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20 of the best plant-based probiotics and prebiotics


The best plant-based probiotics and prebiotics plus 3 recipes

Credit: Reka Biro-Horvath

Popular dairy products like yoghurt are the most recognised sources of probiotics — but what about all the plant-based products like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh, which often get ignored?

Most people know all about probiotics, but what about prebiotics? The names are very similar, but they each play different roles for your gut health. Here’s a guide to what plant-based prebiotics and probiotics to look out for so you can eat healthily and love your gut while you’re at it.

Probiotics vs prebiotics

Probiotics are live “good” bacteria living in your gut. They help to break down and digest food, minimise gas and bloating, boost your immune system and support overall gut health.

The gut is sometimes called your “second brain” as it can play a key role in your mental health. Recent studies have found that probiotics have an effect on your mood since they produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.

Like everything, probiotics need to be fed in order to remain active and healthy.

Prebiotics are the food for the good bacteria. They are non-digestible plant fibres linked to the promotion of the growth of helpful bacteria in the gut. They are complementary to probiotics and work together synergistically to support your body, laying the groundwork so probiotics can thrive in your system. Without the “fuel” of prebiotics, probiotics would starve, so it’s usually recommended to combine foods that have probiotics with foods that have prebiotics in one meal.

Plant-based probiotics

A variety of plant-based foods, particularly sour and fermented foods, contain beneficial probiotic bacteria. Eating probiotics raw is best since cooking can reduce some of their benefits. Although probiotic supplements are helpful, you can’t beat the natural sources found in food, which are more available for absorption and digestion.

Tempeh

Move over, tofu; the new darling of plant-based diets is tempeh, a fermented soybean product rich in both protein and probiotics. It has a firm yet chewy texture with a mild nutty flavour so is a popular addition to a variety of dishes including salads, stir fries, burgers and sandwiches. It is known to have many health benefits including helping to increase bone density, reducing cholesterol, aiding in muscle recovery and improving immune function. It’s also packed full of vitamin C. Buy it at your local grocery store or, if you’re feeling game, try making it at home.

Miso

A staple in Japanese cuisine, miso (meaning “fermented beans”) is commonly used as a base for soups and stir-fries as well as for marinades and salad dressings.  Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and grain and has a distinctive salty and umami (savoury) flavour. The fermentation process makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients it contains as well as enhancing the number of good bacteria and enzymes in your intestinal flora. Miso is also a great source of antioxidants, vitamins B, E and K and folic acid. Just be wary that miso is rich in sodium so is best consumed in moderation (no more than approximately six grams per day).

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut has a lot more going for it than just a filling for a Reuben sandwich or a condiment for bratwurst. A form of fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is full of probiotic goodness as well as potassium and vitamins C and K. Look for unpasteurised sauerkraut (the pasteurisation process destroys some of the good stuff) or, even better, make your own by finely cutting cabbage and fermenting it in a concentrated saltwater solution. Try to consume sauerkraut as freshly fermented as possible since it retains the most nutrient density this way.

Kimchi

A traditional Korean food, kimchi is spicy fermented cabbage packed full of health benefits. High in natural probiotics, vitamins and antioxidants, kimchi is made using a similar process to sauerkraut but usually fermented at a lower temperature for a shorter period of time, making it super easy to make at home. Try making a simple cabbage kimchi with garlic, salt, chili and vinegar as a side or add it to a piping hot bowl of bibimbap or stir-fry. Recent studies suggest that regularly eating kimchi can help lower blood cholesterol, reduce inflammation and improve memory.

Kombucha

Kombucha, a fermented tea, has enjoyed a trendy revival in recent years despite having been around for thousands of years. To make kombucha, sweetened black or green tea is fermented with a starter culture often called a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The bacteria and yeast convert the sugar into ethanol and acetic acid, which results in a refreshing, slightly sour, fizzy drink that often has flavours added. If kept cooled, the actual level of ethanol (alcohol) in a kombucha drink is less than 0.5 per cent so it won’t be getting you drunk. Having said that, if you are making own, varying conditions can lead to varying ethanol concentrations. Kombucha is also full of antioxidants, which can kill harmful bacteria and fight free radicals. If you’re considering making kombucha at home, be wary of the fermentation process since food safety can be an issue.

