Probiotic Foods to Promote Digestive Health

Fresh or Fermented Foods That Promote Digestive Health

Your digestive tract plays host to a wide range of probiotics. Probiotics are "good" bacteria and yeasts that aid digestion while preventing "bad" bacteria or yeasts from causing harm. The balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract is known as your gut flora (or gut microbiota).

You can support the healthy flora of your digestive tract by taking over-the-counter probiotic supplements that are easy to use and readily found in most major drug stores. But pills aren't the only way to get probiotics into your diet. There are plenty of fresh and fermented probiotic foods known to promote probiotic growth.



bowl of yogurt with honey jar
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Yogurt is probably the best-known dietary source of probiotics but is also beneficial for many other reasons. It is an excellent source of calcium, protein, and potassium and delivers an impressive nine grams of protein per six-ounce serving.

In order for yogurt to claim it is probiotic on the label, it must contain at least 1,000,000, or 106 CFUs. CFUs (colony forming units) is the unit of measurement used for probiotics. Contrary to some marketing claims, a higher CFU count does not necessarily indicate more health benefits.



Sauerkraut in a pottery bowl
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Sauerkraut is an excellent source of probiotics, fiber, manganese, potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamin C. On the downside, it tends to be high in sodium, so it may not be the best choice if you are on a ​​low-sodium diet.

As a probiotic source, the concentration of lactobacillus bacteria in sauerkraut can reach well over one trillion CFU per gram.



Miso paste in a wooden bowl
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Miso is a paste made from fermented soy and is used in many kinds of Japanese and Asian foods. It is high in iron and B-complex vitamins but also contains a lot of sodium, so it may not be good if you're cutting back on salt.

As with sauerkraut, the process of fermentation creates a bacteria-rich environment in miso, translating to no less than 100 billion CFU of probiotics per gram.




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Kefir is typically made from fermented cow's milk, so it is similar to yogurt and equally rich in calcium and protein. Kefir can also be made from sheep and goat milk and is often promoted as the healthier and more powerful version of yogurt. Unlike yogurt, it is made with a kefir 'grain' containing live bacteria and a large amount of yeasts beneficial to health.

While the volume of probiotics can vary, most quality kefir products will have no less than 70 billion CFU of lactobacillus bacteria per gram.




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Kimchi, the Korean national dish, is made primarily with fermented cabbage and has a wonderfully spicy and tangy flavor. Kimchi is an excellent source of probiotics but is also rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and the types of antioxidants commonly found in cruciferous vegetables.

From a probiotic standpoint, expect the same level of CFU per gram as sauerkraut.




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Tempeh is made from cooked and fermented soy. It has a delicious nutty flavor and is used in many vegetarian and vegan dishes. Besides its probiotic value, tempeh is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.

As a probiotic source, tempeh delivers around 10 billion CFU of probiotics per gram.




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Artichokes are not probiotic per se but can boost gastrointestinal flora as part of a probiotic diet. Artichokes are rich in prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which promote the growth of digestive bacteria. Moreover, they are high in magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and manganese.

In addition to being rich in dietary fiber, artichokes contain a compound known as cynarin, which increases the bile production in the liver and, in turn, rids cholesterol from the body.

Other prebiotic foods include chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, legumes, wheat, and jicama.




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Asparagus is rich in dietary fiber, including prebiotic FOS which promotes probiotic growth. Asparagus is also high in just about every vitamin and mineral imaginable while being very low in calories.

If there is a minor niggle to eating asparagus, it is that it contains a sulfurous compound called mercaptan which, when broken down during digestion, gives urine a characteristic pungent odor.



Banana bunch

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Bananas, particularly when they are green or more firm, are rich in prebiotic FOS and contain pectin and resistant starch that further aid digestion. In addition, they are an important source of copper, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6.

Bananas rank relatively low on the glycemic index (GI) and have next to no fat. From a dietary standpoint, a banana only contains around 100 calories and is mostly comprised of water and carbohydrates.




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Kombucha is sweetened fermented black tea that contains both yeast and bacteria. It originated in China and has a slightly acidic taste that many find appealing. The fermentation process is robust due to the high sugar content and causes the formation of a thick gelatinous layer on top known as SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

In terms of probiotic value, kombucha has roughly 10 billion CFU per gram.

Although the daily consumption of 4 oz. of kombucha does not present a risk for health, some reports of nausea and dizziness have been noted. It is riskier to consume kombucha made from home in potentially unsterile vessels. Choose kombucha brands that are made in a sterile environment.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institutes of Health. Probiotics Health Professional Fact Sheet. June 3, 2020.

  2. Bourrie BC, Willing BP, Cotter PD. The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage KefirFront Microbiol. 2016;7:647. Published 2016 May 4. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.00647

  3. Martínez Leal J, Valenzuela Suárez L, Jayabalan R, Huerta Oros J, Escalante-Aburto A. A review on health benefits of kombucha nutritional compounds and metabolites. CyTA - Journal of Food. 2018;16(1):390-399. doi:10.1080/19476337.2017.1410499.

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