Probiotic Food Sources

Probiotic Food Sources

Probiotics are the good bacteria that occupy your gut, creating a balanced flora in your microbiome, thus ensuring a strong immune system. While there are times when supplements are needed to rebuild this bacterial community, it’s a good idea to regularly consume fermented foods, particularly if you are a Vata. Pittas may overheat from too much fermented food, particularly in summer or in hot climates.

Generally, fermented foods should only be consumed in small, condiment-sized portions due to their heating properties. However, as ayurvedic practitioner Dr. John Douillard of LifeSpa states, “fermented or cultured foods have traditionally provided a healthy culture to innoculate the digestive tract.” They were also used to safely store foods over long winter months when fruits and vegetables were not readily available. 

Eating fermented foods is one of the best ways to increase the amount and variety of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Here are some of the better dietary probiotic options.

  • Yogurt – contains lactic acid bacteria and Bifidobacterium. Make sure you choose yogurt with active or live cultures, however, as the live bacteria in most yogurts on the grocery store shelves were killed during processing and distribution.
  • Kefir – contains several major strains of friendly bacteria and yeast, making it a diverse and potent probiotic, even better than its renown cousin, yogurt.
  • Sauerkraut – in addition to being highly nutritious, this cabbage-based probiotic can contain up to 28 distinct bacterial strains and over 3 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per serving. Choose an unpasteurized brand that contains live bacteria though.
  • Tempeh – a good source of protein, this soy-based product is actually better than soybeans for your thyroid and increases your body’s absorption of minerals like iron and zinc…AND it makes a great probiotic!
  • Kimchi – this cabbage-based Korean condiment contains the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus, as well as other lactic acid bacteria that may benefit digestive health.
  • Miso – a popular Japanese fermented soybean paste and seasoning with probiotic properties.
  • Kombucha – a tea drink fermented with bacteria and yeast that is purported to have probiotic effects.
  • Pickles – when fermented in salt and water using their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria, cucumbers become sour pickles with some probiotic support.
  • Traditional Buttermilk – the liquid left over from making butter and consumed mainly in India, Nepal and Pakistan. This is different from cultured buttermilk made from a yogurt or other culture starter. Cultured buttermilk is typically what is sold in stores in America and does not contain any probiotics.
  • Natto – another fermented soybean product, natto contains a bacterial strain called Bacillus subtilis and is used in Japan to make foods more digestible AND help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Some Cheeses – While most cheeses are fermented, only certain types, including mozzarella, gouda and paneer, contain probiotics.
  • Other Ayurvedic Standards
    • Lassi – a drink made of yogurt and water or buttermilk. In India they drink it at each meal to aid digestion.
    • Chutneys – made from fermented veggies and fruits, used as tasty digestive condiments to complement meals.
    • Aristhras and Asavas – fermented wines used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in India.


On a special note, while vinegars do have some probiotic benefit, when vinegar is used to pickle vegetables, like cucumbers and cabbages, the probiotics in the vegetables are destroyed. The only remaining probiotics come from the vinegar itself.

Always read packaging on fermented dairy products–like yogurt, kefir and cheese—to ensure that they contain live cultures…and then make sure the products are distributed and stored properly in order to sustain maximum probiotic benefit.

And know that pasteurization pretty much wipes out any bacteria, good or bad. This is why home-made is always superior.

For more details on probiotics and probiotic supplements, see article “How to Select the Right Probiotic For You.”


Fermented Foods and Ayurveda

Vegan Sources:


The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at info@positivelyayurvedic.





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