Probiotics are the friendly bacteria taking up residence in our digestive tracts. They do a lot of important work for keeping our guts–and our immune systems–healthy and balanced.
Many people who suffer from IBS find daily probiotic intake to be helpful, and it’s also especially useful in the treatment of diarrhea, whether caused by antibiotic use or infection. Probiotics are also helpful for oral and vaginal health, and some research shows them to be effective for some skin conditions, such as eczema.
What’s the best way to get probiotics on a plant-based diet?
Fear not, you can totally skip the yogurt aisle! Although fermented dairy is traditionally a great source of probiotics, there are many plant-based probiotics that you can buy or even make at home.
Making a batch of lacto-fermented vegetables will provide a good amount of plant-based probiotics for your diet. These really couldn’t be easier to make at home–simply pack a clean jar with hard vegetables of your choice (carrots, radishes, beets, cauliflower, etc) and cover with a salt-water brine. Cover and leave at room temperature to ferment until bubbly and funky smelling, and you’re good to go!
Any Sauerkraut lovers in the house? This Eastern-European lacto-fermented cabbage is loaded with vitamin C, many B-vitamins, and is incredibly rich in probiotics. In fact, some studies have shown that drinking a tablespoon of liquid from a jar of sauerkraut would provide more probiotics than a supplement would.
Make sure you seek out natural, unpasteurized sauerkraut when possible. If it’s a jar of shelf-stable sauerkraut in the supermarket, odds are it’s been pasteurized which would destroy most, if not all, of the beneficial bacteria. You can also easily make sauerkraut at home and reap the probiotic benefits.
Kimchi, sauerkraut’s Korean cousin, combines cabbage with other seasonings for a spicy fermented vegetable dish loaded with probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants. Many traditional kimchi recipes contain fish or seafood, so vegetarians should beware. Like sauerkraut, kimchi is easy to make at home, and that way you’ll know for sure what the ingredients are. If not, keep an eye out for vegan brands.
You may have heard of dairy-based kefir, but did you know it can also be made from water or coconut water? This probiotic beverage is similar to kombucha, made using a ‘mother’ starter of kefir grains, which contain beneficial bacteria and yeasts, together with a little bit of sugar, and some dried fruit to feed the bacteria and provide flavor.
This fermented black tea drink has been on trend for the past couple of years, and with good reason: kombucha is a probiotic superstar! With a refreshing sour and fizzy taste, kombucha is a great source of plant-based gut-friendly bacteria.
Although kombucha is very slightly alcoholic (usually around 0.3% or less), it’s totally safe to drink during pregnancy, and provides great benefits. In addition to probiotics, kombucha is also rich in vitamin B12 and antioxidants. Most health foods stores carry either home-brewed or reliable kombucha brands, but it’s also easy to brew your own at home.
Fermented soy foods are also a great source of plant-based probiotics. Miso is a traditional Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans, usually combined with either barley or rice. Miso is also rich in vitamin K, B6, and zinc. Be careful to not overheat miso when you’re cooking with it, as the heat can destroy the sensitive microorganisms. A gentle heat is recommended. Try it in this flavorful salad dressing!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Turns out that all those people who swear by starting their day with a shot of apple cider vinegar are on to something! Unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar that contains “the mother” is rich in probiotics. Taking 1-2 teaspoons daily well-diluted in a glass of water (otherwise it’s far too acidic and can wreak havoc on your digestive system and your teeth!) is a great way to get a daily dose of plant-based probiotics.
Tempeh is fermented soy food that hails from Indonesia. Rather than lacto-fermentation, tempeh is fermented with the mold Rhizopus oligosporus in a process similar to cheese-making. The fermentation of soy foods makes them easier to digest, and also makes nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron are more bio available than in non-fermented soy products like tofu.
The color of tempeh may vary a bit, and black or dark blue spots are totally fine but it should have no evidence of pink, yellow or blue coloration–a sign that it has become overly fermented. Tempeh also shouldn’t be eaten uncooked–always steam, bake, or fry it before tasting. Try adding it to a stir fry or crumbling it as a filling for tacos or lettuce wraps.7