5 Ways To Get Good Bacteria In Your Stomach

This post originally appeared on Details.com.

We have more bacteria in our gut than cells in our body.

As foreign as it sounds, the word microbiome may soon be part of the mainstream lexicon. The term refers to the microbes or bacteria that naturally inhabit the body from the surface of your skin to your gut. We tend to think of microbes as bad—pathogens that need to be killed—but new research suggests that storing scores of them is paramount to our health and metabolism.

“We have 100 trillion microbes in our gut — more bacteria than cells in the body,” says Frank Lipman, MD, the founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness in Manhattan. ” They aid in digestion and detoxification, help support our immune system, and manufacture key vitamins, among other functions. Western medicine is catching on to the importance of all the bacteria in our bodies, especially in our gut. In Functional Medicine we’ve been manipulating this microbiome for some time, but it’s primarily been guesswork.”

“Understanding these microbes is the future of medicine,” he said.

The Human Microbiome Project, a National Institute of Health initiative, is working to shed light on the topic.

“It’s such a new field and there are so many studies underway. But we do know that it’s important to keep your flora in a balanced state,” says Lipman. “A disturbed microbiome, where bad bacteria and yeast overtake the good ones can cause all sorts of health problems from autoimmune diseases to weight gain.”

Thus far, gut microbes have been shown to influence metabolism, and certain types may play a role in obesity. In fact, one family of bacteria called Firmicutes can even cause you to absorb more calories from your food. Another, called Bacteroidetes, is associated with leanness.

Wondering how to keep your belly balanced—and flat? Your trump card may be a healthy diet, which can prevent microbes associated with obesity from flourishing. No real surprises there, and until more is known Lipman suggests keeping your microbiome in mind when you eat. Here are his five tips:

1. Eat pre-biotic foods

Healthy gut bacteria thrive on pre-biotics, which are non-digestible fibers found in foods like root vegetables, onions, leeks, garlic, artichokes, beans, asparagus, oats, nuts, and bananas. Think of it as giving the good microbes something to chew on.

2. Drink Green Juice

There are thousands of bacterial strains, and while we don’t know enough about all these organisms yet, greens appear to help improve the diversity of healthy organisms in the gut. Plus, research shows that the greater the diversity, the greater the health benefits.

3. Cut out processed foods

The additives in processed foods can kill off good bacteria. Refined carbs are also problematic because sugar feeds bad bacteria, allowing it to proliferate and leading to physical cravings for more sugar. Stay away from wheat and soy, too. Most are genetically modified and GMOs disrupt gut flora.

4. Limit antibiotics

There’s a place for antibiotics, but don’t take them every time you have a runny nose. They’re overused and even though they target bad bacteria, they also kill off the good guys. Another surprising problem is factory-farmed meats. Seventy percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are used in livestock, leading to chronic exposure; when you consume the meat, you’re absorbing those antibiotics, too.

5. Get your probiotics

Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are making appearances on more menus as people learn more about body ecology. They’re important because they naturally contain probiotics, which encourage the growth of good bacteria. Some people also respond well to a supplement. Choose one containing some of the most studied probiotic strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium lactis.

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Keeping belly bacteria balanced is key, but a challenge for cancer patients

The human colon is a teeming sea alive with millions of bacteria. In this briny deep within the gut swim trillions of bacteria from hundreds of different species. Some species of bacteria, if left unchecked, could cause infections or disease. Others promote good digestion and help fight infection. Doctors and scientists have discovered the benefits of maintaining a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the colon and the role our gut bacteria, also called microbiota, microbiome or gut flora, plays in many diseases, including cancer. “The normal bacterial balance is when there are significantly more good bacteria to overpower the bad bacteria,” says Pankaj Vashi, MD, Gastroenterologist at our Chicago hospital. In cancer patients, maintaining that balance is often a challenge, potentially impacting treatments and leading to difficult side effects. That’s why, experts say, it’s important for cancer patients to be aware of the dangers, and to give them tools to help prevent and manage them.

Cancer may wreak havoc on the human microbiota. The disease strains the immune system, which may allow bad bacteria in the gut to flourish. Antibiotics used to fight infection also may kill good bacteria in the colon. “Antibiotics are like a grenade,” says Zach Breeding, registered and licensed Advanced Clinical Oncology Dietitian at our Philadelphia hospital. “They can destroy so much bacteria in your gut, both good and bad.” To further complicate matters, cancer treatments may lead to a pronounced imbalance of microorganisms, a condition called dysbiosis. For instance:

  • Surgery to remove part of the colon also removes bacteria and some of the tissue in which they live.
  • Radiation therapy may damage or inflame tissue in the colon.
  • Chemotherapy, especially, may wreak havoc on the gut. Treatments may kill bacteria that aids digestion, often leading to diarrhea, which further depletes good bacteria.

“Whenever patients get sick from chemotherapy and get diarrhea, they lose a lot of good bacteria,” Dr. Vashi says. “And we have patients who take multiple antibiotics that destroy a lot of good bacteria. These can lead to different infections, including the most notorious one, which is C. difficile.” Clostridium difficile infection, known simply as C. diff, is marked by inflammation in the colon, often brought on by disrupted gut flora and a compromised immune system. C. diff infections are diagnosed in about 10 percent of cancer patients. Research indicates cancer patients with C. diff may have poorer outcomes than those who don’t have the infection. To treat patients with C. diff, Dr. Vashi may consider a fecal transplant procedure, in which feces from a healthy donor is implanted into the colon of the infected patient. “We see some dramatic responses in which the diarrhea is gone in as little as 24 hours,” Dr. Vashi says. “Many times, they don’t get recurrent infections.”

To help reduce the effects of chemotherapy on the microbiome, doctors and nutritionists often turn to prebiotics to bolster the microbiota and probiotics to restore good bacteria lost or destroyed by treatment. “ Before therapy, I’m always recommending a good, wholesome diet that contains a lot of plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes,” Breeding says. “These foods are high in prebiotics, the food for the probiotics. Anything that has roughage and is cooked al dente, such as beans or broccoli, which are high in insoluble fiber, will allow probiotics to thrive.” During and after therapy, probiotic supplements that contain multiple types of microorganisms help restore the good bacteria in the gut. “When you are in dysbiosis, you can’t just throw yogurt at that,” Breeding says. “You don’t need just a little bit of probiotics; you need a ton.”

What is the human microbiome?

Here’s some of what we know so far, according to the Human Microbiome Project:

  • Human microbiota is made of trillions of viruses, fungi and other microorganisms.
  • The human microbiota has 10 times more microorganisms than human cells.
  • Microorganisms make up about 3 percent of our total body mass, or about six pounds of a 200-pound adult.
  • Imbalances in human gut flora have been linked to autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, obesity and heart disease.

In 2008, the National Institutes of Health established The Human Microbiome Project to research and compile data to study the microbiome’s impact on disease. “It has been found that bacteria play a role in multiple diseases,” Dr. Vashi says. “There are studies now that are showing that changes in bacterial flora can contribute to developing conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. Fascinating work has been done where we are learning more and more about gut microbiome playing a major role in many conditions, including obesity.”

