By now, most of us know that probiotics are essential to maintaining a healthy gut. These little bacteria work their way into our digestive tracts and prevent illness, digestive upset, and can even benefit our mood health. The human microbiome is being studied now more than ever on its abilities to boost not just digestive function, but also our brain health, immune system, and overall longevity.
One of the simplest ways to care for our microbiome is to feed it daily by optimizing the good bugs in our body. To do this, we need to start by focusing on two things: adding prebiotics to our meals and ensuring we consume enough probiotic-rich foods. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria known as probiotics that keep us thriving. When you focus on these, you’re also crowding out harmful foods that disrupt good bacteria from thriving such as processed foods that contain refined grains and refined sugars, processed trans fats, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, genetically modified ingredients, and certain hormones found in many animal-based foods.
So, to make things easy for you in your journey to optimize your gut health, we’ve listed seven ways you can add both prebiotics and probiotics to your meals throughout the day. Focus on these and your body will start to feel better from the inside out—literally!
1. Include Non-Dairy Yogurt at Breakfast
Dairy yogurt was once thought to be the only way to add healthy probiotics to our breakfast or the only type we had available as a snack. But there are also many non-dairy options you can take advantage of, all of which are free from hormones and many of which are free from GMO’s and pesticides. Options include soy yogurt (choose plain and unsweetened) for a higher protein content, coconut yogurt, or even almond yogurt. These contain the same bacteria that cow’s milk yogurt does, but you may want to choose those without too many additives like gums and emulsifiers—the less ingredients, the better. Yogurt’s probiotics are unique in the way they reduce bloating, aid in regularity, and optimize immune health. You can also make your own coconut milk yogurt at home—see how to do that here.
To top it all off, add some berries to your yogurt (or blend it all in a smoothie). Berries act as prebiotics to feed the good bacteria found in yogurt which makes the healing meal more effective.
2. Eat Sauerkraut at Lunch
Sauerkraut is easy to find, to make, and so tasty! It’s a little salty, zesty, and also low in calories compared to other condiments like mayo (made with lots of oils and additives) or relish (high in sugar). Add a little sauerkraut to a veggie burger, a salad, as a side with soup, on a sandwich, or smash a little with some avocado, chickpeas, and make your own instant chilled salad instead of tuna salad. Sauerkraut contains the beneficial species of bacteria known as lactobacilli (lactobacillus) which helps digestive function and fights off harmful yeast in the body, hives, and even Lyme disease.
3. Include some Kimchi at Dinner
Kimchi is basically Korean kraut. It’s one of the tastiest ways to add more probiotics to your day and also delivers around five different veggies in one serving. Kimchi is made with cabbage (like kraut) along with carrots, onions, scallions, garlic, and some varieties have other veggies added too. Look for those without sugar if you can find them and those that only contain veggies, sea salt, and water. You can find them in the produce section with the chilled condiments and tofu. Kimchi is soy, gluten, and dairy-free for those also concerned with these issues.
4. Enjoy Miso Soup
Miso soup is one of the most healing side meals you can eat. It’s packed with flavor and you can find a variety to suit your taste preferences depending on how strong you like your miso. It has a savory flavor and is in the form of a paste. You can either use it to make your own sauces and condiments, salad dressings, marinades, or make it into soup. Miso is made from single ingredients or a combination of ingredients. The two top ingredients typically include fermented soybeans and brown rice, though you can also find some made with fermented barley if you prefer. Whatever kind you choose, try to look for those that are GMO-free and organic, such as Organic Miso Masters which you can find at most health food stores. Your miso should contain no funny ingredients, GMOs, or additives.
To make miso soup: add miso to a pot with some vegetables (scallions are great), chopped tofu or edamame, tomatoes, and chopped carrots or sweet potatoes with some water. This makes a healing side (or meal) that delivers enzymes, good bacteria, protein, and vitamin B12 (found in miso in trace amounts).
5. Enjoy a Little ACV Each Day
ACV, apple cider vinegar, is one of the simplest ways to reduce inflammation and feed your gut and cells in one punch. It’s simple enough to do when you have a “shot” in the morning, before a meal, or right after a workout to replenish your body. Apple cider vinegar is fermented but doesn’t contain actual probiotics. Instead, it’s one of the richest source of prebiotics that will feed all the good bacteria in your body.
6. Enjoy a Piece of Dark Chocolate
What a great way to feed our gut health! Chocolate has been known as a top mood food for years and researchers are now learning it might not just be the stimulants or hormone-boosting properties in chocolate that make us feel so happy; chocolate also contains pre and probiotics that actually feed our gut health. As a direct bonus, this well-loved food also boosts our mood. Serotonin is largely made within our guts, so taking care of our good bacteria within our gut will naturally boost our mood. Chocolate has been found to promote good gut health since it is a fermented food, however, be sure you eliminate the milk chocolate that’s filled with sugar. Sugar kills good bacteria and feeds harmful yeast in the body that take over the good bacteria. Opt for dark chocolate (80 percent or higher cacao content) or 100 percent raw cacao.
7. Eat Plenty of Veggies and Healing Fruits!
Veggies contain prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in your body. Cabbage even contains natural probiotics (which is why it’s used to make kraut and kimchi). Veggies are the cornerstone of good health, along with leafy greens. Fruits can also be enjoyed since they contain prebiotic fibers and natural sugars that feed gut health, but be mindful if you suffer bloating after eating too much fruit since that may indicate too much sugar in your system all at once. Go for plenty of leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, berries, pineapple, and papaya which all bring healing to the gut and reduce inflammation. The most beneficial veggies high in prebiotics include: asparagus, onions, broccoli, carrots, celery, garlic, sweet potatoes, snap peas, green peas, green beans, and winter squash.
More Healthy Gut Choices
Other foods to include in your regimen include the following: coconut kefir, kombucha (it’s a little powerful so embrace with moderation at first!), and tempeh (fermented soy protein). You can add coconut water kefir to a smoothie or drink alone, enjoy kombucha over ice as an alternative to alcoholic fermented drinks (beer, wine), and use grilled or pan-roasted tempeh in place of chicken or turkey on your lunchtime salads for a savory source of protein.
When your gut is healthy, your skin will clear, mood and digestion will improve, and you’ll completely feel like a different person. Give yourself this privilege! For even more tips, see 5 Steps to Build and Maintain a Healthy Gut, and then check out our plant-based recipes, many of which are full of prebiotics and probiotics to fuel your day (and health!).
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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