When you think of probiotics, you probably think of yogurt. And plain whole-milk yogurt is great! Unfortunately, though, most yogurt is sweetened so much that ounce for ounce, it has more sugar than Coke does. (Six ounces of low-fat vanilla yogurt has about 22 grams of sugar, while the same amount of Coke has about 17 grams of sugar.) All of that sugar contributes to poor gut flora, which pretty much undoes the probiotic benefits of yogurt. On the plus side, you’ve got plenty of other options when it comes to probiotic foods! Here are a few examples:
Sauerkraut has long been made in Germany and is ideal for serving with brats fresh off the grill. It’s just shredded cabbage kneaded with salt and left to ferment in its own juices until it’s tangy and tart. So simple!
Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut, except that it hails from Korea and includes ingredients beyond just cabbage: radishes, garlic, ginger, chilies, and whatever else the kimchi maker would like to include. Kimchi is typically more spicy and flavorful than sauerkraut and is served as a side dish rather than a condiment.
Old-fashioned dill pickles are cucumbers left to ferment with the addition of garlic and dill. It’s easy to tell which dill pickles have been lacto-fermented versus simply brined—just look for the refrigerated pickles with the cloudy liquid. If it were vinegar, you’d call that cloudiness the “mother,” as in the friendly bacteria that makes fermentation possible.
Traditional vinegars like raw apple cider vinegar and genuinely aged balsamic vinegar (as opposed to vinegar made by quickly cooking it down to reduce it and then mixing it with caramel coloring) contain gut-boosting bacteria. With these aged vinegars, you’ll see the cloudy “mother” swirl up when you gently shake them. Not only are these vinegars probiotic, they also have nuanced flavors and are excellent for making salad dressings and veggie-based dips…not to mention drizzling on everything from cheese to ice cream!
Miso is a savory, thick paste made of fermented soy. In Japanese cuisine, it’s used to lend umami to dishes. (Umami is that deep savoriness that transcends salt.) While processed soy products like soybean oil and soy milk are more likely to undermine health than support it, traditionally fermented miso makes a flavorful probiotic addition to hummus, homemade mayonnaise, and flavored butters.
Sour cream is what happens if you let raw cream sit at room temperature—it naturally ferments, and its lactose turns into lactic acid, giving it a tangy flavor and thickened texture. Commercial sour cream is typically pasteurized cream with cultures quickly added to it, but some producers of dairy products from grass-fed animals pasteurize their cream more gently and include more cultures in it, making it a more flavorful and probiotic product.
Buttermilk is similar to sour cream, except that it’s traditionally made with the milk that separates from the butter when you make butter. Again, producers of dairy products from grass-fed animals treat their milk more gently and provide a more diverse set of gut-supporting cultures.
…and a note about kombucha: While all kombucha does contain a small amount of sugar—the friendly bacteria needs the sugar to feed upon—over the past few years, commercially made kombucha has gotten pretty sugary, clocking in at 12 and even 14 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Look for low-sugar kombucha varieties that contain more like 2 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Much like low-sugar yogurt, low-sugar kombucha has a lot more probiotic oomph since its benefit isn’t being negated by high sugar levels.