While evidence suggests dysbiosis can lead to autoimmune diseases and other conditions, “there is not strong data that shows a direct connection to gut bacteria causing cancer,” Dr. Vashi says. However, research has shown connections between gut flora and cancer risk factors and the effectiveness of treatments. Multiple studies have found that the composition of a patient’s gut bacteria may influence the performance of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. In one of those studies, melanoma patients who had good bacteria in their guts had better responses to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy drugs than patients with bad gut bacteria. “An important and clinically relevant issue is whether manipulation of the intestinal microbiome could turn patients are nonresponsive to immune checkpoint blockade into responders,” Christian Jobin, PhD, of the University of Florida, writes in an editorial quoted by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Currents Blog.

A gut bacteria imbalance sometimes causes health problems that may raise the risk of cancer. For instance, a diet high in meats and processed foods and lacking in fresh vegetables may damage gut flora and increase the risk of certain gastrointestinal cancers, including colorectal cancer. Also, an imbalance in the microbiome may lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for many cancers, including those of the breast and prostate. “We know the microbiome can play a major role in developing obesity,” Dr. Vashi says. “And we know that obesity plays a role as a risk factor in certain cancer types. So, there is a strong argument that people who have bad microbiomes are likely to become more obese, which may make them more susceptible to developing more cancer types.”

What can you do? Tips for maintaining your microbiome

Expand your menu. Gut flora is a diverse collection of bacteria. A diverse menu of foods encourages the growth of many types of bacteria, which makes for a healthy microbiota.

Try fermented foods. These foods contain and feed probiotics and help promote healthy gut bacteria. Fermented foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.

Eat more fruits, vegetables and beans. Limiting animal fats and eating a plant-based diet will increase fiber intake and promote a healthy gut.

Stick with whole grains. Processing often strips fiber and nutrients from many grains, such as wheat and rice. Whole grains are rich in fiber and good for the gut.

Avoid artificial sweeteners. Research indicates that sugar substitutes, such as saccharin and aspartame, may promote obesity rather than prevent it, and damage gut flora.

Talk to your doctor. Ask questions about antibiotics you may be prescribed, and talk to your doctor about the benefits of a probiotic supplement.

Learn about prebiotics. Probiotics have long been promoted to improve gut health, but prebiotics also are important. Examples of prebiotics include leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, spinach, bananas, oats and beans.

Consider your lifestyle. Quit smoking. Drink alcohol in moderation. Get enough restful sleep. Get enough exercise. Eat a balanced diet. A healthy life often means a healthy gut, and a healthy gut helps promote a healthy life.

Sources: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; healthhline.com

Learn more about supportive care therapies and side effect management.

What should I eat for a healthy gut?

The truth about ‘healthy gut’ foods

These popular foods are often claimed to benefit your gut – but what’s the truth?

  • Probiotic supplements, including spirulina, might be helpful, but it hasn’t been proven that the bacteria reach the gut intact. Some supplements have other well-established health benefits, but they tend to be expensive. Most probiotic supplements contain a limited array of microbes compared to what you can get from a good diet. Even if they do have health benefits, they are no substitute for eating a balanced diet.
  • Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha and many pickles. We can’t be certain the bacteria they contain reach the gut, but in countries where this type of food is eaten frequently people appear to have better gut health and less bowel disease. However, other factors could be responsible. Fermented foods can be cheap and easy to make at home, so eat them if you enjoy them. Mass-produced pickles use vinegar instead of traditional methods of fermentation, so don’t have the same benefits.
  • Raw milk. The variety of microbes found in raw milk is very similar to pasteurised milk – there’s just much more of them in raw milk. There is a strong correlation between drinking raw milk in childhood and a reduced incidence of allergies. This might be because of the high numbers of microbes in raw milk, but we can’t be sure. Children who drink raw milk often live on farms, which also bring microbial advantages. However, raw or unpasteurised milk may contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Sourdough breads have fermented slowly using a wide range of bacteria and fungi found naturally in the air and ingredients. Commercial yeast, used in most breads, is a single strain that causes bread to rise much faster. It is not known if the additional microbes in sourdough survive cooking. One study found that the bacteria don’t need to be alive to provide health benefits, but this is not conclusive. Many people claim they find sourdough easier to digest than other bread, but it is likely that the lengthy fermentation process is most beneficial. This is because microbes have had more time to break down the protein strands that might otherwise cause digestive problems.
  • Traditionally produced cheese can contain a huge array of probiotics (from the natural bacteria used in the production of the cheese). Some studies have found that these can benefit health, but more research is required. We cannot be sure the bacteria in some cheeses survive digestion for long enough to be beneficial. However, it is possible that other properties of cheese help preserve bacteria during digestion. Mass-manufactured cheeses don’t have this potential benefit because of the way they are made.
  • Traditionally produced yoghurts, ‘live’ yoghurts and yoghurt drinks contain probiotic cultures, but they may not survive the acidic environment of the stomach and reach the intestines intact. Some yoghurts state the cultures used to make them in the ingredients list and diversity is usually beneficial. Stick to natural yoghurts; fruity yoghurts usually contain sugar and additives, which might cancel out any potential health benefits. Some yoghurt drinks contain very high numbers of bacteria that are considered to promote health – far more than you would find in a normal yoghurt. However, they can also contain lots of sugar and can be expensive.

The Wrong Gut Bugs Can Make You Fat and Sick (and How to Fix Them)

Stop a second and consider this: You share your body with about 100 trillion other organisms. These bacterial cells live in your skin, mouth, nose, yet most of them reside in your digestive system and especially your large intestine.

Imagine that. 100 trillion orgasms. In fact, these bacterial cells outweigh human cells by about 10 to 1.

Among their duties, these bacteria allow you to get nutrients from food. They’re responsible for training your immune system to know what can hurt you and how to stop it. They even protect your genes by preventing toxic material from leaking through your gut tissue.

Researchers are only beginning to understand the many roles these bacteria play as well as their impact on health and disease. A decade ago they estimated we harbor about 200 species. Today, that number is closer to 10,000 and will probably only increase.

The more researchers learn about these good bacteria, the more we realize how connected they are to overall health.

You’ll always have some bad bugs, but the good ones should dominate. When your gut bacteria get out of balance – when those bad bugs take over – systemic havoc ensues, creating a wide range of diseases.

Whenever I see patients with health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or leaky gut, I usually suspect gut flora imbalances.

But these imbalances go far beyond just gut health. Name a health problem and gut bacteria probably plays some role.

Studies connect bacterial imbalances with Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and migraines. These imbalances can even inhibit weight loss and make you overweight.

