Gut-friendly foods that taste great, too.
This article was medically reviewed by Ariana Fiorita, RD at the Cleveland Clinic.
Gut health has been a trendy topic over the past few years as we’re starting to better understand the important role our gut microbiome plays in our overall health. One of the best ways to support gut health is to eat more probiotic foods.
Not sure what probiotic foods are and which ones are the best to eat? Here are the details, from what probiotic and prebiotic foods are to a probiotic food list to help you get started.
What Are Probiotic Foods?
Probiotics are a mix of live bacteria and yeast that live naturally in your body. But, these bacteria are beneficial, “friendly bacteria,” says Ariana Fiorita, a registered dietician nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.
The friendly bacteria keep harmful bacteria in check, helping your body maintain a healthy balance, reducing inflammation and optimizing gut health.
Related: Eat Your Way to a Healthier Gut
Consuming a balanced, diverse diet of clean protein, healthy fats, dietary fiber and probiotic foods helps promote gastrointestinal health, Fiorita says. And the benefits of a healthy gut are numerous.
“Benefits include keeping our immune system healthy by reducing the risk of infection and illness, as well as mental and neurological health, weight and metabolism, cardiovascular health, renal and urinary health and management of gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome),” she says.
Best Probiotic Foods
Eating more probiotic foods can increase the number of good bacteria in your body. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kombucha and miso, are a good source since they contain a host of these bacteria.
When shopping for probiotic foods, check labels for the phrase “live and active cultures.” Several strains of bacteria are probiotic: common strains are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, Fiorita says.
Related: What Are Probiotics?
How many probiotic foods should you eat? The daily recommendation is two tablespoons of fermented foods from two different sources, she suggests.
Probiotic foods are safe for most people, but Fiorita urges anyone who is immunocompromised to use caution. People with conditions, like dysbiosis or small intestine bacterial overgrowth, may experience bloating, gas and abdominal pain when consuming probiotic foods and should check with their doctor first.
What’s the Difference Between Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods?
Most types of fiber are fully digested before reaching the intestines, but others, the prebiotics, stay intact through the metabolic process and feed the intestinal bacteria in the gut.
Related: Probiotics for Weight Loss
Prebiotic foods are fiber-rich and encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms that already exist in the gut, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, she says. Leeks, onions, tofu, some soy products and grains are examples of prebiotic foods.
“Probiotics thrive when an individual consumes adequate prebiotic-rich foods within a diverse diet,” Fiorita says. “One group is not healthier than the other—we need both.”
Probiotic Food List
Yogurt. Made from milk fermented by lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, all friendly types of bacteria, yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. It’s also high in calcium, which is great for your bones.
Greek yogurt. Also packed with probiotics, Greek yogurt, made by straining regular yogurt, has more protein and few carbs and sugars than other types of yogurt.
Skyr. This Icelandic dairy product is made by fermenting skim milk and features probiotic cultures similar to yogurt. It’s also low in calories and fat, and high in protein and other nutrients.
Sauerkraut. The sour, salty fermented cabbage is probiotic-rich. It’s also high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, but high in sodium.
Kimchi. A traditional Korean food staple, kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables, including cabbage, with probiotic lactic acid bacteria, and also helps reduce cholesterol, promotes brain health and boosts immunity.
Tempeh. Because it’s high in protein, tempeh is a popular meat substitute. The fermented soybean product is a probiotic food and a good source of vitamin B12.
Miso. Made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus, miso is a Japanese food staple. The paste comes in many varieties and is often used in miso soup. It’s also rich in vitamins B, E, K and folic acid.
Kefir. This fermented milk beverage contains multiple strains of friendly bacteria and yeast. It’s been shown to improve digestion and has antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties.
Lassi. A popular drink in India and Pakistan, a lassi is made with fermented yogurt and fruits, like mango, and contains plenty of probiotics.
Smoothies. Blend your favorite fruits and vegetables with probiotic-rich yogurt for a healthy breakfast or snack that’s also protein- and nutrient-dense.
Turshi. This blend of pickled vegetables, including carrots, celery, peppers, and more, popular in Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine, contains a wealth of probiotics.
Pickled onions. Not all pickled onions contain probiotics. To pack more probiotics into your diet, look for ones made using the lacto-fermentation method, where lactic acid bacteria are used in the pickling.
Pickled beets. When beets are pickled and also fermented, they contain probiotics, along with fiber, vitamins, iron and more.
