Probiotics are live microorganisms that live in your body, they’re a natural part of your gut flora where they form a good relationship with the rest of your stomach. They’re often called ‘good’ bacteria as they help keep you and your body healthy.
With more doctors recommending the use of probiotics in treatments of some gastro illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), we wanted to show you which plant-based meals can help. Keep reading to find our list of vegan probiotics to promote a healthy gut.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
You can find probiotics and prebiotics in most foods in your kitchen. Prebiotics come from foods that your body doesn’t digest naturally, like fibre. These are then broken down by probiotics in your gut.
It’s essential to maintain a good balance of probiotics and prebiotics in your regular diet to make sure your body stays healthy. Some foods that contain prebiotics include:
- Beans and peas
- Jerusalem artichokes
Sources of Vegan Probiotics
Many vegan probiotics are found in fermented foods, this process is what helps promote the growth of healthy bacteria and keeps them thriving in these conditions. Keep your eye on active and inactive ingredients when you’re buying from a shop as some probiotic sources can contain animal or dairy products. And always remember if you’re going to eat fermented foods that they’re unpasteurised, as the process kills bacteria and their probiotic nature.
Keep reading to find our list of vegan probiotic sources...
Vegan Yoghurt or Milk
Like dairy yoghurt and milk, plant-based versions use a fermentation process that creates a natural bacteria. Many of the products widely available will tell you if they contain probiotics, but you can look out for specific ranges which promote a healthy gut. Most soy or nut milks and yoghurts available on the market are rich in probiotic nutrients.
Vegan supplements are an easy way to bring probiotics into your diet as you can take them as part of any mealtime. Fushi’s Vegan Biotic Balance is a blend of nutrients and vitamins and contains similar strains of probiotics that you can find in kefir. It promotes a healthy gut and helps with the main functions of your immune system.
This tangy, sour food is extremely rich in probiotics and potassium, as well as vitamins C and K. Sauerkraut is traditionally associated with Germany for its use with hotdogs, but has been consumed in China for hundreds of years.
It’s a food that you can make easily at home with cabbage, salt and a mason jar. During the fermentation process, the bacteria on the cabbage converts its sugars into lactic acid, which creates the distinctive flavour. Add this food to sandwiches, salads, or eat it straight out the jar!
Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is a cabbage dish that is easily made at home. The main point of difference between this Korean staple and sauerkraut is the amount of spices added to the fermentation process. So if you don’t mind the heat, add it to fried rice, stir fries and plenty of savoury dishes. Always remember to be careful with shop-bought or restaurant kimchi, as some of them can contain seafood.
A common snack in most Mediterranean diets, olives have a variety of health benefits, including antiinflammatory properties and the reduction of oxidative stress. A study into the benefits of Nocellara (or Sicillian) olives found that eating 12 of them a day for a month saw an increase in muscle mass and a higher provision of Lactobacilli, a healthy bacteria which acts as a probiotic. The study concludes that they’re an inexpensive and accessible route to body longevity. You can find them in most UK supermarkets.
A form of fermented soybean that is unique in Japanese food culture, natto is generally eaten with rice thanks to its sticky texture. It’s gluten-free, rich in a variety of minerals, vitamins, fibre and proteins. Natto has been found to improve bone, heart and skin health and strength.
A study into the benefits of natto found that one gram of this fermented bean contains as many probiotics as a full serving of other probiotic-rich foods and supplements, making it extremely beneficial for your gut health.
PIckling vegetables in brine will make a probiotic-rich side dish or snack, you can do this with nearly any vegetable on the market. For extra flavour in your jar, you can add garlic, chilli coriander seeds and bay leaves to your pickled veg.
Try to enjoy these foods in moderation, although they contain plenty of nutrients, they also have a very high sodium count. Here are some of the more popular options for probiotic pickled vegetables:
- Green beans
- Red bell peppers
Although it may seem like a daunting task, the key things to remember if you want to pickle vegetables at home are:
- Evenly cut ingredients - Although you can generally pickle any vegetable you want from the fridge or cupboard, it helps to have all the ingredients the same size so they ferment at the same rate.
- Brine - Everything in your jar needs to be covered in salt water once they’re packed in together.