A new patient with an an autoimmune disorder called fibromyalgia, presented to me relating chronic gas, bloating and distention. She was also worried about worsening anxiety and brain fog. Once we fixed her gut, 90% of her symptoms resolved. That makes sense considering about 70% of your immune system lies within your gut and that the gut is also wrapped in a neural network with a direct connection to the brain. That gut-brain connection is very powerful. Fix the gut and you can impact not only anxiety and brain fog but other neurologic and mood disorders like ADHD and depression.

As a Functional Medicine doctor, restoring gut balance is actually very simple: I take out the bad and replace it with good.

Among the factors that adversely impact gut balance are antibiotics, environmental toxins, artificial sweeteners, and a bad diet, but also things you might never suspect like anti-bacterial soaps.

Once I’ve identified the culprits, my focus becomes creating and maintaining a healthy gut that fosters a rich diversity of good bacteria.

That usually begins with what you put on your fork. When patients make the right food choices and fix a few lifestyle components, their gut health improves. They feel better and lose weight. Here are some of the strategies I use to fix gut health:

  1. Focus on whole, quality foods. Whenever you can, choose nutrient-rich organic plant foods and foods from animals fed their natural diets like grass-fed beef and pasture-raised eggs.
  2. Eat more fiber. Good bacteria thrive on dietary fiber, and insufficient amounts make it difficult to thrive. A wide array of plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, berries, and vegetables can feed good gut bugs that help to edge out the bad ones. For patients who find getting enough dietary fiber a challenge, I recommend a high-quality fiber powder.
  3. Increase your anti-inflammatory fats. When I see patients with gut imbalances, they often have chronic inflammation. Omega 3-rich sources like wild-caught fish, freshly ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and quality fish oil supplements are among the ways you can put out that inflammatory fire that holds your weight and health hostage.
  4. Eliminate the food that feeds bad bugs. A diet high in refined, sugary foods allows pathogens to grow. So do food sensitivities like gluten, dairy, and corn. While we eliminate these problem foods, I ask patients to keep a food journal because many of them can sneak into the diet.
  5. Eat (and drink) more fermented foods. Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and coconut kefir come packed with natural probiotics that add to your gut bacteria diversity. For therapeutic amounts of probiotics, I also recommend a high-quality supplement.
  6. Feed your good gut bugs. Prebiotics are what your probiotics feed on. Foods rich in prebiotics include Jerusalem artichoke and dandelion greens. You might also choose a prebiotic-rich powder like inulin or potato starch, but go slowly: Too much at once can create gastric distress.
  7. Exercise regularly. Among its benefits, regular exercise can foster a community of good gut bacteria. Find something you enjoy that helps you move – that could be yoga, weight lifting, or walking – and do it regularly.
  8. Sleep better. Getting inadequate or poor-quality sleep could adversely impact your gut flora. Aim for eight hours of solid sleep every night. I find technology can inhibit falling to sleep, so I ask patients to turn off electronics (including TV and laptops) at least an hour before bed.
  9. Curb stress. Chronic stress takes a direct hit on your good bacteria, creating an environment where bad bugs can thrive. While you can’t eliminate stress, you can reduce it with tactics like deep breathing and meditation.

If you’ve struggled with gut issues in the past, what would you add to this list to restore good bugs and edge out the bad ones? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Gut Health

It’s hardly news that the gastrointestinal tract is important to human health: It transports food from the mouth to the stomach, converts it into absorbable nutrients and stored energy, and shuttles waste back out of the body. If you don’t properly nourish yourself, you don’t live. It’s that simple.

But in recent years, scientists have discovered that the GI system has an even bigger, more complex job than previously appreciated. It’s been linked to numerous aspects of health that have seemingly nothing to do with digestion, from immunity to emotional stress to chronic illnesses, including cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

“We now know that the GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food but that also help our bodies maintain homeostasis and overall well-being,” says Dr. Tara Menon, a gastroenterologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The key, experts say, may lie in the microbiome—the makeup of bacteria and other microorganisms in the stomach and intestines, or, informally, the gut.

Research on the microbiome is still in its infancy. But studies have already found that certain environments, foods and behaviors can influence gut health for better or worse. Here’s why that matters and what you can do to improve yours.

Why is gut health important?

Everyone’s microbiome is unique, but there are a few generalities about what’s healthy and what’s not. “In healthy people, there is a diverse array of organisms,” says Dr. Gail Hecht, chair of the American Gastroenterological Association Center for Gut Microbiome Research & Education. (Most of those organisms are bacteria, but there are viruses, fungi and other microbes as well.) “In an unhealthy individual, there’s much less diversity, and there seems to be an increase of bacteria we associate with disease.”

Hecht stresses the word associate because scientists don’t know for sure which comes first—whether bacteria influence disease risk or whether existing disease influences gut bacteria. Most likely, she says, both are true. “We’re still lacking specific proof of how this connection works, but we know it’s there.”

Some bacteria fight inflammation, while others promote it. When the gut works as it should, these two types keep each other in check. But when that delicate balance gets skewed, inflammatory bacteria can take over—and they can produce metabolites that pass through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream, spreading the inflammation to other parts of the body.

Specific types of bacteria in the gut can lead to other conditions as well. Studies in both animals and humans have linked some bacteria to lower immune function; others to greater risk of asthma and allergies; and still others to chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

Gut health has even been linked to anxiety and depression, and to neurological conditions like schizophrenia and dementia. The makeup of gut bacteria also varies between lean and overweight people, suggesting that it may play a role in causing obesity in the first place.

What affects gut health?

The food you eat obviously plays a role in the bacterial makeup of your gut, but so do a lot of other factors, including the nature of your birth. Research shows that babies delivered vaginally grow up to have more diverse microbiomes than those delivered via C-section, thanks to the exposure they get to different bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Breastfeeding has also been shown to foster beneficial gut bacteria.

The environment you grow up in matters too. “We are way too clean of a society,” says Hecht. More exposure to germs and bacteria, within reason, can strengthen our microbiomes. “Go outside, dig in the dirt, play with animals … it’s all good. These are things that will help establish a healthy gut.”

Emotional stress can also affect gut bacteria. Scientists refer to the “gut-brain axis,” a pathway through which signals from the gut can affect neurotransmitters in the brain, and vice versa. Research is still early, but a person’s microbiome and mental state appear to be able to influence each other to some extent.

Then, too, there is the role of medications, including over-the-counter painkillers and drugs used to treat acid reflux, diabetes and psychiatric conditions; all have been linked to microbiome changes. But the best-known gut-altering drugs are antibiotics: though they’re prescribed to kill harmful bacteria, they can also wipe out bacteria of all kinds.

“I’ve seen patients on antibiotics develop allergies, or become more susceptible to infection, or have motility issues, all because their microbiota composition suddenly changes,” says Hecht. Antibiotics should be prescribed when they’re needed to fight bacterial infections, she adds, but doctors and patients should be careful about overuse.

Can you tell if you’re having health problems in your gut?

