What are Probiotics? Probiotics Benefits and Probiotic Foods

The word Probiotic came from the Greek words “pro”, which means promoting, and “biotic”, which means life. Elie Metchnikoff discovered probiotics in the early 20th century when he observed that rural people in Bulgaria had long lives despite the harsh climate and extreme poverty. He theorized that manipulating the intestinal microbiome by introducing host friendly bacteria coming from sour milk can improve health. In this article, we will discuss what are probiotics, probiotics benefits, and the foods rich in probiotics.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics Benefits
Probiotics Benefits

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are good for your health, especially for the digestive system. A variety of bacteria can be found in the body, both good and bad. Probiotics are known as “good bacteria” because they keep the gut healthy. They can also help prevent and treat some illnesses. Probiotics are typically found in fermented foods and supplements.

Probiotics Benefits

• Balance the Friendly Bacteria in the Digestive System

Probiotics contain good bacteria which can be beneficial when consumed. An imbalance in the digestive system occurs when there’s too much bad bacteria and a lack of good bacteria. This is usually a result of illness, poor diet, or taking antibiotics. One of the main probiotics benefits is that they restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut (digestive tract).

• Help Prevent and Treat Diarrhea

Probiotics are known for their ability to prevent and reduce the severity of diarrhea. Among other things, diarrhea can be a result of taking antibiotics. Taking probiotics can lower the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Also, probiotics can help with diarrhea not associated with antibiotics. Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, and Saccharomyces boulardii are especially beneficial for preventing and treating diarrhea.

• Good for Heart Health

Probiotics can keep your heart healthy by reducing bad cholesterol and blood pressure. Some lactic acid producing bacteria can reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile. Bile is a naturally-occurring fluid made mostly of cholesterol. Probiotics break down bile and prevent it from being re-absorbed in the digestive tract, where it can enter blood as cholesterol.

• Boost the Immune System

Probiotics can boost the immune system by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract. Additionally, some probiotics promote production of natural antibodies. They boost immune cells such as T lymphocytes and IgA-producing cells.

• Can Help You Lose Weight

Probiotics aid in weight loss through different means. Some probiotics prevent the absorption of fat in the intestine. Thus, the fat is excreted rather than stored in the body. Another way probiotics can help you lose weight is by making you feel full for longer.

10 Foods Rich in Probiotics

1. Yogurt

Probiotics Benefits
Probiotics Benefits

Yogurt is probably the most popular dietary source of probiotics. Aside from probiotics, it’s also a good source of calcium, potassium, and protein (9 grams of protein/6-ounce serving). Yogurt contains 90 to150 billion CFU (colony forming units) of probiotics/gram.

2. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamin C. However, it’s high in sodium, so it is not the best choice if you’re on a low sodium diet. When it comes to probiotics, the lactobacillus in sauerkraut can reach one trillion CFU/gram.

3. Kimchi

Probiotics Benefits
Probiotics Benefits

Kimchi is the national dish of Korea. It is made from fermented cabbage and has a nice spicy flavor. Kimchi is rich in probiotics, vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and antioxidants. Not only that, it’s one of the best sources of probiotics, with concentrations similar to that of sauerkraut.

4. Kombucha

Kombucha comes from fermented black tea and has a slightly acidic taste. It originated from China. The fermentation process involved in making kombucha results in a high sugar content and formation of thick gelatinous layer on top called SCOBY or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

5. Miso

Probiotics Benefits
Probiotics Benefits

Miso is a paste that comes from fermented soy. It is used in many types of Japanese and Asian cuisines. Miso is rich in B-complex vitamins and iron, but contains a lot of sodium. The manufacturing process of miso creates an environment ideal for good bacteria to grow.

6. Kefir

Kefir is usually made from fermented cow’s milk. Just like yogurt, it is rich in calcium and protein. It can also be made from goat or sheep’s milk and is promoted as an alternative to yogurt.

7. Tempeh

Tempeh comes from cooked and fermented soy. It has a delicious nutty flavor and you can use it in many vegetarian dishes. Tempeh is a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and manganese.

8. Artichokes

Although not probiotic per se, artichokes can boost gastrointestinal flora. Artichokes contain the prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS). A prebiotic is a non-digestible carbohydrate which acts as food for the probiotics in the gut. Artichokes are rich in vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and fiber. They also contain cynarin, which increases bile production in the liver and reduces cholesterol in the body.

9. Asparagus

Asparagus is a food rich in FOS which promotes probiotic growth. In addition, it’s rich in vitamins and minerals, while being low in calories.

10. Bananas

Bananas are also rich in prebiotic FOS and pectin that is good for digestive health. Moreover, they are a good source of vitamin B6, manganese, copper, and potassium. Bananas rank low on the glycemic index and have little to no fat. They contain only about 100 calories, comprised mostly of water and carbohydrates.


Generally speaking, probiotic foods and supplements are safe, and people can enjoy many probiotics benefits from taking them. However, some individuals may experience side effects such as bloating, upset stomach, diarrhea, and allergic reactions. In such cases, stop taking probiotics and consult your doctor.

But if you have no known allergies, you can try taking probiotics to boost your overall health. And if you are coming off of a cycle of antibiotics, you should definitely consider taking probiotics to restore the natural intestinal flora.  Aside from dietary sources, you can also consider taking supplements. To read more about or buy probiotic supplements, click here.

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