Go with your Gut: Probiotics and Optimal Gut Health

It is a common misconception that all bacteria = bad “germs.” In fact, having a healthy microflora (a fancy word for the collection of diverse microorganisms present in our gastrointestinal tract) is actually beneficial for our health. Imagine – your gut is “host” to a complex and diverse array of bacteria and microorganisms.

How can we achieve a healthy microflora? There are foods called probiotics, rich in beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts, that promote the ideal balance of microorganisms in our guts. ‘Pro‘ meaning ‘supporting’ and ‘biotics‘ referring to ‘living organisms.’ There are over 400 types of probiotic bacteria that stop the growth of harmful bacteria, trigger immune responses, and promote the health of our digestive tract!

Why is it beneficial to consume probiotics? Recent research indicates that a healthy microflora may play a role in reducing inflammation. Inflammation is a risk factor for several prevalent and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, cognitive decline, and inflammatory bowel disease, just to name a few. There is also evidence that probiotics help to decrease insulin resistance leading to reduced risk of diabetes. Finally, if you are having a bout of diarrhea or taking antibiotics, probiotics are helpful in maintaining a microflora rich in “good” bacteria.

I’ve listed 8 foods that are a great source of probiotics along with some delicious recipes and products to try out. Enjoy!

1. Yogurt

Whether you enjoy Greek, non-fat, low-fat, or full-fat varieties of yogurt, the most famous probiotic out there, make sure to look for the phrase “live active cultures” on the container. Added sugars are nothing but empty calories, so aim for less than 15 grams of added sugars in the yogurt you choose. Greek yogurt varieties are normally higher in protein than regular varieties, giving the added plus of long-lasting energy and fullness. If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, try yogurt that is cultured from soy, almond, or coconut milk. These varieties are dairy free and offer the same probiotic benefits as regular yogurts.

Chobani Simply 100® (with only 7 grams of added sugars) is one of our favorite yogurts!

2. Kefir

This yogurt-like drink is tangy and has a smooth consistency. It also contains dozens of live, active cultures. Because kefir is 99% lactose free, it is a great choice for those who are lactose intolerant. Depending on the variety, kefir contains between 8 and 11 grams of protein per cup for only 100 calories!

Plain Lifeway® Kefir

We like the Lifeway® kefir products that contain 12 probiotic cultures. Beware: The flavored varieties have a lot of added sugars on top of the naturally occurring milk sugars, so stick with the plain varieties.

 3. Miso Paste

Miso paste is made from aged, fermented soybeans and comes in a variety of colors: white, yellow, red, and brown. The darker varieties tend to have a more earthy and savory flavor. This paste is rich in protein and fiber and only has about 30 calories per tablespoon (jackpot)! Miso paste has a lot added salt, so don’t overdo it! Try this probiotic glazed over fish or chicken, mixed into a stir fry, or added to hot water to make miso soup.

Broiled Salmon with Miso
Recipe by Brys Stephens at Cookthink

4. Kombucha Tea

This fermented black tea, known as the “immortal health elixir” in ancient China, is fizzy with a tangy, vinegar-like flavor. If you try out this probiotic food, do not fear the flotaties (referred to as “scoby”). Scoby is merely the bacteria and yeast that naturally carbonate this drink. Stick to store-bought kombucha since home-made varieties often have high levels of toxins. Finally, before you go gung ho with kombucha, you should also know that this tea contains trace amounts of alcohol due to the fermentation process.

Classic Kombucha and Enlightened KombuchaDrinks

Kombucha by Synergy Drinks™, rich in probiotics and antioxidants, have our nod of approval

5. Sauerkraut

Translating to “sour cabbage” in German, you have probably seen sauerkraut atop the famous American hot dog. In addition to its probiotic benefits, sauerkraut is rich in choline, a chemical that encourages nerve transmission in our brains. Since most canned sauerkraut is in a vinegar solution and contains no live/active cultures, choose the fresh varieties (look for the ‘live cultures’ label or buy in the refrigerated section) or make it yourself to get the full benefits of this probiotic food.

Raw Sauerkraut: Roasted Jalapeno and Garlic
Recipe by Diane Sanfilippo at Balanced Bites

6. Tempeh

Tempeh is a nutty, tangy, tofu-like probiotic made with fermented soybeans and/or grains. It is a great source of not only beneficial bacteria, but also protein, iron, and vitamin B12. Use tempeh in stir fries, salads, and side dishes, slice it in place of deli meat for sandwiches, or marinate it and throw on the grill.

Tempeh Tacos
Recipe by Anne and Dan Shannon in Betty Goes Vegan at Oh My Veggies

7. Kimchi

This spicy, pungent, Korean side dish a variety of fermented vegetables. Kimchi is rich in probiotics as well as calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2. Find kimchi in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, at your local Korean restaurant, or make your own! Use it in rice and vegetable bowls, soups, or meat dishes. Beware: Like miso paste, store- or restaurant-bought kimchi often has a lot of added salt!

Easy Kimchi
Recipe by Meghan Telpner at MeghanTelpner.com

8. Kvass

The modern version of this Russian drink uses fermented beets or fruit and vegetable juices. In addition to probiotic benefits, beet-based kvass is rich in nitrates which may increase oxygen delivery to muscles and improve exercise performance. Most types of kvass are low in calories (around 50 calories per bottle) and sugars as well as high in vitamin C and nitrates.

Zukay™ Kvass is organic and sweetened with Stevia, culmintating in a low-calorie, probiotic- and antioxidant-rich drink to cool off with this summer

Now that you know more about sources of probiotics, be bold and try something new! Mix it up with a unique, ethnic dish – If you enjoy yogurt, you may like kefir too, and if you like tofu, maybe try out a new tempeh dish. Your gut will thank you!



1. David Perlmutter. (2015). Brain Maker Foods. David Perlmutter MD.

2. Jessica Migala. (2015). 13 Best Foods for Your Gut Health. Health Media Ventures.

3. Kayama, H., Jeon, S. G., & Takeda, K. (2014). Probiotics and Innate Immunity: Implications in Chronic   Disease Prevention. ECAB Probiotics in Prevention of Lifestyle Disorders, 50.

4. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2007). Oral Probiotics: An Introduction.    National Institute of Health.

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