Quick Health Scoop
- A “healthy gut” means your gastrointestinal tract has a good balance of probiotics—beneficial bacteria—to maintain proper body functioning
- The best probiotic foods are fermented foods because their production process creates an environment that preserves the food and promotes beneficial bacteria
- Fermented dairy probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and certain cheeses, while non-dairy options include kimchi, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut
- If your diet lacks enough probiotic-rich foods, you might consider taking a probiotic supplement to support digestive balance†
If you’ve got a “healthy gut,”—a.k.a. the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or digestive tract—it’s teeming with both good and bad bacteria. These bacteria create a microbiome, essentially an internal environment in your intestines, known as gut flora. To keep this microbiome healthy, you need the right balance of beneficial bacteria.
That’s where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live microorganisms (such as bacteria and yeast) and these natural probiotics exist in certain foods. They act primarily in the GI tract and benefit your digestive system. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora.
But what are the best probiotic foods? And when should you take probiotics?
Best Probiotic Foods
When you eat or drink an adequate amount of probiotic-rich foods, they help protect your GI tract from harmful microorganisms and improve your digestion and gut function.2 Foods high in probiotics include fermented dairy foods and beverages as well as non-dairy options.
Fermented foods involve a process in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food and produce lactic acid. This process creates an environment that preserves the food and promotes beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as various species of good bacteria.3
Probiotic Foods List
Fermented Dairy Probiotics:4, 5, 6
- Yogurt (one of the most common sources of probiotics)
- Kefir (fermented milk drink): Kefir contains a variety of major strains of good-for-you bacteria and yeast, making it one of the best probiotic foods.7
- Cultured buttermilk and sour cream
- Aged cheeses: gouda, gruyere, mozzarella, and cottage cheese
Notes: High temperatures used in pasteurization kills probiotics, so look for labeling that says a probiotic yogurt contains live cultures or active cultures.5
Fermented Dairy-Free Probiotics:8, 9
- Kimchi (fermented cabbage in Korean cuisine)
- Kombucha (fermented black or green tea)
- Sauerkraut (fermented, finely shredded cabbage in European cuisine)
- Miso, natto, and tempeh (made from fermented soy beans)
- Fermented vegetables (beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, etc.)
- Cultured non-dairy yogurts (such as almond- or coconut-based yogurts)
Notes: If making your own probiotic vegetables, avoid pickling or fermenting them using vinegar, which can reduce the growth of bacteria. Use a salt-water brine instead. 5
Learn More: The 7 Best Healthy Foods to Eat
How Much Probiotics Should You Take—and When?
There is no recommended daily intake for probiotics, so there’s no way to know exactly which fermented foods or what quantity is best. The general guideline is to just add as many fermented foods to your daily diet as possible.3
However, if your diet lacks enough probiotic-rich foods, you might consider taking a probiotic supplement to support digestive balance.† Many experts recommend taking them on an empty stomach, when there’s less stomach acid present.5 However, your best bet is to follow the dosage directions on the supplement’s packaging.
The ultimate goal is to establish a healthy gut. Some sources recommend taking probiotics every day, anywhere from two weeks to two months, to fully recolonize the gut with healthy bacteria. After the initial course, it may be possible to back off to two to three doses per week.5 Because this varies widely and depends on individual health issues and needs, consult with your doctor.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re eating probiotic foods and or consuming probiotic drinks, your digestive system will benefit from these gut-friendly additions to your diet. Consuming fermented foods—in particular, yogurt and kefir—provide the best sources of probiotics. But dairy-free options (such as kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut) also offer good food sources of probiotics.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
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This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You.” June 9, 2020. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-creating-a-healthier-you
- National Institutes of Health. “Probiotics.” March 24, 2021. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-Consumer/
- Harvard Health Publishing. “How to get more probiotics.” August 24, 2020. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics
- Journal of Food Science Technology. “Probiotics - the versatile functional food ingredients.” February 2016. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837740/
- U.S. Department of Veterans. “Promoting a Healthy Microbiome with Food and Probiotics.” January 25, 2021. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/tools/promoting-healthy-microbiome-with-food-probiotics.asp
- Illinois Department on Aging. “Aging Healthfully Newsletter: Probiotics for a Healthy Gut.” June 2019. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www2.illinois.gov/aging/CommunityServices/Documents/AgingHealthfullyNewsletter_June2019.pdf
- Today’s Dietitian. “A Healthful Dose of Bacteria — Yogurt Is the Best Probiotic Source, but Clients Do Have Other Options.” October 2011. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100111p46.shtml
- UC Davis Department of Nutrition. “Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Consumers - Prebiotics and Probiotics.” December 4, 2020. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/outreach/nutr-health-info-sheets/consumer-pre-probiotic
- Penn State Extension. “Probiotics: The Good Bugs!” AUGUST 7, 2014. Accessed on: April 19, 2021. https://extension.psu.edu/probiotics-the-good-bugs