When the microbiome is thrown out of balance for any reason, it’s often easy to tell. Bloating, gas, diarrhea, stomach pain or nausea are all pretty direct signs that something in the gut isn’t working as it should. The imbalances often fix themselves after a short time, but if they become chronic, they may require a medical diagnosis and treatment. (Gastroenterologists can test for specific conditions associated with the microbiome, like an overgrowth of certain bacteria.)

But more and more, doctors are discovering irregularities in gut bacteria that don’t cause immediate symptoms—at least not gastrointestinal ones. “You can have bacteria in your gut that aren’t overproducing gas or altering your motility or anything you’d notice but that, for example, are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer,” says Hecht.

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For people curious about their microbiome, commercial testing kits will analyze a stool sample and provide information about the strains of bacteria detected. But if you’re looking for advice about your health, doctors say the kits are not worth the money. “We don’t know enough to make those readouts meaningful yet,” says Dr. Robert Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We know in general what looks like inflammatory and noninflammatory bacteria, but in a practical sense we can’t really measure it or match specific bacteria to specific diseases.”

How can I maintain my gut health?

You don’t have to know exactly what’s going on in your gut at all times. And as long as you’re following doctor’s orders for overall health, you’re likely benefiting your microbiome. “We tell people to follow a balanced diet, stay hydrated, exercise regularly and get a good night’s sleep,” says Menon, “because we think staying healthy overall will help you maintain a healthy gut.”

Similarly, the same habits that are bad for your heart, lungs and brain—like cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake—can also hurt the microbiome. (Some data does suggest, however, that moderate amounts of red wine may be beneficial.) Avoid taking unnecessary medications, says Hecht, and talk to your doctor about how your current drug regimen might affect your gut health.

Limiting dairy, red and processed meats, and refined sugars can also improve gut health. So can getting the recommended amount of fiber—20 to 40 g a day, depending on your age and gender. Most Americans don’t meet these guidelines, but you can increase your amount by adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to your diet.

Menon recommends keeping a food diary to track fiber intake, as well as GI symptoms related to food. A sudden switch to high-fiber foods can cause bloating, so introduce them gradually and keep track of how your body reacts to anything new. “Sometimes you can identify specific trigger foods that make you feel bad every time you eat them,” says Menon, “and you can find alternatives that work better for you.”

Some studies have looked at how regular consumption of specific foods—including mangoes, cherries, cranberries, broccoli, walnuts and leafy greens—appear to benefit the gut. But rather than narrowing your options to these items, it’s more important to look at what they (and plenty of other foods) have in common, says Hirten: they’re high in nutrients and fiber, and low in saturated fats and refined ingredients.

Overall, says Hecht, eating a wide variety of foods—including plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains—is the best way to encourage a diverse and healthy microbiome. “Your gut bacteria lives off whatever’s left over in your colon after your cells have digested all of the nutrients and amino acids,” she says. “You want to feed them complex fiber, not bad, processed stuff.”

Should I take probiotics?

Many commercial dietary supplements claim to boost gut health and introduce good bacteria. But the science is still out on the real-life benefits of probiotic pills and capsules. One potential problem is that even though probiotics should contain live bacterial cultures, the supplement industry isn’t well regulated—and there’s no guarantee that what’s in the bottle matches what’s on the label.

What’s more, studies have been inconclusive about whether probiotic supplements actually improve gut health for everyone. The evidence is stronger for people with specific health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. “A lot of probiotic strains are not what you would naturally find in large quantities in the human intestine,” says Hecht. “So you can eat them or drink them, but they won’t necessarily stay and colonize, and they won’t necessarily do you any good.”

Instead of pills, Hecht recommends getting beneficial bacteria from fermented food sources—like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi—that have other nutritional benefits as well. Hirten also advises his patients to focus more on a healthy diet and lifestyle rather than on pills. “I’m always cautious of new diets or supplements that claim to alter gut health in some way,” he says.

Finally, there are the cutting-edge ways in which doctors are beginning to manipulate the gut microbiome directly. Fecal transplants, which introduce donor stool material containing healthy bacteria into the intestinal tract of a recipient, have been used to treat IBD as well as C. difficile, a dangerous infection that causes recurrent diarrhea. Researchers are also studying how bacteria-killing viruses can target strains of E. coli associated with Crohn’s disease. “We’re actually giving people viruses to see if we can treat this specific bacteria,” says Hirten.

With so much still unknown about the microbiome, he adds, the best advice is stick to the basics. “I think that at this point, the most important thing we can do is follow a healthy diet and lifestyle,” he says. “If it’s good for you, it’s probably good for your gut.”

Correction, April 1

The original version of this story mischaracterized the health condition IBD. It is inflammatory bowel disease, not irritable bowel disease.

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Micro-organisms have been used since ancient times to make bread, cheese, yoghurt and wine. Food manufacturers continue to use micro-organisms today to make a wide range of food products by a process known as fermentation. Fermentation not only gives food a good taste, texture and smell, but it causes changes that reduce the growth of unwanted food microbes. This improves the food’s storage life and safety. Nowadays fermentations are used to make an amazingly wide range of food and drink.

Fungi have been used as sources of food and for food processing for thousands of years. In addition to eating edible fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms, directly, various fungi have been used to supplement and add flavour to foods. Yeasts are used in the fermentation of fruits to produce wines, cereals to make beer, in bread manufacture and flavouring in the form of yeast extract. Filamentous fungi are used in traditional processes for the ripening of cheeses and in the production of enzymes used in the food industry.


A yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae is mixed with sugar, flour and warm water to make bread. The yeast uses the sugar and the sugars present in the flour as its food. It breaks them down to provide the yeast with energy for growth. The yeast grows by budding. As it does this bubbles of the gas carbon dioxide are produced in the dough.

The bubbles make the dough expand and rise. This is because the dough is extremely sticky and it traps the bubbles, preventing them from escaping. When the dough is baked the heat kills the yeast and the dough stops expanding.

© GANCINO / iStock Used to make bread. Yeast is a single-celled fungus. It is able to ferment sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide in the process. It has long been used to make beer and wine as well as bread (the carbon dioxide causes the dough to rise).


Yoghurt is a fermented milk product in which milk is inoculated with a starter culture containing two different types of ‘lactic acid bacteria’ called Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. First the milk is heated to a very high temperature of 85–95°C for 15–30 minutes. This kills off any unwanted microbes that may be present. The milk is cooled and the mixture of lactic acid bacteria is added. As the bacteria grow they use the milk sugar lactose as an energy source and produce lactic acid. The milk is kept at 38–44°C for 12 hours to allow the two microbes to grow. Initially S. thermophilus ferments the lactose; as the level of acid accumulates it is suppressed. L bulgaricus, which is more acid tolerant, continues to ferment the remaining lactose.

During this process the pH drops from 6.5 to around 4.5. This inhibits the growth of spoilage microbes. Consequently yoghurt keeps well in the fridge for some days. The presence of lactic acid causes the structure of the milk protein to change, giving yoghurt its special thickened texture. The lactic acid also gives the yoghurt its sharp taste. Other fermentation products such as acetaldehyde give the yoghurt its characteristic smell. Fruit and flavourings can then be added and the yoghurt packaged in the familiar pots.

