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Healthy sources of pre- and pro-biotics

24 Dec

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are in our foods.  They have numerous health benefits which you can read about in this post. Probiotics are defined as:

“Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” (source).

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that stimulate the growth and/or activity of our healthy gut bacteria. They were first identified in 1995(source) and defined in the 2007 Journal of Nutrition as:

“A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health” (source).

Food with ample prebiotics include:

Food Prebiotic Fiber Content by Weight
Raw Chicory Root 64.6%
Raw Jerusalem Artichoke 31.5%
Raw Dandelion Greens 24.3%
Raw Garlic 17.5%
Raw Leek 11.7%
Raw Onion 8.6%
Cooked Onion 5%
Raw Asparagus 5%
Raw Wheat bran 5%
Whole Wheat flour, Cooked 4.8%
Raw Banana 1%


We’ve already talked about the health benefits of artichokes which you can read about here.

Why are probiotics good and why do we need them?

In this post, I discussed all the health benefits of probiotics and why we should introduce these healthy bacteria into our diet.

Healthy sources of probiotics

You can buy probiotic pills at your local health food store or healthy grocery store.  They are often in the refrigerated foods section but can also be dried.  We can also get these healthy bacteria from the food we eat.  A huge source of priobtiocs can be found in fermented foods.

Foods become fermented when yeasts and bacteria are added to them.  These yeast and bacteria convert carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide.  Fermentation also results in: the enrichment of food with protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins, the elimination of antinutrients (compounds that interfere with the absorption of healthy nutrients) and a decrease in cooking time (source).

Here are some examples of fermented foods and other healthy sources of probiotics:



Kombucha is a tea-based beverage that is fermented with yeast and bacteria.  It has gained in popularity in recent years and can now be purchased at most health food stores and healthy grocery stores.  It was initially suggested that Kombucha could improve resistance against cancer, prevent cardiovascular diseases, promote digestive functions, stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammatory problems, and can have many other benefits (source).  However, recent evidence fails to support these claims and actually suggests that the undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha. These authors went on to say that Kombucha can not be recommended for therapeutic use (source).

Water kefir

You can read all about the health benefits of water kefir and learn how to make your own in this post.



Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables with varied seasonings (source) and is often used as a condiment.


Kimchi is rich in vitamin A, B1, B2, calcium, and iron and contains a number of lactic acid bacteria (source).

Nutritional composition of typical kimchi
Nutrients per 100 g * Nutrients per 100 g
Food energy 32 kcal Moisture 88.4 g
Crude protein 2.0 g Crude Lipid 0.6 g
Total sugar 1.3 g Crude fiber 1.2 g
Crude ash 0.5 g Calcium 45 mg
Phosphorus 28 mg Vitamin A 492 IU
Vitamin B1 0.03 mg Vitamin B2 0.06 mg
Niacin 2.1 mg Vitamin C 21 mg

(Korean Food Research Institute)




Miso is produced by fermenting soybean, barley, brown rice, or other grains with fungus (source).  It is a source of  Lactobacillus acidophilus(source), a healthy probiotic.

Miso is used to make miso soup.  You can find a recipe to make miso soup here.



Sauerkraut is a shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria(source).  Besides providing healthy probiotics, it also contains isothiocyanate and sulphoraphane (source).  These compounds have shown in animal models to be cancer-fighting compounds (source).



Yogurt is a great sources of  calcium, phosphorus, B2, iodine, B12,  B5, zinc, potassium and protein (source).  If you buy yogurt, look to see that it contains live and active cultures on its ingredient list.



Tempeh is made from soybeans and is fermented by the fungus rhizopus oligosporus.  This fungus actually produces an antibiotic against harmful bacteria such a Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria which can cause pneumonia and sepsis (source).

Special considerations for fermented foods and probiotics

Probiotics are very sensitive to heat since they are living organisms.  If they are cooked, they lose most of their healthy effects (source).  Thus, you should aim to buy unpasteurized (source) products and eat the foods raw (unless you are pregnant).  If you are interested, you can learn how to ferment your food here.


Do you eat fermented food?  Do you take a probiotic pill?