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5 Probiotic-Rich Foods To Eat Instead Of Taking Supplements

Medically reviewed by 
5 Probiotic-Rich Foods To Eat Instead Of Taking Supplements

Your bowels host an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms from more than 300 different species of bacteria and are unique to you, just like your fingerprints.

Probiotics work by balancing those microorganisms and increasing good bacteria.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are made from friendly bacteria and yeast that naturally live within your body. We always have a combination of good and bad bacteria in our microbiome. Keeping good bacteria balanced can help eliminate the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

You can get probiotics from supplements, as well as from foods prepared by bacterial fermentation.

Research published by the American College of Gastroenterology indicates that particular strains of probiotics may:

  • Aid digestion
  • Prevent diarrhea
  • Ease vaginal infections
  • Prevent autoimmune diseases
  • Ease skin ailments
  • Fend off urinary infections

Probiotic Supplements

The most commonly prescribed probiotics on the market are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.

Other common beneficial probiotics are Saccharomyces and Bacillus.

Each probiotic species has been found to address different types of health conditions. Therefore, choosing the right kinds of probiotics for your specific needs is essential.


This species of bacteria is commonly used in foods and supplements. They are used to:

  • Support the immune system
  • Limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine
  • Help in breaking down lactose into nutrients the body can use

Bifidobacteria Animalis

Found in some yogurts and probiotic strains. It helps with immunity, digestion, and fighting food-borne bacteria.

Bifidobacteria Breve

Found in the digestive tract and the vagina. In both places, it fights off infection-causing bacteria or yeast. It can help your body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars. It also breaks down plant fibers to make them more digestible.

Bifidobacteria Longum

Found in the digestive tract. It helps break down carbohydrates and also can be an antioxidant.


This species of bacteria produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose (milk sugar.) These bacteria also produce lactic acid. Lactic acid can help control the population of harmful bacteria and can increase the body’s absorption of minerals.

Lactobacillus Acidophilus

Found in the small intestine and the vagina. It can also be found in many yogurts and fermented soy products. It aids digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria.

Lactobacillus Plantarum

Help support general digestive wellness, including nutrient absorption.

Other Probiotics to Look For

Saccharomyces Boulardii

A yeast species that enhances the immune function in the gut by increasing sIgA, the first-line defense immunoglobulin of the gastrointestinal tract. It is often prescribed for patients with IBS-Diarrhea.  

Bacillus Clausii

Used to support general immune health.

Probiotic-Rich Foods

Instead of adding bacteria from supplements, you may want to increase your beneficial bacteria with nutrition. Remember, our ancestors didn’t have probiotic supplements, but they did have access to plenty of foods to help balance their gut microbiome.

There are many probiotic-rich foods out there. This is a just a small list of the most commonly know. These foods are made by adding in bacteria to help with the fermentation process.


To provide gut benefits, experts suggest that a yogurt needs to fulfill two requirements:

  1. Provide over 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of probiotics per serving.
  2. Contain probiotic strains that can survive the acidic conditions of the human gut; not all do.

If you are using yogurt as a probiotic, look for these strains:

  • Bifidobacterium Bifidum
  • Bifidobacterium Lactis
  • Lactobacillus Acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus Reuteri
  • Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
  • Saccharomyces boulardii


Sauerkraut (aka "sour cabbage") was invented to preserve cabbage before there were refrigeration methods. Sauerkraut is made by mixing shredded fresh cabbage and salt and pressing down on the mixture, which releases water and causes fermentation.

Note: Most canned sauerkraut has been pasteurized, which kills off the good bacteria. Purchase fresh sauerkraut (made without vinegar) to reap all the health benefits.

Probiotics Strains in Sauerkraut:

  • Lactobacillus Brevis
  • Lactobacillus Plantarum


Fermented pickles are prepared with brine, not vinegar. Once they are fully fermented, they contain high levels of Lactobacillus.

Fermented pickles are typically found in the refrigerated section because high heat during canning can kill the live strains of probiotics.

Note: Pickles made with vinegar are called "quick" pickles and do not contain live probiotics.

Probiotic Strain in Fermented Pickles:

  • Lactobacillus


Kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables with many bacteria including the probiotic lactic acid bacteria (LAB). LAB becomes the most dominant during fermentation while the other bacteria are suppressed during the salting & fermentation process.

Probiotic Strain in Kimchi:

  • Lactobacillus


Tempeh is a traditional, fermented product made from soybeans that originated in Indonesia. Rhizopus oligosporus fungus strains are used most commonly in the fermentation of tempeh. When consumed fresh higher levels of Bifidobacterium are produced. When the tempeh is cooked, higher levels of Lactobacillus are produced.

Probiotic Strains in Tempeh:

  • Freshly Fermented Tempeh: Higher levels of Bifidobacterium
  • Cooked Tempeh: Higher levels of Lactobacillus

How to Ensure Your Probiotic Will Work

In the United States, probiotic supplements do not require approval before being marketed. As a result, many companies take advantage of the probiotic buzzword to help sell their supplements. So be cautious not to fall for false marketing schemes.

Your best choice is to run your probiotic concerns by your healthcare provider and ask for suggestions. They may be able to recommend foods or products they know to be safe and effective for your exact needs.

If you don’t have access to a health care provider at the time, the guidelines below may help.

Probiotic Guidelines

  • Choose one that shows proof of effectiveness, do your research.
  • A general recommendation is to choose probiotic products with at least 1 billion colony forming units.
  • Store probiotics as the label states (refrigeration, room temperature, etc.)
  • Take as directed (before meals, at bedtime, etc.)
  • The probiotic must be able to survive the trip through stomach acid and bile and colonize your gut.

How to Test for Which Probiotics You Need

The most comprehensive way to know exactly what beneficial bacteria you may be lacking is to do a stool test that looks at your gut microbiome.

There are two options: Comprehensive Stool Test and At-home Gut Microbiome Testing.

Comprehensive Stool Test

This type of test will look for underlying dysbiosis (unbalanced gut bacteria), inflammatory markers, leaky gut, parasites, and yeast overgrowth. An integrative practitioner commonly orders this test for you.  

At Home Gut Microbiome Test

An at-home microbiome stool test is a great option if you are only interested in probiotic recommendations based on your current gut microbiome. These are generally a less comprehensive stool tests, but they can be a good starting point for those not currently working with an integrative practitioner.


With so many probiotics on the market today, it can be very confusing to know which bacteria strain is best for your needs.

Stool testing can give you specific insight into your gut microbiome’s needs.

If you plan to supplement yourself, make sure you follow the guidelines above and try to increase your probiotics naturally through probiotic-rich foods.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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