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5 Probiotic Foods with Good Bacteria for Your Gut

Bacteria used to make us think of creepy crawly germs, but research has proven its health benefits. (Just see the influx of probiotic supplements, infused drinks, and snacks). In fact, having a lack of so-called “good bacteria” in the stomach has been correlated with obesity, depression and overall decreased immunity. And it’s even been touted to prevent diabetes and heart disease by keeping arteries clear and blood flowing.

For years scientists had believed that bacteria in the stomach was incredibly diverse, making it a full-out chore to categorize, study, and generally make any health conclusions on. But, that’s all changing; in a study in the journal Nature, researchers used gene sequencing to catalog the hundreds of species of bacteria in the gut and what they found was surprisingly simple. There are just three kinds of basic bacteria in all of our tummies. Sort of like how we all know our blood type, researchers say that knowing what type of bacteria we have in our stomachs may help to better understand and treat diseases.

But even if you don’t know exactly what kinds of good bacteria are chillin’ in your gut, you can still do something right now to improve it. Read on for five healty probiotic foods that are naturally high in the good bacteria that your stomach loves.

5 Healthy, Good-Bacteria Foods

1. Miso. This paste made from fermented soy is not only high in good bacteria, but can add a savory umami flavor to any dish (check out some creative ideas of how to incorporate miso into your meals). Buy it in a paste at a natural-foods store or your closest international or Asian market. Or, have it before you dine on sushi!

2. Yogurt. This is a no-brainer: yogurt is probably the best-known healthy bacteria food of all. Look for low-sugar and lower-calorie yogurts that contain lactobacillus, bifidus and acidophilus to reap the stomach-health benefits. If you don’t do well with dairy, take a look at some healthy non-dairy yogurt varieties.

3. Sauerkraut. Think sauerkraut is just for Oktoberfest or a topping for ballpark hot dogs? Think again! This fermented cabbage mixture contains lactobacilli plantarum and has been shown to give your immunity system a big boost, along with helping with the digestion of lactose and reducing the growth of yeast (an awesome perk for the ladies who struggle with yeast infections). Even better, fermented foods can also keep your cholesterol low and metabolism high.

4. Kombucha. This type of fermented tea definitely has a unique, fizzy taste to it, but those who drink it swear by its good-for-you-benefits for your stomach and your overall wellbeing. It’s also been sipped since the days of ancient China for its energy boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.

5. Kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk product that is a natural probiotic. The presence of the amino acid tryptophan (yup, the same thing in the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner) can help relax the nervous system. Found nowadays in everything from ready-to-drink smoothies to ice creams, kefir is usually better tolerated by those with lactose-intolerance than other diary-based fermented foods.

And if none of these foods sound good to you, consider supplementing your diet with a probiotic supplement, which you can find at any natural foods store. Cheers to happy, healthy tummies!

Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.

  • By Jennipher Walters

Seven foods made using microbes

August 1, 2006

Years ago I took a microbiology class to fulfill the requirements for a degree. It was specifically designed for students like me, arts majors who needed those crucial science credits. As such, it stayed away from “serious” biology and focused more on the societal impact of microbiology. From infectious diseases to the misuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial soap, it was an interesting, if somewhat frightening class. We also discussed the more benign and beneficial aspects of microbes, chief among them their ability to aid in the production of various food and beverages. It made me realize how indebted we are to these little critters, and how many of my favorite edibles and imbibables would not exist without their help. A few examples:

  1. Cheese: Bacteria produce lactic acid, which initially thickens the milk; bacteria also determine the flavor of the cheese later in the ripening process. For examples of the types of bacteria used to make different cheeses, go here.
  2. Beer: Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), once added to the wort, a liquid made of barley, hops, sugar and water, converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide (creating bubbles in the beer)
  3. Bread (leavened): Also made using yeast, although the byproducts of the yeast’s fermentation of the dough are water and carbon dioxide (not alcohol), which fills the dough with air bubbles that make it rise
  4. Wine: Like beer, wine is made using yeast, but instead of hops and barley, the starter material is obviously grapes
  5. Pickles: Cucumbers are fermented using lactic acid producing bacteria, giving pickles their sour taste and also preventing harmful strains of bacteria from taking hold. Microbes used: Enterobacter aerogenes, Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Pediococcus cerevisiae, Enterococcus faecalis
  6. Olives: Basically inedible until they are fermented, olives are also fermented using lactic acid producing bacteria, including Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus plantarum. and Leuconostoc
  7. Yogurt: Bacteria added to milk produce lactic acid that makes the yogurt sour and partially breaks down the lactose in the milk. Microbes used: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and/or acidophilus & Streptococcus thermophilus

Posted by Morgen Jahnke in Food & Drink, Science & Nature | 19 Comments “

  1. crisf said:
    August 9th, 2006 at 1:22 pm


  2. Zachary said:
    August 16th, 2006 at 9:00 am

    I would like to elaborate on List Number Seven, Yogurt, and add its Microbial Grandfather Kefir. Don’t bother with USA store-bought! See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kefir and Dominic Anfiteatro’s page.

  3. Zachary said:
    August 16th, 2006 at 9:01 am

    I would like to add on List Number eight, MISO. From a recent article “The Chinese have prized the soybean for thousands of years as a fertilizer, a “green manure,” but it wasn’t until they learned to ferment it around 500 B.C. that they considered it suitable for human consumption. Fermenting the bean into foods like miso, tempeh and natto removed toxins and phytic acid (which can interfere with the absorption of minerals) and made soy more easily digestible — all benefits that ordinary cooking could not accomplish. These “traditional” fermented soy foods, along with (unfermented) tofu, spread throughout Asia and still constitute about 90 percent of the soybeans consumed in Asia today.”

  4. Joe Kissell said:
    August 16th, 2006 at 10:36 am

    Zachary: Thanks for your comments and additions. Kefir is a particularly good one—I wrote an article about that for Interesting Thing of the Day.

  5. x-tiffany-x said:
    October 22nd, 2006 at 8:22 am

    gd list but aren’t beer and wine drinks not food? see i am smart xxx

  6. Clarke Nattress said:
    January 23rd, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    A nice list for sure, but why not edit “Bread (leavened)” to be “Bread (sourdough)” and include Candida humilis and Lactobacillus sanfrancisco – lactofermentation goes way beyond Fleishmann’s for flavor and quality. I have been using the same starter for around 25 years, and it only seems to get better. By the way, there is some alcohol in there, not that it doesn’t “cook off”. I read a comment once by a French baker where he called his bread “solid beer”.

