We’re all teeming with bacteria — gross, but true. As it turns out, your digestive tract is filled with bacteria. It’s part of your biological ecosystem — it’s supposed to be there. But some gut bacteria is good, while other types aren’t. Therefore, it’s important to keep as much good bacteria — otherwise known as probiotics –inside you as possible to stay healthy.
You can find this type of bacteria in a variety of foods, too, not just yogurt. In fact, some of the foods you know and love don’t just taste good: They’re also great for your gut.
1. Dark chocolate
This is probably one of the better dessert options out there. Dark chocolate has more health benefits than risks, especially in small amounts. Gut Health Project says, in addition to providing plenty of antioxidants and fiber, it’s also an excellent source of probiotics. But don’t forget, it’s still chocolate — there’s plenty of added sugar packed into even the tiniest square. Try dipping your favorite fruit in dark chocolate to reap the benefits of both when you’re craving something sweet.
2. Green peas
Green peas are a starchy legume with all sorts of health benefits. Each low-calorie pea comes packed with fiber and B vitamins, making them the perfect addition to salads. Their particular strain of probiotics can’t survive at high temperatures, however, so make sure to eat them raw if you’re on a quest to fill your GI tract with good bacteria.
3. Fermented cheese
Cheese lovers, rejoice! Many forms of soft cheeses also contain gut-benefiting bacteria. Surprisingly, cheddar is one of the best sources of probiotics. The Journal of Applied Microbiology discovered good bacteria actually survive the manufacturing and aging process. The same goes for several other types of cheeses, including mozzarella, Gouda, and cottage. Ask for cheddar or mozzarella on your next burger to sneak some good bacteria into your meal.
Probiotics and your immune system
If you’re often home sick or constantly in GI-related discomfort, probiotic foods might be the cure you’re looking for. According to some research, probiotic foods may protect your cells against disease, though it’s important to note this is a very controlled example using individual cells. While, probiotics alone won’t protect you from illness, research suggests they could help prevent digestive-related issues.
And while we’re on the topic of illness, taking antibiotics when you’re sick wipes out both the good and bad bacteria in your system. Fortunately, the Journal of the American Medical Association says probiotics can help relieve it. Consuming probiotic-filled foods while finishing out your prescribed dosage of antibiotics can help restore the healthy bacteria in your body, so eat up.
Pickled cucumbers — more commonly known as pickles — are soaked in a salt and water solution, then left to ferment in their own natural lactic acid bacteria. This process not only gives them their characteristically sour taste, but also packs them full of probiotics. Additionally, pickles are low in calories and fat, making them a perfect mid-afternoon snack or addition to a sandwich or burger at dinnertime. If you’re craving a snack that’s salty, sour and crunchy, a pickle is the perfect choice.
5. Sourdough bread
Fermentation is responsible for many probiotic-filled foods. In general, fermentation in food preparation uses bacteria to break down carbs, and sourdough bread gets its unique taste from this process. The Journal of Applied Microbiology points to a number of possible reasons why the products of fermentation are so good at defending your gut against their harmful antagonists, but it’s still not totally clear. Regardless, sourdough bread is one probiotic-filled food you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
Those who follow a Mediterranean diet already know olives are excellent sources of healthy fats, antioxidants, and iron. Time also notes olives contain a strain of good bacteria that can improve digestion and boost your immunity. Add olives to salads, hummus, or your favorite pasta recipe for even more benefits.
Those olives might help combat digestive disorders, too
According to a review from the journal BioMed Research International, certain types of probiotics can help ease symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases. But this doesn’t mean probiotic foods can treat these kinds of chronic conditions in place of proven methods. However, more research might help explain how a probiotic-rich diet could be used in the future.
Tempeh is a soy-based meat alternative. Soybeans are softened, fermented and then shaped to form tempeh, which you can prepare pretty much any way you would meat. You can put it in your salad, enjoy a meatless tempeh burger, or incorporate it into a soup or stew. Because it’s a soy-based product, tempeh is high in protein and fiber. Because it’s fermented, it also introduces strains of good bacteria into your digestive system.
Are you eating enough probiotics?
Scientists are learning more and more about how bacteria both helps and hurts us. (Research published in Scientific Reports even suggests that the bacteria in your gut could relate to Alzheimer’s disease.) And it’s the same idea with any kind of food: More isn’t always better. Instead of worrying about whether you’re getting enough good bacteria, focus instead on food groups. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy products to supply your digestive system with all the nutrition it needs.
Should you take a probiotic supplement?
Probiotics could be good for your mental health, too. According to the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, certain probiotic supplements might improve symptoms of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s important to remember, however, that supplements are additives, not substitutes. You should be able to get all you need from eating as many probiotic-rich foods as possible.