Probiotic foods improve gut health, affecting not only digestion but our overall health, too. Many foods high in probiotics are dairy-based, but there are plenty of plant-based probiotics that vegans can use to reap the benefits of these gut-building bacteria.
By now, you've likely seen those yogurt commercials touting some pretty big claims about their high probiotics content and gut-improving effects.
These claims aren't just a marketing gimmick - good probiotic foods help maintain the balance of bacteria in our gut that aid digestion, which has a positive effect on the rest of our bodily systems.
Many foods with natural probiotic qualities are dairy-based, which creates an issue for vegans that eat only plant-based food.
How to get probiotics without dairy?
There are plenty of vegan fermented foods that are great non-dairy sources of probiotics, like kombucha, miso, tempeh - even sourdough bread! Any time someone tells us to eat more bread, it's a happy day.
Learn more about the many delicious vegan probiotic foods you can eat daily to keep your gut happy and healthy.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, bacteria and yeast, that naturally live in your body. Your body contains a mixture of both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria to create your microbiome.
While we can't completely stop harmful bacteria from entering the body, if good bacteria, (probiotics) have a strong presence in our bodies, they can help fight and reduce disease-causing, pathogenic bacteria.
The best way to get probiotics is through ingestion - that's why eating probiotic food is crucial for maintaining a healthy microbiome.
One great thing about your microbiome is it's always in flux, so even if the balance is off, you can improve your gut relatively quickly by regularly consuming probiotic foods.
The main probiotics you find in foods or probiotic supplements are Lactobacillus bacteria, bifidobacterium bacteria, and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
Probiotics have a few different helpful purposes in our bodies. Here are the best functions of probiotics in our bodies:
- Improved digestion and reduction of gut issues, like diarrhea and constipation
- Strengthens the immune system to better fight off infection and disease
- Improved mental health symptoms, like depression, through the gut-mind connection
- Promotes healthy metabolism and healthy skin
If you feel that your gut is well-balanced, it's still important to continue consuming vegetarian probiotics to reap all of the benefits above and maintain your microbiome's balance.
Kombucha, lovingly called booch by its devoted followers, is an effervescent, fermented tea beverage with a sweet and mildly acidic taste. Strongly-brewed tea mixes with sugar and ferments over time using a SCOBY or symbiotic bacteria and yeast culture.
After a few weeks, the SCOBY consumes most of the sugar and leaves behind acetic acid, active enzymes, polyphenols, and vitamin C.
This dairy-free probiotic is a traditional Chinese beverage widely available in North America at most grocery stores in a variety of flavors. Still, you can also try making your own at home with a SCOBY starter kit.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean delicacy used as a side dish on every breakfast, lunch, and dinner table in Korea. The usual ingredients in kimchi are cabbage, carrots, garlic, ginger, salt, and chili peppers, and it's one of the tastiest ways to add flavor, spice, and a healthy dose of probiotic foods.
Vegan dieters should read kimchi labels closely, as some brands contain fish sauce, but it's also effortless to make yourself at home.
Eat a small bowl of kimchi by itself, or add it to fried rice, stir-fries, and plenty of other savory dishes.
Slather this tangy, sour cabbage on vegan bratwurst, sandwiches, and in savory soups. Although it's associated with German culture and cuisine, sauerkraut, like seemingly every other probiotic food on this list, was created in Asia, specifically China.
If you purchase sauerkraut, make sure you get the unpasteurized kind, as the heat of pasteurization kills much of the helpful bacteria in the jar.
It's straightforward to make at home and requires only two ingredients - cabbage and salt. Chopped cabbage and salt sit in a sealed jar, and the absence of oxygen allows the process of lacto-fermentation to convert the cabbage's sugars into lactic acid.
It contains loads of good bacteria, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
#4: Fermented Soy: Miso and Tempeh
Fermented soybean products are a great source of dietary probiotics in a few different forms, namely miso, and tempeh.
Miso is a savory fermented soybean paste that is a staple in Japanese cooking. You can use this salty, umami-flavored food in dressings, sauces, marinades, and the simple yet delicious Japanese miso soup.
Miso paste comes in more than 1,000 varieties that contain different ingredients, varying fermentation times, and varying fermentation conditions. White or light miso is sweeter, as it's shorter fermentation time allows more sugar to remain, whereas red miso is funky, pungent, and salty.
This uber-healthy option is high in B vitamins and essential antioxidants to combat free radicals.
When cooking with miso, use a low-medium temperature, as high temperatures can kill the beneficial bacteria it contains.
Tempeh is similar to soy in that it's a block of pressed soybeans, but the main difference between the two products is fermentation, which gives tempeh it's probiotic content.
While tofu consists of bean curds from cooked soy milk, tempeh is a whole soybean product, maintaining more of its original nutrition. Soybeans are boiled, wrapped in leaves, and fermented naturally, creating tempeh blocks bound by beneficial mold.
A serving of tempeh also contains more healthy unsaturated fats than a serving of tofu, making it one of the more nutritious vegan fat sources.
The protein content is high in tempeh, and it houses a load of B vitamins, calcium, manganese, and iron.
Tempeh is nutty and salty, with a lovely umami quality, making it an excellent bacon substitute. Eat tempeh on sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries.
#5: Sourdough Bread
A sourdough starter is what sets this bread apart from all the rest - this fermented combination of water and flour uses the natural probiotics in the air to ferment on the counter.
A bit of the starter goes into every loaf of sourdough, which gives it that delightful, mildly sour flavor and a hefty dose of gut-friendly probiotics.
Eat freshly-sliced sourdough plain or make a fantastic sandwich with it. Read your labels closely, as some store-bought sourdough is made untraditionally, without any fermented ingredients.
#6: Lacto-Fermented Pickles
Much like sauerkraut, probiotic pickles are made through lacto-fermentation, using sliced veggies, salt, and water in a sealed jar. Adding heat to the mixture speeds the process along more quickly, as most bacteria love the heat.
It's essential to make the distinction between most store-bought pickles and lacto-fermented ones. Most store-bought varieties contain vinegar in their brine, which kills off any bacteria in the jar.
When buying store-bought pickles, your best bet is to read the labels closely and look for jars with a cloudy brine that isn't crystal clear.
#7: Plant-Based Milk and Yogurt: Soy and Nut
Dairy products aren't the only way to get an ample serving of probiotics - plant-based dairy alternatives offer many of the same gut-strengthening benefits.
Soy and nut milks contain some natural probiotics, and most manufacturers add active probiotic cultures to give you a double dose. Vegan probiotic yogurt can do the job just as well as its milk-based counterparts, without the need for animal products.
#8: Vegan Probiotics Supplements
Probiotic supplements can be pricey, but if you're unable to consume an ample amount of the foods listed above, you can use supplementation to round out your diet. The FDA does not regulate these pills, so there is no guarantee that a capsule contains what the manufacturers claim it does.
Research your brands to find the best option for you, and ensure it's a vegan capsule - some probiotic supplements aren't suitable for vegans to consume.
Final Notes: Best Vegan Probiotics
Everyone should try to include some of these foods into their daily diet to reap the benefits and keep their health in great shape.
To recap, the best vegan sources for probiotics are:
- Kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut;
- Fermented soy like miso and tempeh;
- Sourdough bread and lacto-fermented sour pickles;
- Soy and nut-based milk and yogurt;
- And probiotic supplements, as needed.
Eat these to keep your digestion on track and fight off viruses and illnesses with a stronger natural immunity while enjoying the tangy taste of these delicious probiotic options!