Probiotic foods and drinks contain beneficial microorganisms that can have a positive effect on your health when you eat or drink them in sufficient quantities. These health benefits happen because the friendly microorganisms can help to prevent or treat some of the adverse health conditions that harmful microorganisms in your digestive tract can cause. Some scientists believe they do this by colonizing and taking over your intestinal tract at the expense of the populations of harmful microorganisms. You can think of it as being sort of like a battle taking place inside your body where the good guys and the bad guys fight it out for supremacy of your intestinal tract. If the good guys win, they limit the concentrations of the pathogenic, harmful microorganisms, therefore rendering the “bad guys” less able to work their harmful acts of destruction in your body. At times when the “bad guys” are winning, it can result in numerous health problems.
If you’re interested in improving your health or your child’s, probiotic foods and drinks can help you to accomplish that in numerous ways. Scientific research shows that probiotics can reduce the risks of childhood obesity, support the immune system , improve symptoms of autism and ADHD and provide numerous other health benefits. Here are 22 probiotic foods and drinks that may be able to help you accomplish these benefits; note that we recommend consuming only the ORGANIC versions of these foods and drinks:
1. Organic Kefir
Kefir is a fermented dairy beverage that is similar to a drinkable yogurt, although sometimes it can have a quality that seems sort of fizzy. Carbonation is not typical of ordinary yogurt; so if you’re used to eating yogurt, the fizziness of kefir can seem a little alarming until you get used to it.
Kefir comes in plain and a variety of fruit flavors including strawberry, blueberry and peach. It is typically made with kefir grains in addition to the fermented milk. It is also possible to make this type of beverage without dairy ingredients. Coconut kefir is a variation that’s made with fermented coconut milk instead of cow’s milk or goat’s milk.
Pictured Here: Lifeway’s Organic Kefir — Lifeway’s organic kefir offers 10 different strains of live organisms including lactobacillus reuteri and bifidobacterium lactis.
2. Organic Yogurt
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that incorporates lactic acid bacteria. Strains present in some yogurts can include streptococcus salivarius, subsp thermophilus, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii, subsp bulgaricus, among many others.
If you choose to consume yogurt, it’s wise to be picky about which yogurt you eat. For starters, some yogurts are processed in such a way that the beneficial probiotics do not survive. For that reason, you’ll want to search the label for language that indicates the product includes live active cultures.
Another problem: Some yogurts are loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners, preservatives or other numerous undesirable ingredients. These should be avoided.
Dr. Mercola recommends making your own yogurt , which is one way you can be sure of avoiding undesirable ingredients. We’ve found that sticking to plain organic yogurts minimizes the problems with problematic ingredients.
If you want a sweet yogurt without the hassle of making it all from scratch, you can compromise by choosing a high-quality, plain organic yogurt and then blending it in the blender with delicious, sweet fresh fruits such as ripe organic bananas and oranges. Other fruit combinations can also work well; if you use fruit that is more tart than sweet, you may wish to add a small amount of organic honey, organic maple syrup or organic stevia. Organic honey has prebiotic properties and will help to feed your good bacteria, according to Rodale’s Organic Life.
3. Organic Miso
Miso paste is a fermented Japanese ingredient that can be made from soy, barley or rice. Most people think of it as being a base for making flavorful soups. You can do some other creative things with it as well, including incorporating it into salad dressings and dips. Miso is a good source of Lactobacillus acidophilus microorganisms, which are noteworthy for supporting digestive health and immunity.
Some brands of miso can have have high sodium content; if sodium levels are of concern to you, be conscious of how much is present in the miso products you’re consuming.
4. Homemade Pickles
When you take cucumbers and ferment them with salt, water and lactic acid bacteria, you get pickles.
If you don’t want to make your own homemade pickles, Dr. Axe recommends seeking out raw, organic, locally-made, salted gherkin pickles as an outstanding source of probiotics. Look for pickles in the refrigerated section of your health food store bearing a label that proclaims the product has “live and active cultures”.
Experts believe that pasteurization of pickles kills any beneficial microorganisms that may have been present; since store-bought pickles sold in jars are typically pasteurized, don’t expect these to be a good source of probiotics. Commercially jarred cucumbers pickled in vinegar brine also tend to not be a good source of probiotics.
Pickles can have high sodium content. If you’re making your own pickles, be sure to choose a high quality, mineral-rich salt; avoid salts with chemical anti-caking agents. If you’re buying pickles, be conscious of the amount of sodium and unwanted salt additives you’re consuming.
5. Raw, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
Expert opinion seems to be divided about whether apple cider vinegar is a probiotic or not. I found several sources claiming that it is not and several sources that claim that it is. I’ve been unable to verify the claims either way, but I believe that it is, indeed, a probiotic.
