Last updated January 27, 2020 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

12 Probiotic Foods For Improved Gut Health

Fermented foods to add to your list of foods to eat: sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, natto, olives

If you can’t afford probiotics on a regular basis, or you would like to add to your existing course of probiotic supplements, there are several excellent probiotic foods that can help to repopulate your intestine. These can be taken at the same time as probiotic supplements and are a great addition to any diet.

These foods include probiotic yogurt, kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Some of them are an acquired taste, but you are sure to find at least one to enjoy. These traditional fermented foods are packed full of nutritional goodness. They form the basis of the diets of many traditional cultures, and are still widely eaten around the world today.

These are some of the best, most-researched probiotic foods that you can add to your diet:

Consuming probiotic foods is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system, improve your digestion, and fight off digestive infections such as Candida overgrowth. Let’s take a look at a few of those probiotic foods in more detail.

Last of all, don’t forget about prebiotics! These important substances are like food for your probiotic bacteria – they help them thrive and out-compete pathogens like Candida.

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1. Yogurt

Yogurt is naturally fermented dairy culture, and contains a variety of lactobacillus strains of probiotic bacteria. Most yogurts have probiotic qualities, but some are better than others. Yogurts that are promoted as specifically ‘probiotic’ are generally best. Check that they contain some of the bacteria listed on our Choosing a Probiotic page. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum are particularly helpful. Avoid yogurts that claim to be probiotic but don’t list the specific strains of bacteria on the packaging: these may not as helpful as they’re made out to be.

Choosing an unsweetened yogurt is vital. Remember that excess sugar can feed or restart a Candida overgrowth. Natural, unsweetened (i.e., ‘plain’) yogurt is almost always the best. Once you get used to less sugar in your diet, you will start to enjoy the tangy flavor of unsweetened yogurt, and find other yogurts too sugary. Depending on what stage of the diet you have reached, adding some frozen berries makes for a tasty snack. Lastly, always buy organic yogurt if you can.

Even better, forget the confusing labels on supermarket brands and make your own probiotic yogurt. This is as easy as buying a yogurt culture and some milk, then putting in a little effort to set things up. The probiotic bacteria do all the hard work for you. Once you have a base culture, you’ll be able to make endless batches of fresh yogurt.

Pro tip: If you leave your yogurt to ferment a little longer than recommended, your yogurt will contain fewer natural sugars and more healthy bacteria.

2. Kefir

Kefir is a traditional fermented milk drink that you may find in your local supermarket. Most kefir is simply milk fermented with kefir grains. For those who can’t tolerate dairy, you can also find water kefir and coconut water kefir. This drink has been fermented for centuries and is full of micronutrients and probiotic bacteria.

You can make your own kefir very easily. Just find some kefir grains (you can buy packs of dried grains online, get some from a friend, or look on Craigslist), and place them in a jar of milk. Within a couple of days you will have some delicious kefir!

The best thing about kefir is that you can keep using those same grains indefinitely. In fact, they will grow and multiply over time, so you’ll probably have some to share. This is a very economical way to produce your probiotics.

You can read more about kefir on our How To Make Your Own Kefir page.

3. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of the world’s most commonly used fermented foods. Like kimchi, it’s a type of fermented cabbage. It’s even easier to make than yogurt and kefir, because you don’t need a starter culture. The cabbage comes ‘pre-loaded’ with the bacteria it needs to ferment itself.

If you buy sauerkraut in the supermarket, make sure it’s the ‘raw’ or ‘unpasteurized’ form – not canned! Modern production methods mean that much of the sauerkraut you see on the shelves has been stripped of all its probiotic goodness. The food is pasteurized before being canned or jarred, destroying all the billions of beneficial bacteria that it contains. If you can’t find a raw sauerkraut at your store, try local markets or health food stores instead, and look for locally produced fermented foods.

You can also easily make your own sauerkraut. Cut the cabbage into thin strips, toss it with a little sea salt, then pack it down tightly into a bowl. Cover with a wooden lid, then let the fermentation process do all the hard work for you! After a couple of weeks, it will be ready. And of course, your homemade sauerkraut is guaranteed to be full of healthy bacteria, unlike most of the stuff you can buy in the shops.

Both sauerkraut and kimchi are highly beneficial for the immune system, providing the nutrients that help your body to fight off Candida overgrowth. In fact, sauerkraut was once used on long sea voyages where vitamin C deficiency was traditionally a problem; it keeps longer than other vegetables and provided a healthy source of nutrients even after many months at sea.

4. Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean food made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria, also known as LAB. Many different types of bacteria are involved in the fermentation process of kimchi, but these lactic acid-producing strains are the most important. The LAB bacteria become the dominant bacterial strains that work to suppress ‘bad’ bacteria during the fermentation and salting of the cabbage.

Other ingredients are usually added to kimchi, such as chili, garlic, ginger and red pepper. Byproducts of the fermentation have been shown to eradicate both putrefactive- and pathogenic bacteria, as well as boosting the health properties of the kimchi itself.

Kimchi is very much considered a “vegetable probiotic food” that has as many health benefits as yogurt – but without the dairy content. Another important point is that the major ingredients of kimchi are cruciferous vegetables, which harbor their own nutritional benefits.

Kimchi can be enjoyed as a side dish to enhance the flavor of a meal. It’s like a natural digestive enzyme supplement that you can eat! In Korea, it’s often served alone or with steamed rice. Its many health properties include reducing the risk of cancer, obesity, constipation, and colorectal health promotion. Its probiotic content also helps with cholesterol reduction and providing antioxidative and anti-aging benefits to the skin, brain and immune system.

5. Kombucha

This fizzy fermented drink has become very trendy in recent years. It’s a type of fermented tea made using a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY). Although microbial populations in SCOBY cultures vary, it usually contains a beneficial yeast called Saccharomyces and other species.

It’s believed that kombucha originated in Northeastern China and has been also consumed throughout Russia and eastern Europe.

Because sugar is used in the fermenting process, some sources claim that kombucha is not a good option for Candida sufferers. However, the sugar is almost entirely broken down by the bacteria by the time it’s ready to be consumed. Just check that no ‘extra’ sugar has been added when it’s served to you!

Making your own kombucha is easy. Simply get a SCOBY (these can be bought, but it’s better to get one from a friend or online). Instructions for making kombucha can be found online.

6. Kvass

Kvass is a probiotic beverage made from rye bread. It’s a traditional Slavic and Baltic drink known as ‘black bread’, and popular in many Eastern European countries.

Kvass can be flavored with birch sap, fruits such as strawberries and raisins, or with herbs such as mint. Kvass is usually served unfiltered containing its yeast, which adds to its unique flavor. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin B, lactic acid and simple sugars.

Like kombucha, the fermenting process of kvass allows for beneficial bacteria that may improve digestion in the same way as other lacto-fermented foods.

7. Pickles

The traditional fermenting of pickles involved covering baby cucumbers with water, adding salt, and allowing them to ferment at room temperature for several days. When ready, the pickles would be literally bubbling with live bacteria created by the naturally occurring sugars in the vegetables.

Unfortunately, most commercial pickled products (especially sauerkraut and cucumber pickles) are made using vinegar, which doesn’t allow the natural fermentation of the vegetables. In fact, vinegar kills off both good AND bad bacteria.

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Probiotic pickles are best made at home using lacto-fermentation. Simply wash the cucumbers and prepare a brine and spices.  Poke the cucumbers with a fork about three times to help the brine penetrate them properly, then stuff them into a jar. Add the brine and allow to ferment in a warm place for three days.

8. Olives

A rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, olives are also a fantastic probiotic food. When lacto-fermented, olives provide a range of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli.

In particular, green olives Nocellara del Belice, (aka Sicilian olives) have a high content of polyphenols compared to other olives. Research also shows that they contain an high amount of Lactobacilli, with 12 olives providing around 20 million Lactobacilli per day.

Microbiologists claim it’s possible to isolate some probiotic strains from olives and use them in other foods. The probiotic potential of olives may be one of the more compelling reasons to eat them. Even Portuguese table olives have been found to contain extracts that can inhibit certain disease-causing pathogens.

To make your own fermented olives, you’ll need access to fresh olives. Simply place the olives into a ½-gallon mason jar along with spices, garlic, lemon and chilies. In a separate container, prepare a brine of 6 tablespoons unrefined sea salt to ½ gallon filtered water. Pour this over olives and spices. Allow your olives to sit in this mixture for at least ten days. You can also buy lactobacillus-fermented olives in some supermarkets and health food stores.

9. Apple Cider Vinegar

As the name suggests, Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a liquid made by fermenting apples, vinegar and a bacterial culture. This culture is known as ‘the mother’, and it’s believed to harbor probiotic goodness that has numerous health benefits. The ‘Mother’ looks like a cloudy, cobwebby bundle that sits somewhere near the bottom of the bottle.

