Whether you’ve gone vegan or just aren’t a fan of yogurt, you may be wondering how to get probiotics into your diet without eating dairy products. Behold! Five nondairy fermented foods that will foster healthy bacteria in your gut.
By Jaclyn Desforges
For many people, yogurt and probiotics are one and the same. But eating dairy products isn’t the only way to keep your system healthy. According to Donna Schwenk, author of Cultured Food Life: Learn to Make Probiotic Foods in Your Home, you can look beyond the dairy aisle toward fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha (a type of fermented tea), which are filled with health-promoting probiotics.
So why are probiotics so good for you? “Your immune system must learn to identify safe environmental factors from dangerous ones in order to act appropriately,” explains Schwenk. “It does this through the help of bacteria. Bacteria are not only ‘good’ in most cases but also critical to training our immune systems to help prevent chronic illnesses, including allergies.” The result? Better digestion and a healthier immune system.
1. Sprouted breads
When you think of probiotic foods, bread probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But bread made from sprouted grains packs a powerful probiotic punch.
“All the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are deactivated in these breads, so vitamins and minerals skyrocket,” says Schwenk. “You receive nutrients that you can’t get from other breads.” Having trouble finding sprouted varieties in the bread aisle? Some brands, such as Silver Hills and Ezekiel 4:9, are found in the freezer section.
Kefir is a tart fermented drink made from gelatinous grains. Though normally made in a cow’s- or goat’s-milk base, it can be made dairy-free using coconut or almond milk. According to Schwenk, kefir has anywhere from 36 to 56 strains of probiotics, compared to only seven in yogurt. Make your own dairy-free kefir by adding coconut or almond milk to kefir powder starter packages (found in health-food stores.)
Kombucha is a fermented tea that’s loaded with B vitamins and probiotics. While you can usually find it premade in stores, you can also make it at home with kombucha starter culture. “It’s a powerful liver detox and all-around adrenal supporter,” says Schwenk. And thanks to the natural CO2 carbonization that’s created during the fermentation process, kombucha is a bubbly probiotic-rich alternative to pop.
Usually found in the freezer or refrigerated section of the grocery store, tempeh is made from whole fermented soybeans and is a rich source of probiotics. Unlike most probiotic foods, tempeh’s gut-friendly bacteria has the ability to withstand high temperatures – a big plus for this stir-fry favourite.
5. Cultured veggies
Eating cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut, Korean kimchee and pickles is another dairy-free way to boost your probiotic intake. “These veggies are my secret weapons for colds, flus and any kind of stomach trouble,” says Schwenk.
While she recommends canning your own cultured veggies for maximum probiotic benefit, store-bought varieties are also beneficial. For the biggest probiotic boost, make sure to pick up lacto-fermented varieties of pickles and sauerkraut, located in the refrigerator aisle of your grocery or health-food store. “Homemade is most effective, but picking up store-bought ones can be a great way to start consuming these foods,” she says.