Most people know that yogurt (at least the unsweetened kind with live cultures) is a healthy option, but few people consider the many other foods rich in beneficial bacteria or yeasts that help boost health. Here are 10 of my favorite probiotic-rich picks to add to your diet.
Probiotic-rich food needs to contain “live cultures” and be “unpasteurized.” If a product does not have either of these claims on the label, it is best avoided. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Some, but not most, cheeses offer probiotics, including: yogurt cheese (made from straining yogurt through a cheesecloth to thicken it) and some unpasteurized dairy-free cheeses made through the addition of probiotic cultures (see The Probiotic Promise for recipes and instructions). These probiotic-rich cheeses usually contain the cultures used to inoculate them so the health benefits can vary widely depending on the probiotic powder or capsule contents used.
An El Salvadorian condiment, curtido is like a cross between salsa and kimchi. Like kimchi, it is packed with a wide range of probiotic strains and has many of the same health benefits as kimchi (see below) thanks to similar strains and ingredients.
Kefir (pronounced ke-FEER) is similar to a drinkable form of yogurt but is much healthier thanks to having ten times more different types of probiotic strains than yogurt. It naturally contains B-vitamins that give an energy boost, aids digestion and helps to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
The national dish of Korea is typically a fermented mixture of cabbage, chilis and garlic. Research at Georgia State University found that the probiotics, namely L. plantarum, found in Korea’s national food, confers protection against the flu by regulating the body’s innate immunity.
Kombucha (pronounced kom-BOO-shuh) is a beverage believed to have been made in Russia and China for over 2000 years, although the exact origin is unknown. The bacteria and yeasts that form the kombucha culture form a type of “floating mat” on the surface of the black or green or other type of tea from which it is typically made. It improves immunity against some diseases. According to research, consumption of kombucha has potential for prevention of a broad-spectrum of metabolic and infectious disorders.
A Russian grain-based drink that is made by adding yeast to bread and water and allowing it to ferment, kvass in most health food stores is often made with beets or carrots instead. While carrot kvass has many of the same nutrients as carrot juice, it usually has much less sugar thanks to microbes that digest the sugar and confer probiotic benefits in the process. If you choose a beet-based kvass, be sure to choose one that is non-genetically-modified since beets are usually GMO.
Miso is usually made from fermented soybeans, although there are also rice and chickpea miso as well. A staple in the Japanese diet, miso is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, good carbs and probiotics (provided it isn’t heated as it often is when used in miso soup). Regular consumption of miso has been linked to protection against cancer. A study published in the Hiroshima Journal of Medical Science found that the long-term consumption of miso on animals with lung cancer could exert cancer-preventive and protective effects.
Most pickles have been pasteurized and therefore do not have any probiotics left, if they ever had them at all. The process of pickling foods in white vinegar does not contribute to the development of probiotic cultures; however, fermented vegetables in brine (similar to sauerkraut) does lead to the development of beneficial bacteria and some yeasts that also boost health. My favorites are green beans pickled with chilis or cultured onions.
Some yogurt reduces cholesterol and normalizes blood sugar levels; some reduces homocysteine levels which in turn reduces the risk of diseases linked to high levels of this compound, including: heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Yogurt has also been found to reduce the duration of respiratory infections.
Sauerkraut is one of the most overlooked superfoods. Lactobacillus plantarum and L. mesenteroides found in this German staple actually fight off harmful infections like E. coli. L. plantarum has anti-viral effects, making it a potential ally in treating colds, flu, ebola, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome or other viral conditions.
Keep in mind that any probiotic-rich food needs to contain “live cultures” and be “unpasteurized.” If a product does not have either of these claims on the label, it is best avoided. Additionally, probiotic-rich foods need to be refrigerated. If you find them on the shelves in the center aisles of your grocery store that means the product has been pasteurized for preservation and no longer offers any of the benefits of live cultures.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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