The importance of good gut health has been receiving more attention lately and for good reasons. By colonizing our guts with “good” bacteria, we can help improve our digestion, enhance our immune system, reduce our risk for contracting disease and even lose weight. An especially important way of achieving these health benefits is including probiotic-rich foods into our diet.
Perhaps the number one food associated with probiotics is yogurt, but vegans choose to reject dairy from their diets for health, environmental and ethical reasons. Plant-based eaters do not have to fear, however, because there are many foods which naturally contain health-boosting microorganisms.
Here are just a few delicious sources of vegan probiotics:
Anyone who has dined at a Japanese restaurant may be familiar with miso soup, a broth containing the fermented soy bean paste that is full of health bacteria for our gut microbiomes. The process of fermentation lends the paste its probiotic qualities and can be enjoyed in many different ways beyond miso soup, including dips and sauces. Those who avoid soy can also reap the benefits through miso made from brown rice, barley or chickpeas.
Tempeh is a probiotic-rich food that can be enjoyed as a main dish. The Indonesian-based patty is made from fermented, whole soy beans and has a distinct nutty flavor. Some preferred ways of preparing tempeh are in smokey strips (for any bacon lovers out there), as tempeh reuben sandwiches, stir-frys or in a breakfast scramble with tons of veggies. Companies have even started creating a hemp-based tempeh and chickpea-based tempeh can be made at home by adventurous chefs.
This classic Eastern European ingredient is packed with probiotics and can be easily made at home through a lactic acid fermentation process. If you prefer store-bought, look for a raw version, as pasteurization can kill off healthy bacteria. Combine sauerkraut with seasoned tempeh and sourdough bread for a probiotic powerhouse meal!
Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is a spicy Korean dish featuring fermented cabbage. The addition of onions, garlic and spicy hot pepper create a fiery combo that is good for stuffed-up sinuses, as well as gut health. Be sure to look out for fish ingredients in store-bought kimchi, or give it a whirl whipping it up in your own kitchen.
This fermented tea beverage has become a super-healthy trend lately, leading to it popping up in supermarkets in cities big and small. Kombucha has been brewed for hundreds of years, but now its popularity has sprung a variety of creative flavor combinations to entice both kids and adults. Brewing kombucha at home is a cinch with the right equipment, including a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), tea and sugar. This health-promoting beverage is a great alternative to juice or your morning tea.
Vegan yogurts and kefir
Yogurt can be both dairy-free and packed with probiotic properties, and the variety of vegan yogurts at grocery stores has exploded over the years. Many coconut-based, soy-based, hemp-based and almond-based yogurts contain the same healthy bacteria as their cow’s milk counterparts, and you can even make your own plant-based yogurt at home! Kefir, typically made from fermented animal milk, has also been veganized and can be whipped up at home.
You might be surprised to learn that olives, fermented and then cured with brine, have a serious probiotic potential. The curing process allows these healthy cultures to multiply, making these salty bites a gut-healthy garnish for your salads, pizzas and pastas.
An easy swap to boost your meal’s probiotic punch is opting for sourdough bread instead of regular old wheat. This hearty bread is made with a fermentation process, using sourdough starter, and takes longer than other varieties to bake. The tart taste adds zing to any sandwich or morning avocado toast.
Another sandwich topper or salty side dish containing health-promoting bacteria is sour pickles. Made using lacto-fermentation, good bacteria are allowed to flourish in these crunchy cucumber morsels. Like olives, keep an eye on salt intake and, like most other foods on this list, you can make your own pickles easily at home.
Supplementing your diet with probiotic capsules is always an option to make sure your system gets a boost of beneficial bacteria. Some capsules contain gelatin, so look out for this animal-based ingredient and the presence of dairy ingredients.