Probiotics play an instrumental role in maintaining good gut health. They are available either in fermented foods or dietary supplements. The latter is sold over the counter, which is meant to treat only specific ailments. But it is always better to add probiotics to your everyday diet and have it in its most natural form. So what are these natural sources of probiotics? Read on to find out.
Natural sources of probiotics
Fermented foods are the best and the most natural source of probiotics. Fermenting is one of the most traditional forms of food preservation. Fermented foods go through a process known as Lacto fermentation, which has natural bacteria feed on starch or sugar present in the food, producing lactic acid. In this way, a habitat to preserve the food and encourage important enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and other different species of good bacteria is created. A few examples of probiotic-rich foods are given below. Let’s take a look:
One of the best probiotic foods, yogurt has numerous health benefits such as improving bone health, alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut-related ailments, reducing blood pressure and the like. Yogurt is prepared from milk through fermentation, thanks to friendly bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria. However, some yogurt brands are processed, which explains why it is necessary to choose the ones that have live or active cultures.
Miso is a form of traditional Japanese seasoning. It is a fermented paste, which lends a salty umami flavor to the dishes it is added to. It is prepared by fermenting soybeans with salt, rice, barley or rye, and a certain kind of fungus known as koji. Miso soup is made by using this paste, and this dish is a very popular as well as a healthy breakfast delicacy in Japan. It is typically available in four varieties -- yellow, red, brown, and white. This is a good source of fibre, protein, plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals like copper and manganese. It has several health benefits, which include improving respiratory health, reducing the risk of heart ailments and cancer.
Another fermented soybean product, tempeh has an earthy, nutty flavour, quite similar to that of a mushroom. Given its texture, vegans use it as a meat substitute. Tempeh is known for its impressive nutritional profile, thanks to the fermentation process that lowers the amount of phytic acid in soybean - a plant compound known to diminish the absorption of minerals like zinc and iron. Tempeh is also considered rich in vitamin B12, mainly found in animal products like eggs, fish, and poultry.
Known for its probiotic properties, unpasteurized sauerkraut is a finely shredded cabbage, fermented using lactic acid bacteria. Popular in European countries, it is one of the oldest and most traditional foods used as a side dish to your steak or as a filler in your burgers. Typically, it is sour and salty to taste and is stored in an airtight container for months, as we do with pickles. Additionally, it is rich in vitamins B, C, and K, and dietary fibre. It also contains minerals like iron, sodium, and manganese, as well as antioxidants like zeaxanthin and lutein.
Kimchi, a popular Korean dish, is another example of fermented food, known for its probiotic properties. It is prepared by fermenting vegetables like radish and cabbage with seasonings, such as garlic, red chili pepper flakes, scallion, ginger, and salt. It is made with the help of the good bacteria, Lactobacillus kimchi, as well as other lactic acid bacteria. It is known to improve digestion.
This traditional drink consumed mainly in South Asian countries is a leftover liquid obtained after making butter. Low in calories and fat and predominantly known to aid in digestion, buttermilk contains important vitamins and minerals such as B12, calcium, phosphorus, and riboflavin.
Fermented with the help of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), kombucha is a sugary black or green tea drink. The SCOBY bacteria and yeast feed on most of the tea's sugar, converting it into a sour, fermented yet refreshingly fizzy non-alcoholic drink. Additionally, it contains antioxidants, killing harmful bacteria and helping fight numerous digestive health issues.
Apart from these, apple cider vinegar, kefir, certain varieties of cheese, pickles, another fermented soybean product called natto, and the like are also considered natural sources of probiotics. You can also take probiotics in the form of capsules, tablets, and powders, which contain the bacteria in dried form. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor for the same.