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Digestive Health: 10 Probiotic Foods That Help Digestion

Choose Yogurt with Live Cultures

Choose yogurt that is rich in live, active probiotics.

Yogurt is a well-known food source of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that promote health. Certain strains of bacteria in yogurt have ß-D-galactosidase, which is an enzyme that helps break down lactose in dairy products into the sugars glucose and galactose. A lack of this enzyme causes lactose malabsorption. People who eat fresh yogurt containing live and active cultures digest lactose better than those who eat pasteurized yogurt. Yogurt is also rich in minerals like magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium, which are important for building and maintaining healthy bones.. The USDA MyPlate recommends that adults consume 3 cups of calcium-rich dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, per day. What counts as a cup of dairy? One cup of milk or yogurt, 2 ounces of processed cheese, and 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese all count as a cup of dairy. Lactobacillus bulgaricus is a probiotic organism that is often found in yogurt.

Sauerkraut and Kimchi Promote Good Digestion

Unpasteurized sauerkraut contains beneficial bacteria.

Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented foods that are rich in beneficial probiotics that provide a wide range of health benefits. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. If you buy sauerkraut at the store, purchase the unpasteurized variety. Pasteurization destroys beneficial bacteria. Probiotics in kimchi inhibit the growth of H pylori. They may also help prevent cancer, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), dermatitis, food allergies, and obesity. Probiotics in kimchi produce valuable B vitamins, riboflavin and folic acid. These foods contain vitamins that boost immunity and help ward off infection.

Eat More Miso Soup

Miso soup is probiotic-rich Japanese staple.

Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste that is made with other ingredients. It aids digestive function. Miso may be used to make miso soup. A few tablespoons of the paste can be dissolved in hot water to make a probiotic-rich broth. An imbalance of gut flora in the GI tract may contribute to symptoms that occur with conditions like diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroenteritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s disease). Probiotics in ferrmented foods like miso may help crowd out pathogenic gut bacteria, boost intestinal immunity, and produce vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that are beneficial to health.

Savor More Soft Cheeses

Soft cheeses transport viable probiotics through the digestive tract.

Probiotics in food are beneficial for health, but only if they are tough enough to withstand stomach acid and the make it all the way to your intestines. The makeup of soft cheeses is ideal for delivering probiotics to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The pH of a cheese affects the ability of probiotics to survive and grow in the intestines. For this reason, soft cheese is likely better than yogurt for delivering intact probiotics to the GI tract. Cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss cheeses are soft cheeses that contain a decent amount of probiotics. Gouda is the soft cheese that delivers the most probiotics of all.

Kefir Is a Probiotic Drink

Kefir is a fermented food that is rich in probiotics.

Kefir is a thick and creamy fermented milk product. It tastes tangy like yogurt. Probiotic strains in kefir may help reduce cholesterol, protect against cancer, fight allergies, and improve the digestion of lactose. Kefir is rich in lactic acid bacteria (LAB), friendly bacteria that may help prevent and treat diarrhea, boost immunity, and improve the body's ability to ward off infection. Kefir is rich in Lactococcus lactis, Lactobacillus kefir, Lactococcus cremoris, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus casei, and a few varieties of beneficial yeast. You can learn to make your own kefir using kefir grains as the starter.

Like kefir, kombucha is a fermented drink that may improve the function of the immune system and boost energy levels and detoxification. Beneficial bacteria in kombucha may improve antioxidant activity in the body as well. Kombucha tea comes in black and green varieties. Kombucha tea is made using a SCOBY, or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, that is necessary for the fermentation process. Saccharomyces boulardii is a probiotic yeast strain that is found in kombucha.

Drink Probiotic Milks

Acidophilus milk and buttermilk are fermented drinks that are rich in probiotics.

Drinking milk that has been fermented with acidophilus, or acidophilus milk, is a great way to get more probiotics in your diet. Buttermilk is similarly cultured with lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and is a good source of probiotics. These probiotics may help guard against various infections, cancer, and high blood pressure. They may also help improve cognitive function, boost immunity, and fight allergies. Acidophilus milk and buttermilk are available in many grocery stores. Lactobacillus reuteri is one beneficial probiotic in milk that may help combat diarrhea.

Reach for Sour Pickles

Sour pickles are another probiotic food that boosts levels of beneficial gut flora.

Naturally fermented pickles, the type in which vinegar is not used in the pickling process, are rich sources of good bacteria. Sea salt and water are used in a fermentation process that results in the growth of good bacteria. Make sure vinegar was not used in the pickling process as pickles made in this way will not be rich in bacteria that boosts healthy gut flora. Beneficial bugs in fermented foods like pickles boost gut health and encourage a diverse microbiome. Eating foods that are rich in probiotic bacteria such as pickles retards the growth of harmful bacteria and it boosts the body's defenses against infection.

Try Some Tempeh

Tempeh is a probiotic food that confers many health benefits.

Tempeh is an Indonesian probiotic food that is made from fermented soybeans. It is a high protein food that has a smoky, nutty flavor and is more firm than tofu. It tastes similar to mushrooms. Tempeh comes in patty form and is used by many people as a meat substitute. Soy tempeh is rich in a probiotic microorganism called Bifidobacterium bifidum. B. bifidum is a bacterium that may be particularly beneficial for those suffering from diarrhea, abdominal pain, and constipation. B. Bifidum helps boost immunity in the gastrointestinal tract. Bifidobacterium bifidum is also normally found in the vagina. Bacillus subtilis is another probiotic strain found in tempeh. Tempeh contains less calcium than milk, but the calcium in tempeh is very bioavailable, meaning it is very easy to absorb. Some bacteria used to produce tempeh manufacture vitamin B12.

Are Probiotic Supplements a Good Idea?

Probiotic supplements are another way to get health benefits from beneficial bacteria.

Probiotic supplements come in tablet, powder, capsule, and liquid forms. They do not provide the nutritional boost that probiotic foods do, but they are another option to promote a healthy mix of gut bacteria. Different probiotics may be recommended to different individuals. Ask your doctor if probiotic supplements are recommended for you. Some people who have immune system disorders or weak immune systems should be cautious about taking probiotic supplements. Follow your healthcare provider's advice.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Honey is a prebiotic food that nourishes good bacteria.

Probiotic foods deliver beneficial bacteria into the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotic foods promote healthy gut bacteria by feeding them what they need in order to thrive. Foods rich in prebiotics that feed good bacteria include dark chocolate, legumes, red wine, honey, bananas, maple syrup, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, and oatmeal. Having a diverse microbiome of good bacteria in the gut helps promote weight loss and confers other health benefits.

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 10/25/2017

Digestive Health: 10 Probiotic Foods That Help Digestion

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