It seems likely to me that the confusion probably comes about because RAW, organic apple cider vinegar IS a probiotic, and pasteurized apple cider vinegar is NOT a probiotic.
Here’s why I’ve formulated the opinion that raw, organic apple cider vinegar most likely does contain beneficial microorganisms:
If you’re soaking some stained laundry in a bucket, and you accidentally leave it there too long, it will typically get stinky and mildewy. All you have to do is add some raw, organic apple cider vinegar to the stinky bucket and leave it there for about half an hour; then rinse and wash it as usual, and the odor will usually be gone. If it was a particularly bad case of mildew, you might have to repeat the entire process — adding vinegar, then rinsing and washing again. Clearly, there is something beneficial in the apple cider vinegar that defeats the mildewy microbes. My guess would be that the apple cider vinegar contains beneficial microorganisms that are able to overpower the mildewy ones in the laundry.
According to multiple sources, apple cider vinegar is definitely a prebiotic; so, it is also possible that the smell goes away because the apple cider vinegar feeds beneficial microorganisms that are already present in the laundry water. However, it seems less likely to me that this is actually what is going on with my laundry.
To me, the distinction hardly matters. The end result is that the apple cider vinegar stimulates beneficial microbial activity that saves my laundry from smelling disgusting.
For sure, raw, organic apple cider vinegar will feed your beneficial intestinal bacteria when you consume it. It is also likely that raw, organic apple cider vinegar is a source of beneficial intestinal bacteria as well.
6. Raw Kimchi
Kimchi is a flavorful fermented dish of Korean origin. There are zillions of different ways to make it — sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet. Cabbage is typically a main ingredient. The spicy versions typically incorporate hot chili peppers.
Some experts tell us that you’ll want to avoid buying the pasteurized versions of kimchi and instead opt for it raw to ensure you’re getting beneficial probiotic content. This might mean you’ll have to make your own. Dr. Mercola posted a free kimchi recipe you can use at his website.
Various studies attest to the health benefits of kimchi. In one noteworthy clinical trial, researchers demonstrated that kimchi consumption could improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The researchers also remarked that kimchi was an immune stimulant and had beneficial anti-aging, anti-tumor, and anti-obesity properties as well as numerous other beneficial properties.
7. Raw Sauerkraut
This sour-tasting German dish consists of cabbage fermented with salt and lactic acid bacteria. Again, some experts advise us to avoid buying pasteurized sauerkraut at the grocery store, as they believe the pasteurization process kills the friendly flora you’re trying to consume.
Kombucha is a fizzy fermented tea drink that can have a mildly intoxicating effect on some people who drink it. It comes in a variety of flavors, many of which have low sugar content. Kombucha can sometimes be a good source of probiotics if unfermented; you need to drink it raw to get the probiotic benefits.
9. Fresh, Raw Green Peas
Who knew that fresh, raw green peas are an important source of beneficial probiotics? Japanese researchers set out to determine which probiotics had mucosal barrier enhancing properties. They demonstrated that green peas contain a strain of these microbes, which are called leuconostoc mesenteroides . Their research also revealed that the microbes survive the digestive process.
Canned peas are not a good source of these probiotics; you need to ingest fresh, raw peas to obtain these beneficial microorganisms.
10. Raw Cheese
Truly raw cheese is freely available in countries around the world — but it is hard to find in the USA, for all the reasons explained in a fascinating Food and Wine article called why American’s don’t get to eat delicious raw milk cheese. Complicating the issue, because of a loophole in the law, some cheeses are incorrectly (but legally) labeled as raw, even if they have been heated.
Organic Pastures makes truly raw cheese that’s readily available at California health food stores and some other stores around the USA. Outside the USA, raw cheese tends to be easier to find. If you ever have the opportunity to take a vacation in France, be sure to take advantage of the broad availability of amazing raw milk cheeses.
11. Brine-Cured Olives
Most store-bought olives are useless as probiotic sources — particularly canned olives. If you are lucky enough to find olives fermented in salt and water with live, active cultures of lactobacillus bacteria, those are the kind that are ideal for consuming as a source of probiotics.
12. Raw, Unpasteurized Pickled Ginger
Pickled ginger is one of the flavorful condiments that comes with sushi. To get the best probiotic benefits from this dish, you may have to either seek out an establishment where a knowledgeable sushi chef works or make it yourself; the pickled ginger you get from the grocery store is usually pasteurized.
13. Organic Tempeh
Tempeh is a fermented soy product you’d be most likely to find at Asian markets, health food stores and specialty grocers. It makes an interesting and flavorful addition to vegetable and rice dishes. Many vegetarians and vegans eat tempeh as a meat substitute; it is well known for being a vegan source of vitamin B12. If you decide to consume tempeh, we recommend always buying it organic.
