Probiotics are friendly bacteria that populate our digestive tracts. These helpful microorganisms help us break down foods, regulate digestion, and keep more harmful organisms at bay. Essentially, they keep our guts in harmony.
Probiotics are also found in some foods and supplements, and you’ve probably heard that eating yogurt is one of the best ways to get them into your diet. But what about those of us who are vegan, lactose intolerant, or just plain old don’t like yogurt? These days there are some good plant-based yogurts on the market, but as with any yogurt (dairy or otherwise) it's important to read your labels. In many cases probiotics are destroyed by heat during processing. But there are lots of great non-yogurt options as well! Here are 6 ways to get probiotics on a plant-based diet.
Salty, tangy, crunchy—what’s not to love about sauerkraut? When naturally prepared, this fermented cabbage is loaded with vitamin C, many B-vitamins, and is rich in probiotics. To ensure you get the nutritional boost you’re looking for seek out natural, unpasteurized sauerkraut when possible, or make your own, as the pasteurization kills off much or all of the friendly bacteria we’re looking for.
Sauerkraut isn’t the only probiotic-rich fermented cabbage on the block. Kimchi, sauerkraut’s spicy Korean cousin, combines cabbage with other seasonings for a fermented cabbage dish loaded with probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants. Many traditional kimchi recipes contain fish or seafood, so vegetarians should beware. Look out for vegan brands, or try your hand at making your own kimchi.
Miso is a traditional Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans combined with barley or rice. Rich in vitamin K, B6, and zinc, miso can also be a great source of probiotics. Take care to not overheat miso when you’re preparing foods with it, as the heat can destroy the sensitive microorganisms.
Tempeh is fermented soy food originally from Indonesia. It is fermented with the mold Rhizopus oligosporus in a process similar to cheese-making. The fermentation process makes digestion easier and nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron are more bio available than in non-fermented soy products like tofu. Tempeh is a great source of plant-based protein. Its color may vary, which is totally fine, but it should have no evidence of pink, yellow or blue coloration – a sign that it has become overly fermented.
This fermented black tea is a probiotic superstar. With a slightly sour and fizzy taste, kombucha is a great source of dairy-free and gut-friendly bacteria. Also rich in vitamin B12 and antioxidants, home-brewed kombucha will save you pennies. Though these days many good coffee shops and health foods stores carry either home-brewed or reliable brands of the beverage.
6. Water Kefir
You may be familiar with dairy-based kefir, but did you know it can be made from water or coconut water, too? This probiotic beverage is similar to kombucha, made using a ‘mother’ starter of bacteria and yeasts, a little bit of sugar, and some dried fruit.
Kombucha photo by Lindsey Johnson