Although many of the health claims about ACV have not been researched, much anecdotal evidence suggests that it can be a beneficial addition to the diet.

Raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is recommended as it’s likely to contain the highest number of healthy bacteria. These are believed to help keep the gut and digestive system healthy. Some health experts claim that enzymes, proteins, and probiotics can ‘leach’ into the liquid from the mother.

Try adding apple cider vinegar to salads or vegetables. It’s also great in a hot drink. When taken before a meal, ACV can help stimulate the gastric juices that help your digestive system function more efficiently. It even may be used to treat cold and flu symptoms or reduce acid reflux.  Most recommendations are for around 2 Tbsp of ACV each day.

10. Natto

Natto isn’t so well-known in the Western world, but it should be. It’s a traditional Japanese dish that’s been scientifically proven to harbor powerful immune-boosting properties.

Natto consists of fermented soybeans and contains an incredible probiotic called bacillus subtilis. Studies have shown that this probiotic can significantly enhance the immune system, especially in people who are elderly or have reduced immunity. Natto can also improve the health of the cardiovascular system and boost the body’s ability to break down vitamin K2.

Fermented soybeans such as natto contain Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), which is highly beneficial for the skin.

Another secret to Natto’s powers is its nattokinase, an important anti-inflammatory enzyme that has been shown to prevent blood from clotting. It helps to slow arterial calcification, enhance liver function and improve the flow of urine. This is especially beneficial for cardiovascular patients or people at risk of heart disease. K2 is also helpful for reducing bone loss in post-menopausal women.

Natto has a strong taste, so it’s best added to meals on the side. It’s better eaten as a food than taken in supplement form.

11. Miso

Another important Japanese staple in miso. Miso is most commonly known to the Western world as a soup that accompanies sushi, but it’s actually a spice.

Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans, brown rice or barley with koji. Koji is a type of fungus. The unusual thing about the fermentation process of miso is that it can take anywhere from a few days to a few years.

Miso’s health properties stem from its fermentation process. Traditionally, it’s been used to treat and relieve health conditions such as fatigue, digestive and intestinal disorders, gastric ulcers, high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels, and reduce inflammation. It’s also believed that miso can help to fight many common diseases of the Western world, such as cancer and heart disease.

It’s important to note that although products such as miso and natto contain soy (which is believed to have some negative health effects), the fermentation process creates a completely different product that has numerous bioavailable nutrients. Organically grown fermented soy is especially beneficial: look for miso or natto that are created using organic soybeans.

12. Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is made using a fermentation process in which the wild yeast and healthy bacteria break down some of the gluten and sugar in the wheat flour. This creates a bread full of highly digestible proteins, vitamins and minerals. This sourdough process was the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages, until it was replaced by barm from the beer brewing process. Later, yeast became the most common way to make bread. In the northern half of Europe, bread is still usually made using 100% rye flour leavened with sourdough.

It’s also the reason for sourdough’s name: the chemical reactions between the wild yeast and air results in a ‘sour’ taste. A sourdough starter is used to cultivate the wild yeast into a substance that can then be used for baking.

Because wild yeast is present in all flour, it’s quite simple to make your own sourdough starter: simply combine flour and water and let it sit for several days.

The great thing about sourdough bread is that the grains have already been partially digested by the bacteria, which means they’re more easily digested in the human gut. This makes sourdough bread suitable for many people who are gluten-intolerant.

If you love bread and have eliminated your Candida overgrowth, then sourdough is certainly a much healthier option than the mass-produced breads available today. If you’re still on the path to recovery and worried about your gut health, you should probably avoid sourdough bread for now.

Don’t Forget Your Prebiotics!

Prebiotics are the ‘food’ for probiotics. Because they’re not digested or absorbed in the stomach, they move into the bowels where bacteria are able to use it to grow. Here, they provide the nutritional support that your healthy gut bacteria need to survive. Prebiotic foods play an important part in any diet and can help rebalance your gut bacteria a little quicker.

The best types of prebiotics are those which contain inulin. Inulin is starchy substance found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including onions, bananas, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus. Inulin is highly beneficial for helping colonies of beneficial bacteria flourish in your gut, which is why it’s added to many probiotic supplements.

Chicory root is a rich source of inulin. Chicory coffee is caffeine free, has a similarly bitter taste to normal coffee.

For lots more information on natural ways to boost your gut flora, including lots of delicious recipes that incorporate fermented foods, take a look at our Ultimate Candida Diet treatment program. Rebalancing your gut flora can improve your digestion, heal your gut, and improve your energy levels.

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