeh is a fermented meatless option made from soy. Aside from live cultures, it also holds lots of protein and fiber, even more than tofu. However, preparing the tempeh requires heat, meaning the live cultures are not alive once they get to your gut, so you won’t get probiotic benefits from them.
8. Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread does not have probiotics.
Sourdough bread does not contain live probiotics when eaten. The sourdough starter is fermented, which helps the bread to rise and creates live cultures. However, when baked, the heat kills the bacteria.
Cheese can have probiotics.
One more reason to eat cheese: to get some live cultures. Raw and unpasteurized cheeses like cheddar, feta, and gouda can give you live cultures. But if you add them to your grilled cheese, the heat may kill those bacteria. Spread it on a cracker or sprinkle it on a salad instead, to keep those cultures alive, and be sure to check the labels if looking for a probiotic strain in your cheese, as few have been studied.
10. Nutrition Bars
Nutrition bars can have probiotics, but only if added in.
Nutrition bars don’t naturally grow live cultures, but some brands do choose to add probiotics to them. For example, the bacteria Bacillus coagulans can be found added to some brands. The key is deciding what benefit you want from a probiotic. And if the probiotic strain in the nutrition bar you choose offers that, then great. Just make sure you get enough CFUs to deliver the benefit.
Chocolate can have probiotics, but only if added in.
Yes and no. By the time it’s eaten, the live cultures in dark chocolate don’t survive to lend a helping hand to your gut. Some brands may choose to add it to the product, though, so if a bacteria strain with proven health benefits is clearly listed on the label, it may give you probiotic benefits.
Salami can have probiotics.
Traditional salami doesn’t just taste good—it can also give your gut some live cultures. The curing process for salami also uses fermentation to preserve the food. If prepared correctly, those probiotics can stay alive until they get to your gut.
Olives can have probiotics.
Not everyone loves them, but good bacteria love to live on them. Preparing olives can be done with fermentation, and the live cultures from that process live on the olives and can survive to reach your gut and add more bacteria. However, remember it’s still about whether those bacteria have ever shown they can deliver any health benefits. Not to mention, if they have how many CFUs are required to get those health benefits — it may require more olives than you might normally add to a charcuterie board.
How do probiotics help your health?
Probiotic foods can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Researchers have found lots of evidence connecting probiotics to improved immune functions and overall gut health.
However, only foods and supplements that contain live, active cultures, that have been studied and proven to deliver a health benefit actually count as probiotics. Some foods marketed as probiotic foods may not technically contain live cultures with proven health benefits. Always check the label for a probiotic, and always research the strain.
What alternatives are there to probiotic foods?
If you’re looking to add probiotics but have dietary restrictions that prevent you from eating some fermented foods, consider a probiotic supplement like Align. Supplements can help you get those digestive benefits without making a significant change to your diet.
5 Reasons to Take a Probiotic Supplement Over Probiotic Foods
1. Fewer Calories
Some probiotic foods are full of calories. While delicious, eating enough of these foods to get the CFUs needed to deliver a health benefit could derail some of your other wellness goals. Supplements have few or no calories. For example, Align DualBiotic Prebiotic + Probiotic Gummies have 20 calories per serving.
2. Less Sugar
Yogurt tastes great, but you might need to eat a few throughout the day to get enough probiotic CFUs. That could add up to a lot of sugar. Whether capsules or gummies, many supplements may have some sugar, but very little compared to certain sweets. Align DualBiotic Gummies, Digestive De-Stress Gummies, and Kids Probiotic Gummies have up to 50% less sugar than the leading probiotic gummy brand.
3. No Refrigeration Needed
Some probiotic foods require refrigeration, like yogurt and cheese. But even refrigeration can’t keep the good bacteria alive forever. Align Probiotic supplements don’t need to be refrigerated. Align uses freeze-drying technology to make the probiotics go dormant and keep the cultures alive until they reach your gut.
4. Reliable Packaging
Live bacteria cannot survive if not prepared and packed properly. Some manufacturing practice can kill the bacteria. For example, any probiotics in sourdough starter die as the bread is baked. The best way to guarantee live bacteria make it to your gut is with a supplement. Supplements like Align 24/7 Digestive Support*§ capsules use blister packaging to keep bacteria asleep it arrives in your gut.
5. Simple Dosage
To get the health benefits you want from a probiotic, you need to take the amount of CFUs that have been shown to deliver the benefit. With foods, it may be hard to clearly identify what benefits are associated with the bacteria in the food. Plus, getting the CFUs needed from that food may require meaningful changes to your diet every day to get the benefits, if the strain and CFUs are listed on the label at all. Trusted supplement brands like Align Probiotics come with the amount of probiotics you need to get the probiotic benefits from the strain. Whether taking Align’s Digestive Support*§ capsules or DualBiotic Prebiotic + Probiotic gummies, you can trust that you’re getting the probiotic benefits you want out of that product.
Sources (Accessed April 2020)
- International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, “What Are Fermented Foods?”
- International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, “Fermented Foods”