Kimchi, kombucha, kefir. These probiotic foods pop up in the media often enough to sound familiar, but for many of us, they still sound pretty exotic. So what are they exactly? Where can you buy them? And what do you do with them once you get them home?
I’ll get to all these questions, but first, I want to cover a few probiotic basics. As you probably know, probiotics are the live bacteria available in some foods that are similar to the “good” bacteria that exist naturally in the gut. They promote better digestion, inhibit the growth of “bad” bacteria, and help your GI tract produce vitamins.
Yogurt is probably the first probiotic food that comes to mind, but if you don't branch out, you’ll miss out on some of the unique benefits of other fermented foods—plus deprive your taste buds of some delicious treats! For starters, here are my top five probiotic picks:
- Kimchi is a spicy, traditional Korean side dish of fermented vegetables seasoned with garlic, salt, chili peppers and vinegar. Depending on the recipe, the main ingredient may be Napa cabbage, scallions, cucumber or radish. I like to eat it on its own or with noodles, or I sometimes add it to sandwiches, soups or stir-fry. You can make it at home or look for one of these brands at a Korean or natural grocery.
- Kombucha is a refreshing beverage made by fermenting lightly sweetened black (or sometimes green) tea. It’s originally from China, but has become very popular in the U.S. in recent years. This article by Dr. Josh Axe explores seven reasons to drink kombucha every day and includes instructions for making your own. Prepared kombucha is also readily available at health food stores and most large supermarkets. Not only delicious, the drink is credited with many health benefits.
- Kefir is a thick, tangy drink made by adding a yeast starter (called kefir “grains”) to milk. Its high protein content makes it a great choice for breakfast on-the-go or a post-workout snack. I really like it over cereal or granola! You can find kefir in many grocery stores, but definitely check the sugar, saturated fat and calorie content of specific brands before you buy. Or, try out these tips for making your own.
- You’ve probably eaten miso soup at least once or twice, but did you know miso paste contains probiotics? Made from fermented soybeans and a fungus called kojikin, miso is a staple in Japan. It has a distinctive salty flavor that’s delicious in all kinds of soups and stews. Look for small tubs of miso paste in the refrigerated section of Asian and natural foods stores. (Just beware of any brands that contain MSG!)
- Tempeh is a high-protein meat alternative from Indonesia that’s now eaten worldwide. Made from whole, fermented soybeans, it’s formed into cakes and retains a firm texture and earthy flavor when cooked. Most recipes call for simmering before marinating and then grilling or baking this versatile food. You can pick some up at your local whole foods grocer and then give one of these healthy recipes from Cooking Light a try.
- Probiotic powders provide a convenient way to pack in fermented superfoods into one tasty beverage. A probiotic powder called balanceME contains certified-organic whole-food ingredients that are fermented with wild-strain lactobacillus, making it easily digested and absorbed by the body to maintain the body's natural detoxification pathways. Simply add a teaspoon to your daily juice for improved digestion and toxin removal.
These are just a few of the many great options for adding more probiotics to your diet, but this list should take some of the mystery out of fermented foods. And the next time you reach for the yogurt, I hope you’ll try one of these instead! (Yogurt is always good, too; just stay away from the varieties that add extra sugar or other sweeteners.) Happy gut health!