  7. Clarke Nattress said:
    February 6th, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    “Other foods” would include some familiar and unfamiliar to you; sauerkraut, kimchi, coffee, chocolate, tea (black teas) and the original versions of ginger ale/beer (as were brewed pre Prohibition era). But there are many more, which are only now starting to be naturally fermented again, try; ham, corned beef, any link sausage type of sandwich meats. These are all now “preserved” with chemicals, whereas in the not too distant past they were cured in a salt brine, allowing naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria to “pickle” and thereby preserve the food. Somehow, noting all our new ailments and disorders of the gut, I think we’ve gone backwards instead of ahead when it comes to eating dead versus live foods.

  8. Gracie said:
    March 21st, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Thank you, great website. helped me with my biology homework!! =]

  9. gwen said:
    April 28th, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    thank you… this website was great, it helped students in their study.

  10. elly said:
    September 10th, 2007 at 8:45 am

    thank you so much great list and great comments helped me with my biology coursework =D

  11. errrrr said:
    October 27th, 2009 at 6:47 am

    this website really help me on my project on microorganisms

  12. Beth said:
    November 7th, 2009 at 3:09 am

    thx, u just gave me all the answers to my science homework!!!

  13. Lalia said:
    March 14th, 2010 at 9:21 am

    helped me soooo much with my health project

  14. abcdef said:
    April 26th, 2010 at 3:02 am

    You perople above are all nerds!!!!

  15. abcdef said:
    April 26th, 2010 at 3:03 am

    All you above are NERDS!!! GET A LIFE

  16. ******** said:
    July 12th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    thanks this reaally helped with my science homework :)x.

  17. Kristen said:
    September 23rd, 2010 at 1:39 am

    thankyou! but i have to come up with the most creative food that contains microbes for a class party!

  18. yo mama. said:
    November 5th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    wanna like give me some answers? Kthnx♥ ur all nerds instead of doing this and playing video games,get a job,make some babies,kissa a girl!!!

  19. jAccAt24 said:
    December 8th, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    hi thanks helped with my GCSE revising

How to get more probiotics

There are two ways to get more good bacteria into your gut: fermented foods and dietary supplements. Fermented foods are the best source, as probiotic supplements, which are typically sold over the counter, are reserved to treat specific ailments as suggested by your doctor, and not recommended for everyday use. Plus, supplements do not have the same FDA oversight as medications do.

So, a big question remains: How many probiotic foods do you need? That’s not easy to answer.

There is no recommended daily intake for probiotics, so there is no way to know exactly which fermented foods or what quantity is best. Therefore, the general guideline is to just add as many fermented foods to your daily diet as possible.

Why fermented foods? Fermenting is one of the oldest techniques for food preservation. Mankind has been fermenting foods and drinks like beer and wine for centuries. Foods that are fermented go through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid. This process creates an environment that preserves the food and promotes beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as various species of good bacteria.

Another way to look at fermentation is that it takes one type of food and transforms it into another kind. For instance, cabbage becomes sauerkraut, cucumbers become pickles, soybeans turn into miso, and milk can be made into yogurt, cheeses, and sour cream.

Not all fermented foods contain probiotics. Some foods undergo steps that remove the probiotics, as with beer or wine, or make them inactive, like baking and canning. However, most fermented foods are probiotic foods as well.

If there is a potential downside to fermented foods, it is that their taste and smell can be quite strong, which may be unpleasant for some people. The unique flavors and textures of fermented foods are due in part to the different species of bacteria used.

On the upside, there are many types of fermented foods from which to choose, so there is a good chance you can find something you will enjoy.

The most common fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics, or have probiotics added to them, include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread and some cheeses.

Yogurt is considered the most valuable player of probiotic foods because it has a flavor and texture that’s generally appealing to Western palates. The number and type of bacteria species can vary depending on the yogurt brand. The probiotic content of yogurt products can range from 90 billion to 500 billion CFU per serving. (CFU stands for colony- forming units, which is how many bacteria are able to divide and form colonies.) Look for the words “live and active cultures” on the label.

How to use: Yogurt is easy to add to your diet. Besides having it for breakfast or a midday snack, you can substitute yogurt whenever you use mayonnaise in egg salad or potato salad, or in almost any baking recipe. Yogurt also can be the basis for sauces, salad dressings, or marinades.

To learn more about other foods containing probiotics as well as the role of probiotics in your overall health, read The Benefits of Probiotics from Harvard Medical School.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

What’s Lurking in Our Food?

By Kristi Mollner

Food helps us to grow and to keep our bodies fueled. We have many foods available to help us stay healthy. These include fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy. While humans may have an exceptionally wide variety of meal options, we aren’t the only organisms that need to eat to survive; all living things need food or a source of energy. As it turns out, some smaller organisms even live and grow in the food we eat. Some of these organisms can be pathogens.

A pathogen is a virus, bacterium, fungus, or parasite that infects and harms a living host. Humans can become sick if they eat a food that contains a pathogen. This sickness is called a foodborne illness. Over 250 different pathogens can cause a foodborne illness. Let’s talk about some of the more common ones.

Norovirus particles, like these, can hide in raw food or food that hasn’t been handled properly.

Norovirus is the most commonly occurring foodborne illness in the United States. It is often found in food that has come into contact with a person who is already infected with the virus. Norovirus can also be found in ready-to-eat foods and raw or undercooked oysters. Or it can hide in other raw foods or cooked food that hasn’t been properly handled. Improper handling of food can include touching food with unwashed hands, using utensils that are not clean, and not fully cooking food.

Common Bacteria

Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that is most commonly found in raw foods or in foods that have touched another food or person with Campylobacter. The foods most commonly associated with these bacteria are untreated milk, poultry, and fruits and vegetables.
Listeria monocytogenes is another type of bacteria. The foods most commonly contaminated with Listeria are uncooked meats and vegetables, untreated milk, certain cheeses, processed meats, and smoked seafood.
The bacteria Salmonella is typically found in foods that come from animals. These include meat, milk, cheese, and eggs. However, any food can become contaminated with Salmonella if it touches other contaminated food.
Staphylococcus aureus is our final common type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. It can be transferred to any food that has been improperly handled by someone who is carrying the bacteria. It can also be found in untreated milk and cheese products.

Public Health Officials

Professional workers called public health officials are in charge of tracking what types of foods give people foodborne illnesses. They receive reports when a person gets sick with a foodborne illness. This information may come directly from the person who is sick, his or her doctor, or a laboratory. Laboratories that work with foodborne illnesses are called foodborne disease surveillance laboratories.

Public health officials investigate what the sick person recently ate and where he or she ate it, such as in a restaurant. They also check if any more people reported being sick that ate the same food or at the same restaurant. A foodborne outbreak occurs when two or more people eat the same food and become sick with the same illness. If a foodborne outbreak occurs, it could mean a restaurant has food that is not properly prepared. Preparing food properly is the best way to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Additional images from Wikimedia via GrahamColm (Norovirus), De Wood (Campylobacter), Dr. Balasubr Swaminathan (Listeria), National Institutes of Health (Salmonella), Janice Haney Carr (Staphylococcus) and The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (microbiologist in laboratory).

Are you getting enough probiotic-rich foods in your diet? Chances are you’re probably not. Probiotics are a form of good bacteria found in your gut which are responsible for everything from nutrient absorption to immune health.

