Foods with healthy bacteria can help you get slim, stay healthy, and feel better than ever—reap the benefits of the best probiotic foods!
May 29, 2015
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The good news keeps stacking up for probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria that keep your GI system functioning in tip-top shape. "Research is finding that a healthy microbiome may play a role in reducing inflammation, a risk factor involved in illnesses ranging from colds to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and cognitive decline," says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple.
In addition, the bacteria may help burn body fat and reduce insulin resistance, she says. So to stay slim and healthy, consider adding more probiotic foods to your diet. Start with these truly yummy 13.
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We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.
This smooth, slightly tangy, and sippable yogurt contains a dozen different types of live active cultures. It's also 99% lactose-free, making it easier to digest for those with intolerant tummies. "If you have lactose intolerance, start slowly on kefir as a test. If you have no symptoms, go ahead and slowly increase your intake," advises Tallmadge. Plus, with 8 to 11 grams of protein per cup (depending on the brand), it can help fill you up for around 100 calories.
Made from aged, fermented soybeans, this paste is brimming with probiotics. You can buy miso paste in a bunch of varieties (white, yellow, red, brown) and the darker the color, the deeper the taste. Miso is a great way to add a burst of earthy, savory flavor for few calories (only 25 to 30 per tablespoon), plus protein, fiber, and bone-strengthening vitamin K, says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. "While we need more research about how these types of fermented foods contribute to health, it's a good idea to introduce more of them into your diet," she says. Use miso to glaze fish or chicken before cooking, mix into a stir-fry recipe, or add to liquid to make a miso broth. One caveat: Miso is very high in sodium. One teaspoon, enough to make a cup of miso soup, has 473 mg of sodium, 21% of the daily recommended limit and 32% of the daily limit for those with high blood pressure.
Fizzy, tangy, and even slightly vinegar-esque, kombucha has a cult following for a reason. The tea gets its natural carbonation from the "scoby" (that float-y thing you see in some bottled varieties), which is actually the bacteria and yeast that ferment the drink and creates the probiotics. "There's not much scientific evidence specifically on the benefits of kombucha, but it is another strategy to introduce more live, active bacteria into your lifestyle," says Palmer. Many are made with fruit juice for added flavor, so read the label to see what you're getting, she advises. Stick to store-bought kombucha; it's tough to keep the tea sanitary when you make it yourself, and homebrewed kombucha been linked to nausea and even toxicity. Also note that due to the fermentation process, kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol, so it's best to stick to one 12-ounce bottle a day.
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This cabbage condiment can frequently be found atop a mighty hot dog, but its roots trace all the way back to the 4th century B.C. Cabbage was fermented to preserve the veggie, resulting in what we all know as sauerkraut. Palmer points out that modern techniques for canning sauerkraut results in a product packed in a vinegar solution without live, active bacteria in the mix. For most probiotic power, eat fresh sauerkraut (look for live cultures on the label or buy it in the refrigerated section) or make it yourself at home.
This mildly sour, chewy bread is made with a lactic acid starter that contains strains of lactobacillus, a friendly type of bacteria that adds good microbes into the bakery staple. Sourdough may be the healthiest bread choice if diabetes is a concern for you: one 2008 study found that people with pre-diabetes who ate sourdough bread had less of a blood sugar spike compared to when they ate bread made with baker's yeast. (Experts also say fiber-rich whole grain bread can also reduce a post-meal blood sugar spike.) The researchers credit the lactic acid for the favorable effect.
Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans or grains that have been molded into a cake-like form. The nuttier, tangier cousin to tofu can be sliced for sandwiches, tossed into stir-fries, or marinated and grilled. In addition to probiotics, tempeh contains about 15 grams of protein per half-cup and is a good source of iron. Plus, soy foods contain compounds that may help keep cholesterol in check, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Palmer likes to use tempeh in place of tofu in dishes like stir-fries, salads, and side dishes.
Fermenting a cucumber into a pickle amps up a cuke's powers, infusing the crunchy veggie with probiotics. Like sauerkraut, not all pickles offer the good bacteria, though. Look for those made with brine (salt and water) rather than vinegar. These brands will list "live cultures" on the label (like Bubbies). You can also use water, salt, and spices to naturally culture pickles and other veggieslike beets, green beans, and carrotsat home with delicious results. One warning: remember that pickles are saltyone dill can easily offer up more than 10% of your sodium needs in a day.
Don't assume that the only way you can get your probiotic yogurt fix is through dairy. Cultured soymilk, or soy yogurt, is a non-dairy alternative that also boasts live active cultures. Most of these products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to make them comparable to dairy yogurts. It makes a great option if you're vegan or lactose intolerant. (And if you're looking for more variety, almond milk and coconut milk yogurts are also rich in probiotics.)
This Korean staple relies on lactic acid fermentation (also called lacto-fermentation) to turn cabbage or other vegetables into a spicy, pungent side dish that's packed with vitamin C. Order it at Korean restaurants or buy it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (King's Kimchi is widely available at Walmart). For some guidance on making your own, turn to The Art of Fermentation ($23; amazon.com). Then, use it to spike veggie-laden rice bowls, top on soup, or serve alongside meat.
A traditional Russian drink, today's version of Kvass is made with fermented beet juice or fruit and veggie juices. One bonus of beetroot: rich in nitrates, it may boost oxygen flow to muscles, improving exercise performance, studies show. One bottle of Zukay Beet Kvass contains just 50 calories, is low in sugar, and is a good source of vitamin C.
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Certain brands, like Attune (attunefoods.com; available at Whole Foods), have pumped up the dessert by adding probiotics. (Attune boasts 6.1 billion CFUs, or "colony forming units," a measure of live, active microorganisms per serving. As a comparison, some probiotic supplements may contain 1 to 50+ billion CFUs.) Sounds crazy, but it's backed by science. One study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that probiotics added to chocolate were able to reach the GI tract where they could get to work colonizing the gut with healthy bacteria.
If you've ever been to an Indian restaurant, then you've probably seen a lassia smoothie made of milk, yogurt, fruit, honey, and cardamom. The drink goes well with spicy Indian food because it helps extinguish the fiery feeling in your mouth. If you want to try it at home, you can pick up bottles from brands like Dahlicious, which contain 15 billion live probiotics per serving and are available in flavors like mango and turmeric. Or, try this mango lassi recipe.