- All of them submerged - If your vegetables are exposed to oxygen, this will stop the lacto-fermentation process from working and you’ll see mould appear on your pickles. Keep everything submerged at all times by weighing down your ingredients or covering them with a cabbage leaf!
A Japanese staple that is full of nutrients including antioxidants and B-vitamins, Miso also reportedly contains around 160 bacterias. This salty, fermented soybean paste can be used in sauces, marinades, dressings and in delicious miso soup.
Miso paste is available in a huge number of varieties which contain different ingredients and are made with varying fermentation times and fermentation conditions. Red miso is salty and pungent, while white (light) miso is sweeter because the shorter fermentation time allows for more sugar to remain. Always remember to cook with a low temperature when using miso as too much heat will burn off the beneficial bacteria.
Another soybean product, tempeh contains a high amount of proteins, B-vitamins, calcium and iron. Its salty qualities make it an excellent bacon substitute, but you can eat it in sandwiches, salads and stir fries.
The main point of difference between tempeh and other soy foods like tofu is the fermentation process which makes it high in probiotic content. Where tofu is made with bean curds from cooked soy milk, tempeh is a soybean product, which means it keeps the majority of its nutritional value during fermentation. It also contains more healthy unsaturated fats than tofu, making it a good source of vegan fat.
Amazake is a sweet, cloudy milk-like drink that has been served for thousands of years as part of traditional Japanese culture. Vaguely translated from Japanese as ‘sweet sake’, this drink contains little to no alcohol, but does have many probiotic benefits thanks to the fermentation process of the rice it comes from.
It has been described as a ‘drinkable IV-drip’, it has been known to help with skin problems, hangovers, upset stomachs, constipation and indigestion. The probiotics in amazake also mean that it maintains healthy gut flora. It can be used as a sweetener, or as an alternative to milk for baking and baby food.
A drink that comes from the Turkish word ‘keif’, which means ‘good feeling’. Kefir is traditionally made with goat, sheep or cow’s milk, but water kefir is fermented, carbonated and made from water kefir grains. It offers a huge variety of bacterias and yeast, which makes it a better source of probiotics than yoghurts.
It’s made with a fermentation process that can be completed at home in around 48 hours. If you’re looking to bring water kefir into your diet you may suffer some mild cramps and constipation when you first drink it, but these side effects should settle after a few days.
Some store-bought sourdoughs are made without the fermentation process, which means they don’t contain probiotics. But the traditional version contains a sourdough starter, which is a combination of flour and water which has been fermented for several days.
You can regularly ‘feed’ your sourdough starter to use it over and over whenever you make a fresh, homemade batch of bread. This is the ingredient which gives sourdough its distinctively delightful mildly sour flavour, as well as a dose of gut-friendly probiotics. Eat it freshly-sliced covered in plant-based butter or as a luxurious sandwich.
This Japanese fermented rice wine is rich in probiotics, its benefits include being high in antioxidants, promotion of healthy skin and containing antibacterial properties. The staple of fermented rice has been eaten and drunk in Asian countries for centuries and its cleansing benefits keep our bodies away from harmful germs and in a balanced state.
This recently popularised drink is made from green and black tea which is fermented with sugar and yeast. It has a sweet and mildly acidic taste, and is made using a fermentation colony called a SCOBY (symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeasts). After a few weeks, the SCOBY consumes most of the sugar in the kombucha and leaves behind acetic acid, active enzymes, polyphenols, and vitamin C.
You can buy a SCOBY to make kombucha at home, but it is also readily available in most nutritional shops and supermarkets. Remember that this drink contains a low level of alcohol, with some containing enough to classify them as beer. This can make kombucha inappropriate for pregnant people or anyone who is breastfeeding.
A traditional Eastern European fermented drink that’s generally made with rye bread. The beetroot variety is extremely rich in probiotics thanks to the lacto-fermentation process when it’s being made.
It contains bacteria which have been found to reduce the symptoms of IBS. While it is full of benefits to your body, many professionals recommend the following advice when you start to regularly consume fermented drinks as part of your diet:
- Start with one teaspoon (or its equivalent) of fermented food or drink per day.
- If you have no adverse reactions like bloating or stomach pain, you can add a little more each day
- To help with digestion, consumer fermented food or drink before each meal
- Once your body has adjusted to a fermented diet, you can move to around 250g of food or two cups of drink per day.