Not only are probiotics are essential for digestion, but did you know there are hundreds of other health benefits of consuming probiotic-rich foods that you might not be aware of? According to a review published in the journal ISRN Nutrition, probiotics could also help lower cholesterol, protect against allergies, aid in cancer prevention and more.

In most cases, getting more probiotics in your diet doesn’t require you to buy expensive pills, powders or supplements. In fact, there are a number of probiotic foods out there that are delicious, versatile and easy to enjoy as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.

In this article, we’ll cover the extensive list of all probiotic foods you should consider adding to your diet and how they can benefit you. Plus, we’ll look at some tips for how to fit these fermented foods into your meals to maximize the gut-boosting benefits of probiotics.

What Are They? | 17 Top Probiotic Foods | How to Get More Probiotics Into Your Diet

What Are They?

Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria that are found within the gut microbiome. These microorganisms play a central role in health and disease and are even involved in immune function and digestion. If you don’t get enough probiotics, some of the side effects may include digestive problems, skin issues, candida, autoimmune disease and frequent colds and flus.

Historically, we had plenty of probiotics in our diet from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting our foods to keep them from spoiling. Today, however, dangerous agricultural practices and decreased diet quality have caused our food supply to be significantly lower in probiotics. Even worse, many foods today actually contain antibiotics, which even kill off the good bacteria in our bodies.

Fortunately, in addition to taking probiotic supplements, there are many probiotic foods that can be consumed to help provide these essential microorgranisms. By adding more probiotic foods into your diet, you could see all of the following health benefits:

  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
  • Better breath because probiotics destroy candida
  • Healthier skin, since probiotics improve eczema and psoriasis
  • Reduced cold and flu
  • Healing from leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Weight loss

Sound good? If you want all of these benefits, then it’s time to start consuming these probiotic foods for better health. Ideally, you should eat a variety of different types of probiotic foods as each offers a different type of beneficial bacteria to help the body in a variety of ways. Pick and choose a few ingredients from the probiotic and prebiotic foods list and start filling your plate to reap the rewards of better gut health.

Here are a few of the top types of “friendly” gut bacteria that your body needs …

7 types of probiotic bacteria:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgarius
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Bacillus subtilis

Related: 7 Reasons to Get Prebiotics in Your Diet — Plus the Best Sources

17 Top Probiotic Foods

1. Kefir

Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy product is a unique combination of milk and fermented kefir grains. Kefir has been consumed for well over 3,000 years; the term kefir originated in Russia and Turkey and means “feeling good.” It has a slightly acidic and tart flavor and contains anywhere from 10 to 34 strains of probiotics.

Kefir is similar to yogurt, but because it is fermented with yeast and more bacteria, the final product is higher in probiotics and lower in lactose, making it a suitable choice for many who are lactose-intolerant.

2. Sauerkraut

Made from fermented cabbage and other probiotic vegetables, sauerkraut is not diverse in probiotics but is high in organic acids (what gives food its sour taste) that support the growth of good bacteria.

Sauerkraut is extremely popular in Germany today. It is high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. It’s also a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacillus.

3. Kombucha

Kombucha is an effervescent fermentation of black tea that is started by using a SCOBY, also known as a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha has been around for over 2,000 years, originating around Japan. Many claims have been made about kombucha, but its primary health benefits include digestive support, increased energy and liver detoxification.

4. Coconut Kefir

Made by fermenting the juice of young coconuts with kefir grains, this dairy-free option for kefir has some of the same probiotics as traditional dairy kefir but is typically not as high in probiotics. Still, it has several strains that are beneficial for your health.

Coconut kefir has a great flavor, and you can add a bit of stevia, water and lime juice to make a great-tasting, refreshing drink.

5. Natto

A popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans, natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic Bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health and enhance digestion of vitamin K2.

Natto also contains a powerful anti-inflammatory enzyme called nattokinase that has been proven to prevent blood clotting and is loaded with protein, securing it a top slot in the list of probiotic foods.

6. Yogurt

Possibly the most popular probiotic food is live cultured probiotic yogurt or Greek yogurt made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. Yogurt, in most cases, can rank at the top of probiotic foods if it comes from grass-fed animals and has not been pasteurized.

The problem is there is a large variation on the quality of yogurts on the market today. When buying yogurt, look for organic, grass-fed varieties that are made from goat’s or sheep’s milk.

7. Kvass

This powerful ingredient has been a common fermented beverage in Eastern Europe since ancient times. It was traditionally made by fermenting rye or barley, but in more recent years has been created using probiotic fruits and beets along with other root vegetables like carrots.

Kvass uses Lactobacilli probiotics and is known for its blood and liver-cleansing properties along with its mild sour flavor.

8. Raw Cheese

Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and A2 cow’s soft cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. Always buy raw and unpasteurized cheeses if you want to receive any probiotics, as pasteurized and processed varieties are lacking in beneficial bacteria.

9. Apple cider vinegar

Is apple cider vinegar a good source of probiotics? In addition to controlling blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels, improving insulin sensitivity and even enhancing weight loss, apple cider vinegar can also help ramp up probiotic intake as well. Drink a small bit each day or use it as a salad dressing to maximize your results.

10. Salted gherkin pickles

These fermented tasty treats are also a little recognized source of probiotics. When shopping for pickles, be sure to choose a smaller food manufacturer that uses organic products. If you can find a local maker, you’ll be getting some of the best probiotics for your health.

11. Brine-cured olives

Olives that are brine-cured are an excellent source of probiotics. Like with salted gherkin pickles, be sure to select a product that is organic first. Next, be certain that your olives aren’t made from a huge manufacturer and try to select a smaller company that advertises probiotics.

Also make sure that your olives don’t contain sodium benzoate, a food additive that can negate many of the health-promoting properties of this probiotic power-food.

12. Tempeh

Hailing from Indonesia, this fermented soybean product is another awesome source of probiotics. Tempeh is created by adding a tempeh starter to soybeans. The product is then left to sit for a day or two, which results in a cake-like product.

You can eat tempeh raw or by boiling it and eating it with miso. It can also be used as a substitute for meat in a stir fry meal and can be baked, grilled, marinated or sautéed.

13. Miso

Miso is a traditional Japanese spice found in many of their traditional foods. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you may have seen their miso soup. Not only that, but it is also one of the mainstays of traditional Japanese medicine and is commonly used in macrobiotic cooking as a digestive regulator.

It is created by fermenting soybean, barley or brown rice with koji. Koji is a fungus, and the fermentation process takes anywhere from a few days to a few years to complete.

Miso soup is famous throughout the world, and it’s very easy to prepare. Simply dissolve a tablespoonful of miso in a pot of water filled with seaweed and other ingredients of your choice. Miso can also be spread on crackers, used in place of butter or added to marinades and stir-fries for an added dose of flavor.

