- What are the best probiotics?
- How probiotics work in the body and their health benefits
- Which probiotic strains should I look for in supplements?
- Which foods contain probiotics? (How can I include probiotics naturally into my diet?)
- What are the side effects of probiotics?
- More information on probiotics
Which foods contain probiotics? (How can I include probiotics naturally into my diet?)
Some foods that naturally contain probiotics date as far back as ancient times wherein fermented foods and cultured milk were used by people who believed they helped in promoting healthy digestion. The interest in these live microorganisms has only grown since then as health benefits continue to be discovered. More and more people are now consuming probiotic-infused food and taking probiotic supplements in order to treat health conditions or as an attempt to maintain overall health and well-being4.
Probiotics also occur naturally in a variety of fermented foods. These kinds of foods are typically heated, smoked, filtrated or treated in order for live microorganisms to be removed. For example, sauerkraut and sourdough bread are both fermented foods, however, their microbes may be rendered ineffective as a result of cooking and baking or due to the addition of preservatives.
The majority of products containing probiotics will state “aids in digestive health” on the packaging.
Some of the top ten foods that are rich in probiotics are mentioned below:
- Yoghurt - Yoghurt is often the popular food of choice as it has a great reputation for providing the gut with probiotics when consumed. Certain yoghurts contain more probiotics than others, it is advised that you research which yoghurt manufacturers produce the best product in terms of probiotics in your country. Most yoghurt containers/packaging will state ’contains live and active cultures’ which means there are probiotics present in the ingredients. Some experts and dietitians may recommend that you look for yoghurt that is organic and made from the milk of grass-fed goats, cows or sheep.
- Kefir – This type of food is similar to yoghurt and is a fermented form of dairy with a unique mixture of fermented milk and kefir grains. Kefir is a food that has been consumed for more than 300 years. The term ‘kefir’ translates to ‘feeling good’ and originated in Turkey and Russia. Kefir is produced through a fermentation process of milk using the yeasts and bacteria found naturally in kefir to breakdown the sugars (i.e. lactose) present in the milk, this is why kefir is often suitable for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Kefir is slightly tart and acidic in flavour and contains between ten and 34 different probiotic strains. The reason why this dairy product shares similarities with yoghurt is that is it fermented with more bacteria and yeast, with the final product containing more probiotics compared to its initial form.
- Sauerkraut – This food is produced from fermented cabbage, as well as some other vegetables. Sauerkraut has high amounts of organic acids and is not necessarily high in probiotics. The organic acids give this food its unique sour taste and also support the growth of beneficial bacteria. This food is particularly popular in Germany. Sauerkraut contains high amounts of digestive enzymes, vitamin C and is a great source of lactobacillus and other naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria.
- Kimchi – This food is closely related to sauerkraut, the Korean version of fermented vegetables. Kimchi is produced by combining cabbage with some spices and foods such as radishes, red peppers, carrots, ginger, sea salt, onion, fish sauce and garlic. This mixture is then fermented for a period of three days to two weeks.
- Coconut kefir – This probiotic-rich food is made by mixing the fermented juice of coconuts and kefir grains. This is a great dairy-free alternative to kefir and has the same beneficial probiotics as traditional kefir made from dairy, however, the coconut form usually has lower amounts of probiotics.
- Natto – This is a popular food in Japan and consists of soybeans that have been fermented. Natto contains the strain of probiotic known as bacillus subtilis, this has shown to be effective in boosting one’s immune system, supporting cardiovascular health and aiding in overall digestion.
- Kvass – This form of fermented drink is commonly consumed in Europe and has been for hundreds of years. Kvass was originally produced by fermenting barley or rye, this is what gives it it’s mild flavouring. However, more recently, Kvass has been made using fruit and beets, as well as other commonly found root vegetables such as carrots.
- Miso – Miso forms an integral part of traditional Japanese cooking and medicine. It has been a staple in Japanese and Chinese diets for thousands of years and is commonly used as a regulator for digestion. Miso soup is commonly used in more recent times. Miso is made from barley or rice, and fermented soybeans and a spoonful of miso mixed with hot water makes a tasty and quick probiotic-rich food.
- Kombucha – This form of fermented black tea is made from SCOBY, also referred to as a symbiotic (i.e. a beneficial relationship between two living organisms) colony of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha has been consumed for more than 2000 years and is thought to have originated in the Far East, later spreading to Japan and eventually Russia. It is thought to aid in digestive and immune support.
- Raw dairy – Raw goat’s, cow’s, and sheep’s milk and aged cheeses labelled A2 contains a high number of probiotics. It is important to remember that dairy that is pasteurised does not contain healthy bacteria as a result of the pasteurisation process, in order for you to benefit from dairy then you will need to opt for raw and high-quality. However, consuming unpasteurised foods does pose a health risk as these may carry dangerous bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria which cause foodborne illnesses (food poisoning).
**My Med Memo – The fermentation of food occurs as a result of salt and good bacteria working together in order to transform the sugar found in the food into a preservative.
What should the labels of food that contain probiotics include?
There are a few things you will need to take into consideration when looking at the label of foods containing probiotics. The first thing is the full name of the probiotic, this will include the genus, the species and the strain. A number of products that contain probiotics may only have the genus and the species printed on the packaging, for example, some cheeses may only state ‘Bifidobacterium lactis’.
In some cases, the manufacturer’s website may provide additional information which includes the specific strain used, how much each serving contains of the probiotic and, if you are fortunate enough, there may be additional information on the research conducted on the health benefits of the specific probiotics.
Bear in mind, that although a number of foods have probiotics added to them to improve the health of the consumer, additional research is required to investigate whether adding probiotics to foods is actually viable, as certain food preparation techniques such as heating can often result in the death of live cultures.
There are also a few more factors that you will need to be aware of when looking at the label of probiotic supplements, these include:
- Stability – Some strains of probiotics will need to be refrigerated or kept at room temperature in order for their potency to be preserved. This also applies to their process of production, transportation and storage.
- Date – When live organisms are concerned, most experts will suggest that the ‘fresher the better’ thinking applies.
- Sugar – Sugar is not generally considered to be a beneficial food source for probiotics. Prebiotics are sources of food that aid in keeping probiotics alive. Synbiotics are supplements containing both prebiotics, as well as probiotics. The most beneficial forms of synbiotics contain healthy plant fibre and starches.
- Living versus dead – When labels state that the probiotics are ‘made with active cultures’ this is generally considered to not be as effective as supplements that state ‘contains live and active cultures’. In those that state ‘made with active cultures’, once the fermentation process is complete, the product may have gone through a process of heating which eliminates both beneficial and harmful bacteria in order for the shelf-life to be extended. Therefore, only those that state ‘contains live and active cultures’ on the label will not have been subject to processes which destroy the beneficial bacteria.
- Bacteria type – When the label states ‘live and active cultures’ this does not necessarily ensure that the product contains bacteria that are proven to be beneficial to your health. Check this to be sure.
- Potency – This can sometimes be a grey area when probiotic labels are concerned, the many probiotic labels do not list the potency or number of bacteria present, however, the higher the colony forming units (CFUs), the better. The health benefits of probiotics are thought to result from products containing 50 million CFUs for specific conditions, with some needing as many as one trillion CFUs for effects to take place. So, try to find a product that lists these values.
4. Harvard Medical School. 2014. The benefits of probiotics bacteria. Available: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-benefits-of-probiotics [Accessed 20.03.2018]