Since our kombucha kit launch a few weeks back, I’ve been slowly making my way down the long and windy rabbit hole of probiotics. Probiotics are living bacteria that are beneficial to our health, often in relation to the digestive system. While we’re naturally trained to be afraid of bacteria, there’s no need to fear here! Probiotic bacteria are with us all the time, promote better gut health, and often make us feel better. In short, probiotics are necessary and wonderful.
When we launched, I’d known that certain foods like yogurt and kombucha were probiotics, but had absolutely no idea what else might be classified as such. Here are the nine that surprised the hell out of me:
1. Dark Chocolate
Yeah, I did a double take with this one too, but it’s blissfully true. Besides being an anti-inflammatory and promoter of healthy blood flow, dark chocolate can also improve the microbiome in your gut, promoting better digestion and an overall healthier GI tract. In fact, the reason the fermented chocolate creates its anti-inflammatory and probiotic reactions is from it's difficulty to digest, giving the probiotics in your gut time to break down and convert the chocolate into helpful vitamins and compounds. This makes chocolate not a probiotic, but a prebiotic (essentially excellent food for the probiotics in your gut). But don’t reach for the Hershey bar just yet...to receive these health benefits, you’ll need to have dark chocolate that’s over 70% cacao, and completely organic.
Tangy, salty AND healthy? Brilliant. Despite what the name might suggest, some pickles aren’t just pickled, they’re fermented too! That said, if you’re looking to get probiotic benefits out of your pickles, you’ll have to make sure they’re non-pasteurized (usually that means homemade). But that’s not a problem! DIY pickles are super easy to make and cost you almost nothing. Get homesteading!
Microwhat? Believe it or not, microalgae (blue-green water dwelling algae) like Spirulina is nearly a complete vegan protein that you can consume. Not only does it stimulate healthy bacteria in the gut, it also boasts a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids to help energize your body. That said, its taste does pack a punch, so make sure to add no more than ¼ teaspoon to your morning smoothie to avoid creating a “tepid lake” off-flavor...unless that’s your jam...no judgement.
Sauerkraut actually gets it’s tangy flavor from the same bacteria (lactobacillus) that helps ferment homemade pickles. Similarly, sauerkraut shouldn’t be pasteurized if you want to keep the probiotics alive and well. And, if you really want to keep it healthy, maybe reach for that tofu dog instead of the hot dog to put it on.
5. Cheddar Cheese
I found this out a few days ago, made an apocalypse-sized batch of nachos, and quickly realized that it does not in fact work that way. That said, cheddar along with some other soft, heavily aged cheeses will contain some probiotic bacteria. Just remember that cheese does not have a huge amount of probiotics and are quite high in saturated fat...so maybe trade that apocalypse-sized plate of nachos for a smaller one.
6. Fresh Green Peas
Put down those canned peas and pick up the fresh stuff! Peas actually contain a specific probiotic that helps aid your immune system in particular. This bacteria is created from slight fermentation at very low temperatures, giving you these helpful probiotics from the peas even at room temperature.
7. Green Olives
Ah the olive. Fit for anything from bologna to a martini. And all along, a probiotic! Green olives are brined in salt water, which causes them to undergo natural fermentation and form probiotics. The main health benefit from olives is its ability to decrease uncomfortable bloating by adding more healthy gut fauna to your GI tract. I think I’ll have a bologna sandwich and a martini for dinner tonight. Yeah...I sort of grew up.
8. Sourdough Bread
White, Wheat, Marble Rye or Sourdough? Well, now you have your answer. Aside from being delicious (the sour taste in the sourdough is actually from the wild yeast circulating in the air), sourdough bread also boasts many vitamins and minerals not commonly found in other breads. In addition, many of the complex sugars and starches in bread have already been broken down by the yeast, leaving an easy-to-digest sourdough loaf.
Yep. It might not seem like it, especially after all of those horrible Sunday mornings in college clutching your stomach, but beer is technically a probiotic. And while downing a six pack won’t make your stomach feel good, the fermented drink does have offer some great vitamins and minerals. However, most commercial beer will not contain these vitamins and minerals due to rigorous filtering. Just another reason to purchase an unfiltered beer, or start brewing yourself. Small batch beer for the win!