14. Traditional Buttermilk

Traditional buttermilk, also sometimes called cultured buttermilk, is a fermented dairy drink that is made from the liquid that is left over after churning butter. It’s considered one of the top probiotic Indian foods and is also commonly consumed in countries such as Nepal and Pakistan as well.

Keep in mind that most types of buttermilk found at supermarkets do not contain probiotics. Instead, look for varieties that contain live cultures to boost the benefits of your buttermilk.

15. Water Kefir

Water kefir is is made by adding kefir grains to sugar water, resulting in a fermented, fizzy beverage that is jam-packed with probiotics.

Unlike dairy-based kefir, water kefir is one of the top natural vegan probiotic foods that can be enjoyed as part of a healthy plant-based diet. It’s also thinner than regular kefir and can be flavored using a variety of herbs, fruits and spices to create your own customized concoction.

16. Raw Milk

Raw cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and A2 aged cheeses are particularly high in probiotics. Just remember, all pasteurized dairy is devoid of healthy bacteria, so to get the probiotics, you need to stick to only high-quality, raw dairy that hasn’t been pasteurized.

17. Kimchi

Kimchi is a cousin to sauerkraut and is the Korean take on cultured veggies. It’s created by mixing a main ingredient, such as Chinese cabbage, with a number of other foods and spices, like red pepper flakes, radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, onion, sea salt and fish sauce.

The mixture is then left aside to ferment for three to 14 days, resulting in a flavor-filled, probiotic-packed ingredient.

Related: Top 12 Cancer-Fighting Foods

How to Get More Probiotics Into Your Diet

Adding a few servings of probiotic-rich foods to your daily diet can be an easy and effective way to give your gut microbiome a boost while also improving overall health.

To get started, try making a few simple swaps in your diet. For example, you can switch out soda, juice or energy drinks for fermented beverages such as kombucha or kefir instead. You can also trade regular yogurt for probiotic yogurt and substitute raw milk or cheese in place of regular dairy products as well.

Alternatively, try using a few of the best probiotic foods in your favorite recipes to add a bit of extra flavor and variety to your weekly rotation. Tempeh works well as a meatless main dish, sauerkraut can be served as a savory spread and apple cider vinegar makes a great addition to salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

Regardless of how you choose to get in your daily dose of these natural probiotic foods, the trick is to get creative and don’t be afraid to experiment with new ingredients to make healthy and delicious meals.

Read Next: Probiotic Drink Benefits, Plus How to Make Your Own

10 Foods Filled With Probiotics

The following story is excerpted from TIME’s special edition, 100 Most Healing Foods.

One of the most crucial parts of our body when it comes to health is our microbiome—the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut. Scientists are learning that the bacterial communities we live with are linked to everything from body weight to asthma to acne. Having the right balance of bugs may keep us well in the long term. Some bacteria in the gut are good for our health, while other strains raise our risk for disease.

We shape our microbiome makeup through our everyday diet. Many of the foods listed below are high in nutrients like fiber, which feeds healthy gut microbes. Those microbes produce short-chain fatty acids that get absorbed into the bloodstream and reduce inflammation while strengthening the immune system. These gut-friendly foods also contain pro- or prebiotics, which help gut-bacteria diversity. Probiotics are bacteria that are very similar to or the same as good-bacteria colonies already in our gut. They’re in many foods on this list, including yogurt and sauerkraut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of plant fiber often found in vegetables that nourishes good bacteria. (Good sources of prebiotics include chickpeas, bananas and artichokes.)

Both are important for keeping you regular and building a better microbiome. Here are some probiotic-filled foods to consider adding to your diet.

Cottage cheese

Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: This throwback cheese makes a great base for both sweet and savory snacks. Mix it with fruit and walnuts, or add olive oil, cucumber slices and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Why it’s good for you: Cheese lovers, rejoice: cottage cheese is a great pick for your gut. As with other fermented foods, cottage cheese often delivers probiotics (check the package labels for live and active cultures), and it’s high in calcium, which is important for strong bones.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: This Korean fermented- cabbage dish can add a flavor kick to nearly any food. Mix kimchi with brown rice or simply enjoy on its own.

Why it’s good for you: A probiotic made with cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and garlic, kimchi not only is gut-friendly but also may help reduce cancer risk.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: A small helping of sauerkraut paired with lean meat adds up to a tasty and nutritious meal.

Why it’s good for you: The cabbage in sauerkraut, a food that dates to the 4th century B.C., is fermented with lactic-acid bacteria, which means it’s good for keeping your digestive system in balance. You also get fiber and compounds that boost the immune system.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: Add fresh fruit, seeds and a little granola to a bowl of plain yogurt for a filling breakfast or afternoon snack.

Why it’s good for you: A fermented food, yogurt naturally contains lots of probiotic cultures that strengthen the digestive tract. Some Greek yogurt also boasts added probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei that may help increase the good bacteria in your gut.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: Add a dollop of miso—a fermented soybean-based paste used in Japanese cooking—to soups. For a tasty salmon marinade, mix miso with ingredients like mirin, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil.

For your security, we’ve sent a confirmation email to the address you entered. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don’t get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder.

Why it’s good for you: Yes, miso can be high in sodium, but this gut-healthy pick delivers good amounts of protein, calcium, iron and magnesium.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat them: Add chopped pickles to your potato salad or use in your lunch wrap in place of high-fat spreads. To get that healthy bacteria, buy pickles brined in salt water, not vinegar.

Why they’re good for you: Cucumber pickles are brined in salt water and fermented, giving you that beneficial bacteria. Each spear offers vitamins A and K, important for blood and cell health, and potassium, vital for healthy heart function. Just keep in mind that pickles tend to be high in sodium.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to drink it: Enjoy kombucha straight from the bottle. You may need to sample a few varieties to find the one you like best.

Why it’s good for you: Kombucha is a fermented tea that also contains some gases and a small amount of alcohol, which gives it carbonation. It’s full of probiotics and antioxidants that support the immune system. Sip in moderation, though: it contains lactic acid, which in large amounts can build up in the bloodstream and harm your health.

Apple-cider vinegar

Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: This vinegar—made from fermented apple sugars—is delicious in salad dressings.

Why it’s good for you: The acetic acid in vinegar aids digestion. One 2009 study even linked regular apple- cider-vinegar consumption with weight loss. The acid may turn on fat metabolism and help keep blood sugar levels normal. Experts recommend keeping total intake per day at or below four tablespoons.


Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: Tempeh is a protein made from soybeans that you can use instead of meat. Add it to stir-fries with vegetables and healthy grains like brown rice.

Why it’s good for you: Compounds in this good gut food may have anti-inflammatory and even anti- tumor effects. Tempeh also serves up a helping of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Parmesan cheese

Lucas Zarebinski

How to eat it: Sprinkle parmesan cheese on air- popped popcorn for a healthy and filling snack.

Why it’s good for you: Some fermented cheeses, like parmesan, contain lactic-acid bacteria that can create gut-healthy probiotics. Cheese also contains important nutrients like protein and calcium.

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