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 daily digestive 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.
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)
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, such as probiotic gummies, 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. Additionally, taking one of our probiotics for adultsis a great way to increase your intake of “good” bacteria.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
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
Golen, T. and Ricciotti, H. (2021) “Is cheese a healthy source of probiotics? ,” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School, 1 February. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-cheese-a-healthy-source-of-probiotics (Accessed: April 17, 2023).
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.