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Slideshow: Top Foods for Probiotics

Yogurt: Probiotics Source

Yogurt is the most familiar source of probiotics -- "good" bacteria like lactobacillus or bifidobacteriathat keep a healthy balance in your gut. Studies suggest that probiotics can help ease lactose intolerance. They also may help tame gas, diarrhea, and other digestive problems. You can pay extra for special digestive yogurt brands, but any with "live and active cultures" listed may help.

Sauerkraut Boosts Digestion

Sauerkraut contains the probiotics leuconostoc, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. Choose unpasteurized sauerkraut because pasteurization (used to treat most supermarket sauerkraut) kills the helpful bacteria. Sauerkraut -- and the similar but spicy Korean dish kimchi -- is also loaded with vitamins that may help ward off infection.

Miso Soup for Active Digestion

A popular breakfast food in Japan, this fermented soybean paste really can get your digestive system moving. Probiotic-filled miso reportedly contains more than 160 bacteria strains. It's often used to make a salty soup that is low in calories and high in B vitamins and protective antioxidants.

Soft Cheeses Fight Bacteria

While potentially good for your digestion, not all probiotics can survive the journey through your gastrointestinal tract. But research finds the lactobacillus strains in some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, are hardy enough to survive. In addition, cheese may act as a carrier for probiotics, which may boost the immune system.

Kefir: Probiotic-Filled Drink

According to legend, kefir dates back to the shepherds of Eurasia's Caucasus Mountains. They discovered that the milk they carried had a tendency to ferment into a bubbly beverage. Thick, creamy, and tangy like yogurt, kefir has its own strains of probiotic bacteria, plus a few helpful yeast varieties.

Sourdough Bread Aids Digestion

The next time you make a sandwich, pay attention to what's holding your cold cuts and cheese. San Francisco's famous sourdough bread contains lactobacilli, a probiotic that may benefit digestion.

Milk With Probiotics

One of the easiest ways to get probiotics in your diet is by adding acidophilus milk. This is simply milk that has been fermented with bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Sometimes it's labeled sweet acidophilus milk. Buttermilk -- generally milk that is cultured with lactic acid bacteria -- is also rich in probiotics.

Probiotics in Sour Pickles

When looking to pickles for probiotics, choose naturally fermented varieties where vinegar wasn't used in the pickling process. A sea salt and water solution encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and may give sour pickles some digestive benefits.

Try Tempeh for Probiotics

Made from a base of fermented soybeans, this Indonesian patty produces a type of natural antibiotic that fights certain bacteria. In addition, tempeh is very high in protein. Its flavor has often been described as smoky, nutty, and similar to a mushroom. Tempeh can be marinated and used in meals in place of meat.

Probiotic Supplements

In addition to being found in foods, probiotics are available as supplements in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form. Although they don't provide the nutrition that foods can offer, they can be convenient. If you're interested, talk to your doctor. If you're ill or have immune system problems, you may want to be cautious about taking probiotics.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

While probiotic-foods contain live bacteria, prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria already living in your digestive system. You can find prebiotics in foods such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes. Consider eating prebiotic foods on their own or with probiotic foods to perhaps give the probiotics a boost.

Probiotics and Your Gut

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 15, 2014

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Additional Resources

Diarrhea and Digestive Disorders

  • 60 to 70 million people have digestive diseases
  • There are 16 million new cases of infectious diarrhea each year.
  • Use of antibiotics can increase the risk of diarrhea.

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