Join us on a tasty journey to discover the foods with the highest probiotic content! In this article, we’ll be comparing, among other things, the natural probiotic content of these foods with that found in food supplements… you’ll be surprised!
Probiotics are booming! These beneficial microorganisms are making more and more headlines, both in the scientific world and around the kitchen table. Not only are they essential for good digestion, but they also boost our immune system and can be found in a myriad of fermented foods, as well as in the form of supplements.
We have carefully studied scientific research to offer you a clear understanding of the subject. For the more curious, feel free to click on the links marked “ref.” in the text, which will take you directly to the sources of the studies on which we based our research.
Go directly to the relevant section:
- What are probiotics?
- Why are they important?
- Why should you consume them?
- How many should you consume?
- Foods with the highest probiotic content! (The list)
- How to increase the quantity of probiotics?
Definition of Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms (generally bacteria or yeast) that, when ingested in sufficient quantities, have beneficial effects on our health. They are added to our diet in the form of fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut) or food supplements.
The term “probiotic” is derived from Greek and means “for life”.
- Help balance our gut microbiota
- Support the beneficial bacteria in the microbiota
- Benefit digestion
- Support the immune system
- Help in the production of certain vitamins
- Influence our mood and behaviour!
For a microorganism to be categorized as a “probiotic”, there must be studies that prove its health benefits. However, there are many microorganisms that have not yet been studied, and which could also be beneficial, so they could one day be recognized as probiotics. In other words, the fact that a microorganism is not labelled as a “probiotic” does not mean that it has no health benefits!
Research into probiotics is constantly progressing, with new species and strains being regularly studied to discover their potential effects on health.
Why Are Probiotics Important?
Probiotics live with us in symbiosis, populating mainly our digestive system, where they form a vital part of the gut microbiota, often referred to as the gut flora. Some experts even refer to this microbiota as a ‘second brain’ because of its powerful influence on our bodies and minds.
Here’s why these microscopic allies are important:
- Digestion: They help break down food and absorb nutrients.
- Immunity: They help strengthen our immune system.
- Mental health: They can have an impact on our mood via the gut-brain axis.
- Vitamins: They are involved in the production of essential vitamins.
In summary, probiotics are essential for good health and general well-being.
Why Consume Probiotics?
Eating probiotic foods is beneficial for maintaining and strengthening the balance of our gut microbiota.
Probiotics can be particularly useful when there are factors that weaken our microbiota, such as:
- Taking antibiotics: Although useful against infections, antibiotics can also eliminate the good bacteria in our gut.
- Unbalanced lifestyle and diet: For example, a diet high in sugar, stress, lack of sleep, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can harm our gut flora.
An unbalanced gut flora, or dysbiosis, is linked to various health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
By adding beneficial microorganisms to our system, probiotics help restore and strengthen the gut flora, contributing to our overall health.
How Many Probiotics to Consume?
Unfortunately, this article won’t answer the question of how many, or what kind of probiotic food you should consume each day! Each person is unique, and a quick answer would not be possible here.
However, we will explain the minimum dose you should take and the fundamental differences between probiotics in supplement form and fermented foods.
For a product to be considered probiotic, it must contain at least 1 million live microorganisms per gram (ref.).
|Minimum||Microorganisms per gram|
|To be a probiotic:||1 million|
|Recommended to have an effect:||10 million|
However, for a significant impact on your health, it is recommended that you consume at least 10 million live microorganisms per gram. This quantity is necessary for probiotics to survive gastric transit and reach the intestine in good condition, which is essential for their effectiveness (ref.).
This represents a recommended minimum live microorganism count of 2.5 billion per 250 ml.
You will discover below that all probiotic supplements exceed this dose, and that most fermented foods have sufficient probiotic concentrations to be properly assimilated.
In biology, a “strain” refers to a specific type of microorganism within a species. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a specific strain of the species Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and is recognized for its beneficial effects on gut health and the immune system.
It is beneficial to have a diversity of strains in probiotics, as different strains can have complementary effects on your health. Fermented foods such as kefir and kombucha generally contain hundreds of different strains (ref.). That’s their great advantage! Food supplements, on the other hand, often contain fewer than 5 strains.
Choosing Specific Strains
Probiotic supplements allow you to choose specific strains to target specific aspects of your health, such as vitamin absorption if you choose a supplement containing the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus LR-32. Naturally fermented foods have a wide variety of microorganisms, but it’s impossible to guarantee a specific strain in your milk kefir, for example.
Opt for a sufficient quantity of microorganisms (min 2.5 billion per dose) and a diversity of strains to ensure that the probiotics survive gastric transit and act effectively on your health. Naturally fermented foods are an excellent source of diversity, while supplements can be used for specific strains.
Foods With the Highest Probiotic Content
The art of fermentation is an infallible method for producing foods rich in natural probiotics. In fact, this technique invites microorganisms to a real feast, where they feed and multiply, making our food more digestible, more nutritious, and richer in beneficial microorganisms. Below is a list of some of the best probiotics.
Note: The concentration of microorganisms in fermented foods can vary depending on various factors such as the length of fermentation, the ingredients used, and the storage conditions.
|Fermented Food||Living Cells||Serving Size|
|Milk kefir (grains)||4000 billion||250 ml|
|Natto||1000 billion||250 ml|
|Anti-SIBO yogurt||500 billion||250 ml|
|Water kefir||500 billion||250 ml|
|Kimchi||250 billion||250 ml|
|Sauerkraut||25 billion||250 ml|
|Miso||25 billion||3 tbsp.|
|Kombucha||15 billion||250 ml|
|Yogurt||3 billion||250 ml|
|Milk kefir (culture)||2 billion||250 ml|
As we learned earlier, a concentration of 2.5 billion microorganisms in 250 ml of liquid is enough to have a positive impact on our health. So, except for yogurt and cultured milk kefir, all the foods mentioned above can survive digestion and live in our intestines.