14. Organic, Unpasteurized Soy Sauce
Soy sauce varies dramatically in quality and price. The cheap, lower quality soy sauces are not worth buying; they are made using an acid hydrolyzation process instead of the traditional fermentation process. Their ingredient lists prominently feature salt, artificial flavors and artificial colors.
If you can find a traditionally fermented, organic, unpasteurized soy sauce from Japan, that’s the type of soy sauce you want to buy.
15. Organic Natto
Natto is a strong-tasting Japanese dish that tends to be distasteful to the western palate and is therefore hard to find in American grocery stores. It is made from soybeans that are fermented with Bacillus subtilis microorganisms.
Natto tends to have high sodium content, so keep an eye on the amounts you’re consuming to avoid getting too much sodium.
This is a traditional fermented rye or barley beverage of Eastern European origin. This grain-based drink in its original form is not a Paleo-friendly menu item, but Paleo diet enthusiasts have made their own versions of the drink using beets, carrots and / or fruits.
17. Fermented Chlorella
Chlorella is a green microalgae that people often use as a dietary supplement. It is best known as a vegan-friendly source of vitamins B12 and other B-complex vitamins, as well as a nutritious power house packed with essential amino acids, minerals and nutrients including iron, zinc, magnesium, beta-carotene, potassium, phosphorous, biotin and vitamin A. It is a potent detoxifier and can help rid your body of unwanted mercury and other heavy metals.
What many people don’t realize is that chlorella can also have probiotic properties when it is fermented. It is not always processed this way, so you cannot assume that all chlorella will give you probiotic benefits. Look for chlorella purveyors that specifically make the claim that their product is both organic and fermented / contains live active cultures.
18. Fermented Spirulina
Spirulina is another algae that is similar to chlorella and contains a rich array of different nutrients. Like chlorella, it is not always fermented; if you are interested in spirulina as a probiotic, you’ll want to look for fermented spirulina whose maker specifically indicates it is organic and fermented / contains live active cultures.
19. Organic Coconut Aminos
Coconut aminos are made from the fermented sap of coconut blossoms. This liquid can be used as a condiment in much the same way that soy sauce is, although it is milder in flavor. It’s also an excellent salad dressing.
I’m not 100 percent certain that coconut aminos belong on this list of probiotic foods. I was unable to find any scientific testing regarding which beneficial probiotic strains these products contain. As far as I can tell, the probiotic claims come primarily from sellers of the products and enthusiasts who use them. While it is likely that the probiotic claims are probably true, it is also possible that they may be overstated. One purveyor makes the claim that their coconut aminos product contains FOS probiotics — but it appears to me, after researching the topic, that FOS, which is short for fructooligosaccharides, is actually a prebiotic rather than a probiotic.
Regardless, I have tried two different brands of coconut aminos, and I think the products are worthwhile. Until it becomes clearer which and how many probiotic strains are found in the products, I wouldn’t recommend relying on coconut aminos as a sole source of probiotics — but the truth is, I wouldn’t recommend relying on any of these foods or drinks as a sole source. I think it’s smart to eat and drink a huge variety of them — which is why I researched and compiled the most comprehensive list of probiotic foods and drinks I was able to.
In my experience, coconut aminos are a good substitute for soy sauce, particularly if you are unwilling to pay the high price for traditionally fermented, organic, unpasteurized soy sauce from Japan, which at our current local health food store costs around $30 per bottle.
20. Coconut Vinegar
The primary ingredient in coconut vinegar is the aged and fermented sap of coconut flowers. This product is aged for at least 8 months, which makes the probiotic claims made by its purveyors and enthusiasts seem plausible to me.
21. Coconut Wine, Also Known as Tuba in the Philippines and Mnazi in Kenya
Coconut wine is an alcoholic beverage that’s made by fermenting the sugary sap tapped from coconut trees. People drink coconut wine in countries around the world including Kenya, the Philippines and many others. Researchers from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology have studied coconut wine from Kenya in hopes of better understanding its probiotic qualities. They published their findings in the International Journal of Life Sciences Research . Through their research, they determined that 15 different strains of lactic acid bacteria in the coconut wine survived the digestive process intact and had beneficial probiotic properties.
The alcohol content in this beverage is sufficient to make it a potent intoxicant; this means that, if you choose to consume coconut wine, you’ll want to do so in moderation to avoid overburdening your liver. If you have liver problems or other major health problems, it’s best to avoid consuming alcoholic beverages — choose other probiotic foods and drinks from this list until you’re able to heal.
