Improve digestion and strengthen your immune system with foods that contain gut-friendly “good bacteria.”
Molly Morgan, R.D., and Men's Fitness Editors 1 / 9
Your intestines are home to 500 million bacteria, some good and some bad. Recent research suggests that the more good bacteria in your gut, the stronger your immune system will be. Probiotics are often referred to as “good bacteria”—they help the body absorb important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, chromium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K, just to name a few. Work these probiotic foods into your eating routine to boost your intestinal—and overall—health.
You've probably never heard of a fermented soy bean dish called Natto: It's slowly being introduced here in the states, according to a report from the New York Times. The meal is a popular in Japan, commonly eaten with rice, raw eggs, and chives for breakfast. It's fermented with the bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, which is a powerful probiotic. What's more, the dish contains high levels of Vitamin K (which helps your bones absorb calcium) and may even lessen the severity of heart attacks and strokes. It may not be the best probiotic for picky eaters; it has a potent flavor, odor, and, for lack of a better word, slimy texture.
The fizzy, naturally fermented, probiotic drink originated in England in the 1800s. While ginger beer is considered non-alcoholic because it contains less than 0.5% alcohol, it does have a small amount of booze from the fermentation process. Find the soda alternative in the beverage section of your grocery store.
This thick and tangy yogurt-like beverage contains a wide variety of probiotic bacteria and 11g of protein per cup. Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk, which causes fermentation to occur. Have a cup of kefir as an on-the-go breakfast, or add to your cereal instead of milk. Look for kefir in the dairy or natural-foods section of your grocery store; it's available in plain and fruit flavors.
The fermented vegetable side dish/condiment gets its spicy flavor from garlic, salt, chili peppers, and vinegar. It's popular in Korea, where it's served at every meal either by itself or mixed with noodles. Try adding kimchi to soups, sandwiches, or stir-fry. Look for it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store or in an Asian market.
Kombucha originated in China and dates back 2,000 years. The refreshing beverage is made by fermenting sweetened black tea. Find it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store or pick up your own home-brew kombucha kit.
The traditional Japanese seasoning is a thick paste with a very salty and tangy flavor. It's typically produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called kojikin. Look for miso in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Add it to soups or stews, or try this easy miso soup recipe:
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 tbsp nori seaweed
4 cups water
1/3 cup miso
4 oz silken tofu
In a soup pot, sauté the scallions with the seaweed for 5-7 minutes.
Add water, miso, and tofu and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes. Do not boil. Serve immediately.
This Reuben sandwich topper is taking stage as a health-boosting food thanks to its probiotic properties. Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been fermented, which fosters the growth of probiotics. Some packaged varieties are pasteurized, which could destroy the healthy bacteria, so opt for raw, refrigerated varieties like Wildbrine Dill & Garlic Sauerkraut Salad, which can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
When buying yogurt—a fermented milk product that is made from cow’s milk, soy milk, or nut milk (e.g., almond milk)—look for the words "live and active cultures" on the container to ensure that it packs a probiotic punch. Add yogurt to smoothies, top it with your favorite fruit, or enjoy it straight up.