Pickled cucumbers. Cucumbers left to ferment in salted water using their natural lactic acid bacteria are rich in probiotics, as well as vitamin K.
Umeboshi. These Japanese fermented plums are made from unripe ume fruit. Umeboshi may be served whole, in paste form or stored in vinegar.
Traditional buttermilk. Not to be confused with cultured buttermilk, which is common in the U.S. and is not a probiotic food, traditional buttermilk, made from the liquid leftover after making butter, contains probiotics.
Sourdough bread. Sourdough depends on wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria, which occur naturally in flour, as a leavening agent. And, researchers suggest it may have probiotic-like properties.
Cottage cheese. Some types of cottage cheese are rich in probiotics, just look for ones that have been fermented with live active cultures.
Cheddar cheese. Researchers believe the probiotics lactic acid bacteria used as a starter for cheddar cheese could survive the cheese-making and aging processes of cheddar cheese.
Gouda. Healthy bacteria can survive the cheese-making process for gouda, making it a probiotic-rich cheese.
Feta. This salty sheep’s milk cheese is often packed in brine, and researchers think some types of feta have strains of probiotics.
Provolone. Most cheeses are produced via fermentation, and provolone contains probiotics.
Parmesan. The hard, aged Italian cheese contains both prebiotic properties and probiotic bacteria, and it’s packed with calcium.
Raw cheeses. The natural bacteria in raw, or unpasteurized, milk can stay alive during cheese-making, as the cheese ferments.
Sour cream. You probably don’t think of sour cream as having many health benefits, but some types contain probiotics.
Fermented fish. Scientists have found the presence of certain probiotics in a fermented fish, called utonga-kupsu.
Bananas. Slightly under-ripe bananas are a solid source of prebiotics, which help healthy probiotics grow.
Garlic. An aromatic and versatile vegetable, garlic is also a prebiotic food that helps the healthy probiotic bifidobacteria grow in the gut, which could keep diseases away.
Onions. Rich in fiber and prebiotics, onions can help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Apple cider vinegar.ACV is touted for its wealth of health benefits. It does contain bacteria, but research is uncertain about its true probiotic effects.
Balsamic vinegar. Acetic acid is the main compound of balsamic vinegar, and research shows it contains strains of probiotic bacteria, which can improve gut health and the immune system.
Kvass. Popular in Eastern Europe, kvass is a fermented cereal drink made from malt, rye, flour, stale rye bread and sugar—and, it’s a probiotic food.
Soy sauce. Though it’s a fermented food, soy sauce may not always be a probiotic, unless specifically labeled as such. But research suggests it and other fermented foods could also offer gastrointestinal health benefits.
Olives. Green, kalamata and other kinds of olives, traditionally made via fermentation, often contain lactic acid bacteria.
Dark chocolate.Research suggests that cocoa can have a similar effect on gut bacteria as probiotics.
Natto. A popular Japanese breakfast food, natto is a fermented soybean product containing probiotics. Natto is also a good source of protein and vitamin K2, which promotes bone health.
Cereal. Some cereal brands, including Kellogg’s Special K, offer products with probiotics added.
Green peas. A Japanese study found that green peas may contain the probiotic leuconostoc mesenteroides.
Soy milk. Fermented soy milk may contain probiotics, and other soy milk products may be fortified with probiotics for extra health benefits.
Dairy alternatives. Many dairy alternatives, such as nut-based milk and yogurt, may contain live cultures. Just check the labels for lactobacillus or other probiotic strains.
Herbal teas. Already packed with antioxidants, some herbal teas are enriched with probiotics for an extra health boost.
Celery juice. Research shows celery juice could offer health benefits as a probiotic drink, when enriched with healthy bacteria.
Bottled probiotic drinks. An easy way to get a probiotic boost is to pick up one of the several probiotic drinks out there, like juices, teas, kombucha and smoothies.
Beer.Belgian-style beers, such as Hoegaarden and Westmalle Tripel, which are fermented twice, may contain a specific kind of probiotic yeast that can kill harmful bacteria in the gut.
Microalgae. It often comes in powder form, and microalgae has a number of health benefits and is a good source of probiotics.
Spirulina. A type of blue-green algae, spirulina is a popular supplement that’s full of nutrients, including probiotics.
Supplements. Most nutrition experts say the best probiotic sources come directly from foods, but there are plenty of probiotic supplements, too. The Cleveland Clinic recommends probiotic products with “1 billion colony forming units” at least and the probiotics lactobacillus or bifidobacterium.
Next, read more about the relationship between prebiotics and probiotics.