Probiotics are various strains of bacteria found in fermented or cultured foods that may promote digestive health, manage allergies and asthma, and benefit your immune system. Common sources of probiotics are yogurt and other dairy products like kefir, which contain live cultures of the beneficial bacteria. Vegans, who don't eat any animal products, may find it difficult to include probiotics in their diet. But there are several plant sources of probiotics that can be included as part of a vegan diet.
Fermented Soy Products
Fermented soy products are made when a bacterial culture is added to a base of soybeans. Such cultures can be added to other foods, too, such as grains. The bacteria are added to increase the nutritional content of the foods, and this process has been part of various cultures around the world for centuries. Fermented soy products containing probiotics include miso and tempeh as well as the fermented soy sauces tamari and shoyu. Yogurt made from cultured soy milk can also be a good source of probiotics.
Vegetables that have been pickled or fermented using bacterial cultures in addition to salt and other spices can be a nonanimal source of probiotics for vegans. Examples include kimchi, Japanese fermented pickled plums, pickled ginger and pickles fermented with salt instead of vinegar.
Kombucha is black tea that has been fermented by adding sugar, yeast and bacteria, including the "good bacteria" that make up probiotic organisms. Kombucha's proponents say the presence of the bacteria in the tea aids in digestion and boosts the immune system the same way as traditional foods containing probiotics. Because a wide variety of different yeast and bacterial strains can be used to make kombucha, however, it is important to look for brands of the tea that have tested their products, ruling out the presence of "bad bacteria" known to cause infections.
Because probiotics naturally exist inside your body, experts believe consuming foods that contain probiotics to be safe. But taking probiotics can result in allergic reactions as well as mild digestive issues such as stomach upset, bloating and diarrhea. If you decide to take probiotic supplements instead of or in addition to probiotic foods, be aware that these supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and their quality and effectiveness may be unknown. You should speak with your physician before taking any supplement, especially if you take other medications.
- Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op: Probiotics and Fermented Foods
- The Patriot-News Penn Live Natural Living Blog: Sources of Probiotics Beyond Yogurt
- North American Vegetarian Society: Food Sensitivities: What's a Vegan Supposed to Do?
- National Public Radio: Kombucha: Magical Health Elixir or Just Funky Tea?
- American Cancer Society: Kombucha Tea
- Cleveland Clinic: Probiotics