The 5 BEST Probiotic Foods to Eat for Better Digestive Health
Probiotics are teeny-tiny bacteria that live inside of your belly. And while it may sound disgusting, these little buggers are absolutely vital in maintaining good digestive and overall health. So, consuming probiotic foods is pretty important if you want to take care of yourself. You see, researchers recently found out that there are about 100 trillion+ of these bacteria that live in your gut alone, and that doesn’t include the additional ecosystems of microscopic probiotics that call the inside of your mouth and your skin their home.1
With so many of these microscopic bugs living on and inside your body, you may feel like you’re some sort of creeping, crawling science experiment. And to be honest, you kind of are!
Today, scientists are discovering more and more the importance of this microscopic bacteria and the “ecosystems” they set up inside of our bodies. They are calling it the “microbiome,” and studies have revealed that it is able to influence the following aspects of your overall health (as well as others):
- Intestinal inflammation
- Unwanted weight gain
- Cardiovascular function
- Good mood
- Energy levels
- Sleep quality
- Skin dryness
- Acne breakouts
- And an increased risk for obesity, and type 2 diabetes2,3
What Are Probiotics?
You likely already know about probiotics, because they can be found in a range of whole, natural foods like yogurt. For this reason, you may have seen the labels on foods that contain “live active cultures.” And when you see that you know that a food provides living active bacteria known as probiotics. But what exactly does that mean?
Essentially, when probiotic foods claim to contain live active cultures they are providing living, microscopic bacteria that include some of the most helpful strains found in your microbiome. They include (but are not limited to) lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium bifidum, streptococcus thermophilus, and bacillus coagulans, which are all considered to be “good” bacteria or probiotics.
However, inside the vast environment of your microbiome there are also many “bad” strains of microscopic bacteria living inside your gut, including streptococcus pyogenes, neisseria gonorrhoeae, mycobacterium tuberculosis, and escherichia coli. Technically, all of these different strains of live microbiota are needed for overall health. However, when the “bad” strains of bacteria eat enough foods that make them grow, they can develop into large colonies and take over the balance of your microbiome.
Foods to Avoid for Good Health
Scientists now know that the most effective way to regain balance in the microbiome is to stop feeding the “bad” bugs what they love to eat, halting their growth.4 Unfortunately, those foods include the most popular items Americans eat on a daily basis, including these commonly consumed foods of the Standard American Diet, or SAD.5
Top foods to avoid for a balanced microbiome:
- GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
- Sugary beverages
- Diet sodas
- High-fat foods
- Processed, refined carbohydrates (pasta, bread)
- Crackers, cookies, and other packaged foods
- Prescription medications
The 5 BEST Probiotic Foods to Eat for Better Health
If you follow the Standard American Diet like most of the people living in the U.S., you may have an overgrowth of “bad” bacterial strains inside your gut microbiome. For this reason, eating these probiotic foods could help you regain microbial balance in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and boost your overall health.
Here are the top 5 probiotic foods to start eating – right now!
1. Blue Green Algae
If you are not eating your sea vegetables, you are missing out! Not only does seaweed provide a wide range of nutrients needed for good health including Vitamin A, D, E, K, and B, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, along with essential fatty acids Omega-3, and 6, but many types of seaweed also offer live probiotics to support your gut health.6
Researchers have found that consuming certain types of seaweed, including blue green algae like spirulina and chlorella, is an effective way to get more probiotics into your everyday diet.7 Additionally, studies have revealed the power of blue green algae to feed the “good” bacteria what they need to grow – nutrients called prebiotics. In feeding the “good” bacteria prebiotic foods, you may be able to grow larger colonies of probiotics in your gut for good health.8
Seaweed is also rich in naturally occurring antioxidant compounds that support a strong immune system.9
2. Fermented Vegetables
If you like the taste of pickles or sauerkraut, you might also like the flavor of kimchi. Derived from an ancient Korean recipe for fermented vegetables, kimchi is traditionally made with cabbage but also includes other strong vegetables like carrots, radishes, and onions.
Known to offer large amounts of a specific type of good bacteria known as probiotic lactic acid bacteria (LAB), kimchi has been shown in clinical studies to offer many health benefits as one of the most versatile and delicious probiotic foods. These benefits include regularity, weight loss, cholesterol balance, antioxidant protection, brain health, immunity, and even clearer skin.10
3. Kombucha Tea
As an ideal replacement for sugary beverages and sodas, kombucha is a fun, effervescent drink that your taste buds will love! Designed to contain a range of different “good” bacteria including probiotic bacteria, yeasts, and even beneficial fungi, kombucha has a slightly tart flavor, but usually comes in tasty blends like pineapple, coconut, or even blueberry mint.
