An important job of your immune system is to protect you from harmful bacteria. The beneficial organisms known as probiotics contribute to this effort in a number of ways. In the gut, a robust population of beneficial bacteria can help crowd out harmful bacteria, making it harder for them to thrive. In addition, probiotic bacteria can influence the activity of our own immune cells, regulating inflammation, barrier function, and cell-to-cell signaling.
You can nurture a healthy gut and immune system by consuming probiotic rich foods that contain these beneficial bacteria. Here are six of our favorites:
- Kefir – Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk, causing fermentation to occur. The thick yogurt-like beverage is packed with probiotics and protein (11 grams per cup). Available in the dairy section, Kefir makes a great breakfast on the go or bedtime snack.
- Kombucha – Kombucha originated in China and dates back 2,000 years. It’s made by fermenting sweetened black tea to create a refreshing beverage. You can find it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even brew your own with a Kombucha brewing kit.
- Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is more than a condiment. It is shredded cabbage that has been fermented, fostering the growth of good probiotic bacteria. Look for raw refrigerated varieties as pasteurization can destroy the probiotics.
- Miso – Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that is a thick paste with a very salty and tangy flavor. Miso is typically made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called kojikin. Look for it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store and add it to soups or stews.
- Yogurt – Yogurt is a fermented milk product made from cow’s milk, soy milk or nut milk. It is important to look for the words, “live and active cultures” on the container to ensure a healthy dose of probiotics with each serving.
- Kimchi – Kimchi is a popular Korean side dish served at almost every meal. Made from fermented vegetables, it gets its spicy flavor from garlic, salt, chili peppers, and vinegar. You can add kimchi to soups, sandwiches, or stir-fry. Look for it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store or in an Asian market.