Milk kefir made from kefir grains contains an impressive quantity of microorganisms, reaching up to 4000 billion cells per 250 ml (ref.). This high number reflects the incredible diversity of bacterial strains and yeast present in this fermented product. This certainly explains the many health benefits of milk kefir. It can be considered one of the best probiotics for gut health.
A traditional Japanese food made from soya fermented with Bacillus subtilis var natto bacteria, it contains up to 1000 billion cells per 250 ml serving (ref.). Find out more by reading The 5 Benefits of Natto According to Science.
Anti SIBO Yogurt
This recipe that looks like yogurt helps combat SIBO, an imbalance in the gut flora. The formulation was designed by Dr. William Davis (author of the book «Super Gut») to create a yogurt rich in probiotics known for their anti SIBO action (L. reuteri, L. gasseri, and Bacillus coagulans). It contains around 500 billion microorganism cells per 250 ml serving.
Water kefir contains around 500 billion microorganism cells per 250 ml serving, thanks to the diversity of its microbial strains (ref.). To find out more about its benefits, read the 5 Benefits of Water Kefir According to Science.
Kimchi is a Korean fermented food made from cabbage and spices, which contains around 250 billion microorganism cells per 250 ml serving (ref.). Numerous studies have focused on its benefits; read The Benefits of Kimchi According to Science to find out more.
Raw sauerkraut contains 25 billion microorganism cells per 250 ml serving (ref.). To find out more, we recommend you read 6 benefits of lacto-fermentation, according to science; its content applies to all types of fermented vegetables…
This Japanese fermented paste, made from koji and soya, contains 8 billion microorganism cells per 2 tablespoons (ref.) due to its long fermentation process. To find out more, read The Benefits of Miso According to Science.
Although traditional yogurt contains fewer microorganisms than other fermented foods, it still offers 3 billion cells per 250 ml serving (ref.). Eating a pot of yogurt will certainly be enough to provide a small dose of probiotics.
Cultured Milk Kefir
Cultured milk kefir contains 2 billion microorganism cells per 250 ml portion (ref.). The intake will therefore be like that of yogurt, but the strains of microorganisms will be different. To find out more about kefir culture, read Kefir Starter vs. Kefir Grains: Which Should I Choose?
Quantity of Probiotics in Food Supplements
Probiotic food supplements contain an average of 10 billion live cells per capsule or tablet. However, there are more concentrated products, with up to 100 billion live cells per unit (ref.). An example of a probiotic drink is Bio-K+, which contains 50 billion live bacteria in a 98 g portion.
|Commercial probiotics (average)||10 billion||per dose|
|Commercial probiotics (maximum)||100 billion||per dose|
|Bio-K+ Drinkable Probiotic||50 billion||98g|
Are There Fermented Foods Without Probiotics?
Some types of fermentation do not encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms or eliminate them during production. For example, wine, although fermented, is not a source of probiotics.
In fact, alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and other spirits do not generally contain probiotics and cannot be considered probiotic drinks. Alcohol can even have a detrimental effect on gut flora by throwing bacteria populations out of balance.
The probiotic content of tempeh, a fermented soy-based food, is significantly reduced by cooking, which is part of the production process.
Cooking fermented food containing probiotics will eliminate their live microorganism content! Cooking doesn’t remove all the benefits of food, but if you’re looking for probiotics, then don’t cook foods that contain them.
Furthermore, although unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is often cited as a source of probiotics, its content is relatively low. One tablespoon (about 15 ml) contains ‘only’ about 4 million live cells, which is much lower than the amounts found in other fermented foods (in this case, ‘millions’, not ‘billions’).
How to Increase the Quantity of Probiotics
To maximize the quantity of probiotics in fermented foods, it’s important to ensure that fermentation takes place under optimum conditions. As it is microorganisms that transform ingredients into fermented foods, your role is to create an environment in which these microorganisms can thrive. Key elements to consider include temperature control, the use of good quality starter cultures when necessary, and, possibly, the addition of nutrients such as prebiotics.
Prebiotics are dietary fibres that serve as food for probiotics. Examples of prebiotics include inulin and fructooligosaccharides. Adding prebiotics to fermentations can encourage the growth of probiotic bacteria, as these substances essentially serve as ‘food’ for these beneficial bacteria. Adding prebiotics could be particularly useful if the fermentation ingredients are low in fibre, such as milk kefir, kombucha, or yogurt.
Each type of fermentation is different, so it’s best to follow specific instructions for each probiotic food. Here’s a list of different types of fermented foods you can make at home, along with links to our guides:
- Making milk kefir (from grains)
- Making natto
- Making water kefir
- Making kimchi
- Making sauerkraut
- Making kombucha
- Making miso
- Making yogurt
- Making milk kefir (from culture)
By experimenting with different types of fermentation and ensuring the right conditions for microorganisms to grow, you can increase the natural probiotic content of your fermented foods and reap their health benefits.
Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchi, and many others are incredibly rich sources of probiotics. Not only are they tasty, but they are also reservoirs of microbial diversity that contribute significantly to the balance of our gut microbiota.
However, in certain situations, probiotic food supplements can also be a viable option, particularly when it comes to targeting specific needs with specific strains.
By including probiotics in our diet, we are making a wise choice for our health. However, it’s important to remember that probiotics are just one piece of the puzzle in a healthy lifestyle. Adopting a balanced lifestyle, including a varied and nutritious diet, exercise, and good sleep, is just as crucial.
Making your own homemade fermentations is a very simple and accessible way of getting high-quality food at your fingertips.