Studies confirm that kombucha tea helps to inhibit the growth of strains of “bad” bacteria like pathogenic species of escherichia coli, staphylococcus epidermis, and staphylococcus epidermis, along with antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains as well.11
Because kombucha fermented tea is usually made from antioxidant-rich green or black tea, it is also one of the best beverages to drink for immunity.12 So, swap your sugary soda pop for a tall glass of refreshing kombucha!
4. Thick & Creamy Yogurt
Slash your cravings for rich, creamy foods with thick European style yogurt! It’s versatile texture and ultra-plain flavor makes it ideal for using as a base for smoothies, dips, sauces, and spreads. Plus, it’s loaded with probiotics and is one of the easiest probiotic foods to integrate into your everyday menu.13
In one study, eating yogurt and other probiotic foods was associated with a positive influence on the gut microbiome. Participants reported significant improvements in their brain function after consuming probiotic foods.14
5. Dark Chocolate
Probably one of the most satisfying probiotic foods to eat is dark chocolate.15 And if you love to get a pick-me-up from sweets, this is the probiotic food for you! Scientists have found that dark chocolate contains a unique strain of probiotic bacteria plus pre-biotic fibers that help grow the strain (Baccilus) inside your gut.16
Not only that, but the main ingredient in chocolate (cocoa) is one of the most potent sources of a rare type of antioxidants known as polyphenols, shown in clinical trials to effectively inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut.17
Just remember that not all chocolate is created equal, and the active probiotics inside chocolate that make it a health food are only found in the cocoa. So, if you eat chocolate as a probiotic food, only consume types that contain 70% or more cocoa.
Eating these 5 best probiotic foods is a great way to boost the number of “good” gut bacteria living inside your microbiome. However, they are not the only way to get more probiotics into your diet. You may also choose to add a comprehensive probiotic supplement to your daily health regimen. No matter which way you decide to increase the number of helpful little buggers inside your body, remember to always check with your doctor before adding new foods or dietary supplements, as they can point out any potential interactions with your current medications or diet.
- Luke KUrsell, Jessica L Metcalf. Defining the Human Microbiome.Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Feb 1.
- RasnikK. Singh, Hsin-Wen Chang. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of Translational Medicine. Journal of Translational Medicine201715:73.
- Jose C. Clemente, LukeK.Ursell. The Impact of the Gut Microbiota on Human Health: An Integrative View. Cell Volume 148, Issue 6, 16 March 2012, Pages 1258-1270.
- Influence of the Microbiome on the Metabolism of Diet and Dietary Components. The Human Microbiome, Diet, and Health: Workshop Summary. Institute of Medicine (US) Food Forum. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013.
- Standard American Diet. NutritionFacts.org.
- vSeaweed, spirulina, dried. Nutrition Facts and Calories.SELFNutritionData.
- Prebiotic Efficiency of Blue Green Algae on Probiotics Microorganisms. April 2017.
- Laurie O’Sullivan, Brian Murphy. Prebiotics from Marine Macroalgae for Human and Animal Health Applications. Mar Drugs. 2010; 8(7): 2038–2064.
- Raposo MF, de Morais AM. Microalgae for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Life Sci. 2015 Mar15;125:32-41.
- Park KY,JeongJK. Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food. J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):6-20.
- RasuJayabalan, Radomir V. Malbasa. A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Volume 13, Issue 4, July 2014, Pages 538–550.
- 2008a – RasuJayabalan, Radomir V. Malbasa. A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus.
Volume 13, Issue 4, July 2014, Pages 538–550.
- Lisko DJ, Johnston GP. Effects of Dietary Yogurt on the Healthy Human Gastrointestinal (GI) Microbiome. Microorganisms. 2017 Feb 15;5(1).
- Leo Galland. The Gut Microbiome and the Brain. J Med Food. 2014 Dec 1; 17(12): 1261–1272.
- Nabil Hayek. Chocolate, gut microbiota, and human health. FrontPharmacol. 2013; 4: 11.
- Development of a novelsynbioticdark chocolate enriched with Bacillus indicus HU36, maltodextrin and lemon fiber: Optimization by response surface methodology. January 2013.
- TzounisX., Rodriguez-Mateos A. Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 93, 62–72.