22. Dark Chocolate
High-quality dark chocolate is a delicious prebiotic treat. Apparently, some chocolate purveyors are also fortifying their products with probiotics. From the reading I’ve done so far, it is not entirely clear to me whether dark chocolate would have probiotic properties without this fortification; this is a topic that warrants further research.
Regardless, chocolate is another food you need to be picky about, because there are many possible unwanted ingredients that manufacturers often add to dark chocolate. The first is ingredient you need to beware of is excessive amounts of sugar. Sugar is notorious for feeding the bad bacteria in your intestines, which can nullify the probiotic effect you’re aiming for. You also want to avoid soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier that chocolate makers frequently add to dark chocolate bars, chocolate chips and chocolate candies. There are numerous reasons to avoid non-fermented soy products — including soy lecithin — even if they are organically grown. See can soy damage your health? at Dr. Mercola’s website for more details about the problems with soy lecithin and other non-fermented soy ingredients.
Many of the spokespeople in the Paleo Diet movement recommend consuming sugar-free dark chocolate in moderation.
If you’re interested in boosting your levels of beneficial bacteria, these are the foods and drinks you should consider consuming to help with that goal. Incorporating these into your diet on a regular basis is likely to result in the same types of health benefits discovered by the researchers in the scientific studies I’ve linked to from this article.
Be aware that experts have noted that enzyme activity in the gastrointestinal tract may also be responsible for some of the benefits that people attribute to probiotics; it is not always readily evident to researchers whether good results derive from probiotic or enzyme activities. Therefore, enzyme activity is another topic that is worth researching if you are interested in optimizing your health levels.
Important Disclaimer: I’m a journalist and researcher, not a medical doctor or scientist (although my father is a licensed American Medical Association doctor who holds an MD degree, and my mother is a microbiologist who spent most of her career working for the US government; she devoted her career to scientific research on various topics relating to the healing of disease. My opinions are heavily influenced by my parents’ life’s work and the things they have taught me over the years, but the opinions stated here are entirely my own — backed by the research sources linked here and my own observations).
The information in this article is offered for general, educational purposes. The findings in this article are not to be construed as specific medical advice. If you are in need of medical advice for treating a specific disease or condition, you have not found it; the contents of this article are not intended to substitute for specific advice from a qualified medical professional that is relevant to your unique situation.
What I’ve attempted to do here is link you up with the various scientific and medical research, studies, expert (and perhaps sometimes not-so-expert) opinions including those from medical and naturopathic doctors, educators and other findings that are available. What you do with this information is your responsibility. If you would like more details about the origins of the information found in this article, I have documented all my sources via links embedded in the text of the article and the reference section posted below (originally accessed 12/2/2017 – 12/4/2017):
- At the National Institutes of Health Website — Probiotics and prebiotics: a brief overview
- At the National Institutes of Health Website: — Strains and species of lactic acid bacteria in fermented milks (yogurts): effect on in vivo lactose digestion
- At the National Institutes of Health Website — Immunomodulating activity of exopolysaccharide-producing Leuconostoc mesenteroides strain NTM048 from green peas
- At the National Institutes of Health Website — Dietary fructooligosaccharides and potential benefits on health
- At Dr. Axe’s Website — 13 Great probiotic foods you should be eating
- At the Clean Cuisine Website — Foods containing prebiotics and probiotics
- At Dr. Mercola’s Website — 11 Super healthy probiotic foods
- At the Eat and Drink Better Website — Move over yogurt: These 10 probiotic rich foods are even better
- At the Eat This, Not That Website — Best probiotic foods
- At the Rodale’s Organic Life Website — Probiotic Foods
- At the Berkeley Wellness Website — Why we love fermented foods
- At the Cleveland Clinic Website — Keeping your digestive tract healthy
- At the LivestrongWebsite — Is apple cider vinegar a probiotic?
- At the Livestrong Website — The benefits of apple cider vinegar
- At the Beat Candida Website — Top 16 foods containing probiotics
- At Dr. Axe’s Website — Coconut aminos
- At the Nick’s Fit Website — The top 10 best probiotic foods
- At the Daily Burn Website — Coconut vinegar probiotic benefits
- At the Coconut Secret Website — Tapping the sap
- At the Researchgate Website — Probiotic Potential Of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated From Coconut (Cocos Nucifera) Wine (Mnazi) In Kenya
- At the Website — 6 surprising health benefits of coconut wine
- At Dr. Axe’s Website — 7 Proven benefits and side effects of chlorella
- At the Yurielkaim Website — Foods rich in probiotics
- At Dr. Mercola’s Website — Chlorella is one of nature’s most powerful detoxification tools
- At the WebMD Website — Fructo-oligosaccharides overview information
- At Dr. Pearlmutter’s Website — Brain-maker foods
- At Jon Barron’s Website — The probiotic miracle