Probiotic Foods: Another Way to Keep Your Gut Healthy

Probiotic foods and drinks have been around for thousands of years. For example, fermented beverages have been confirmed to have been around over 9000 years ago. A common misconception today is that you have to “take” probiotics only in the form of a pill or powder supplement. Throughout history, people all over the world consumed fermented or cultured healthy foods and drinks and benefited from the health-promoting organisms they contained.

Many people still consume probiotic foods around the world. It’s only in more recent history that scientists have isolated the different microbes and formulated probiotic supplements from them. And guess what? Many of the microbes designated as "probiotics" were and are discovered in cultured or fermented foods and beverages.

Here is a sampling of fermented foods and drinks from around the globe that are not common in Westernized societies:

  • Gundruk, a fermented green vegetable dish popular in Nepal
  • Kumis, a fermented mare's milk beverage popular in many places
  • Lahpet or Leppet-so, a fermented tea leaves dish popular in Myanmar
  • Kunu-zaki, a fermented cereal-based drink popular in Nigeria

Consuming raw, whole foods and drinks that undergo natural fermentation or culturing is one of the best ways for you to be healthy. And no, this doesn’t mean that beer, wine and alcoholic drinks are the tickets to health! Those are fermented to the point of having too much alcohol in them to be healthy.

What I mean by raw, whole foods are foods that look like they were just picked off the tree, vine or plant stem, or dug up as a root of a plant. Like the ones you would find in vegetable and fruit gardens, at a farmer’s market stand, or in the fresh produce section of your grocery store or supermarket. They are complete, as nature intended.

Raw – meaning not processed and pasteurized. Most raw organic fruits and vegetables by their very nature already have the bacteria and yeasts needed to ferment themselves on their surfaces, and guess what? Some of those bacteria and yeasts are classified as probiotic microbes.

Why Eat Whole Probiotic Foods?

Unprocessed foods have the complete nutrients of the food. For example, an apple has fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant compounds). An apple is a complete food. Apple juice is not a complete food. It is basically sugar water and manufacturers add vitamins back into it.

Brown rice is a whole food. White rice is not. Oatmeal is a whole food, Cheerios is not. Cabbage is a whole food. Raw unprocessed sauerkraut is a whole, probiotic food. Canned sauerkraut is cooked, killing the beneficial microbes, so it is not one.

While all the nutrients in whole foods are important for health, fiber deserves special recognition. See why here.

To Buy, Or Not To Buy?

You can buy naturally-fermented or cultured foods and drinks from a store, but making these fermented or cultured products at home is even better for saving money. And by making them at home, you’re getting the full-spectrum of beneficial microbes.

Any store-bought, shelf-stable, and long-life refrigerated fermented product is going to have some types of the microbes killed off in order to keep the jar or bottle from exploding, unless the product is truly raw and they don't jar it until after the major gas -producing microbes are replaced by others.

However, click here if you would like to see options to buy raw, organic, gluten-free sauerkraut and cultured vegetables that still have live, beneficial microbes and their products in them.

Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha are easy to make at home once you know how, and the added bonus is that your body will recognize them as nutrition because they are “real” foods and drinks. If you can’t make them at home, you can still be a smart shopper by following the advice in this website.

Of course, if there’s any question about whether or not you should eat, drink or use probiotic products, please check with your doctor.

Common Probiotic Foods and Drinks

Here are some fermented or cultured foods and drinks that may be found in Westernized societies. These may naturally contain probiotics or beneficial substances from good microbes which, technically, are not true probiotics. Note that not all of these are whole foods, however:

  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Some Pickles
  • Some olives
  • Raw cacao, cocoa
  • Tempeh
  • Raw milk
  • True buttermilk
  • Raw apple cider vinegar

Choosing from the list above, it's easy to consume raw, whole foods and drinks with natural fermentation or culturing that will have a spectrum of nutrients.

For recipes on making your own cultured and fermented foods and drinks, check out my book, "Probiotics: How to Use Them to Your Advantage."

Go to Where to Buy Raw Sauerkraut and Cultured Vegetables page.

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