Natto

This traditional Japanese food, usually consumed at breakfast, is another natural probiotic made from fermented soybeans. Unlike its big sister tempeh, it is made by soaking whole soybeans then steaming or boiling them and finally adding the bacterium Bacillus subtilis to the mixture and allowing it to ferment. This bacterium has been found to help digestive issues and protect your body against inflammation and disease. Natto is not everyone’s cup of tea due to its distinctly bitter flavour and gooey and sticky texture, but it’s definitely worth giving it a go to keep your gut happy.

Pickled vegetables

While pickled cucumbers are one of the most popular fermented foods, pretty much any type of vegetable under the sun can be used for pickling in brine such as carrots, radishes, green beans and red bell peppers. Pickle them at home by immersing them in water, salt and a starter culture. If buying pickled vegetables at your local supermarket, just make sure they are unpasteurirsed so you can get the full benefit of the probiotic. It’s also advised to consume pickled vegetables in moderation due to their high salt content.

Sourdough bread

Bread as a probiotic? You may not have guessed it but sourdough that requires a sourdough starter (a combination of flour and water that has fermented for several days) is rich in gut-friendly probiotics.

Plant-based prebiotics

Foods that are high in fibre are also often high in prebiotics. Here are some of the top foods richest in plant-based prebiotics that you can incorporate into your daily meal plan.

Raw garlic

Raw garlic contains the prebiotics inulin and sweet, naturally occurring prebiotics called fructooligosaccharides (FOS) as well as nutrients including vitamins B6, C and selenium. It acts as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of gut-friendly bifidobacteria. Try adding raw garlic to your homemade hummus or guacamole or even your next stir-fry or pasta.

Onions

Raw onions are particularly beneficial as a prebiotic since they are rich in chromium, which helps boost inulin production; quercetin, which fights off free radicals; and vitamin C. Unfortunately, raw onions are not suitable for some people but the good news is cooked onions are a prebiotic food as well, though some of the prebiotic content is lost to sugars as the starch breaks down.

Chicory root

The root of chicory is one of the best prebiotic foods on the market. It is comprised of nearly 65 per cent fibre by weight and approximately 47 per cent of fibre from inulin, which has been proved to improve digestion, break down fat and help relieve constipation. It can be found in health stores and gourmet markets and is often used in cereals, yoghurt, breakfast bars and bread. It’s also popular as a coffee substitute because it has a deep, dark flavour when roasted.

Jerusalem artichokes

These large green potato-like artichokes are hard to miss at your local market.  They can be consumed raw, cooked or in powdered form. Since they have a low glycaemic index they are also a great substitute for potatoes.

Bananas

As well as tasting delicious, bananas are great for soothing the gut and reducing bloating. Choose unripe bananas for the best prebiotic effect and consume before they are fully ripened as the fibre of the banana breaks down the riper it gets, eventually converting to sugar.

Raw dandelion greens

These abundant, backyard greens are 25 per cent prebiotic fibre and a great addition to salad, casserole or soup but best eaten raw to maximise their prebiotic benefits. Alternatively, just blanch them slightly in boiling water or swap your morning brew for a dandelion green tea. Dandelion greens are also known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Jicama

Otherwise known as Mexican turnip or yam bean, jicama is a type of root vegetable that’s like a cross between an apple and a turnip. An extremely high-fibre food, it contains a beneficial type of prebiotic called oligofructose inulin. Often used in Mexican recipes, jicama is great in salsa and salads.

Raw wheat bran

Another food rich in prebiotics, raw wheat bran (the outer layer of the whole wheat grain) is an easy addition to your daily ritual. It’s packed full of a special fibre called arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS), which accounts for over 60 per cent of the bran’s fibre content. AXOS has been found to boost the level of healthy bifidobacteria in the gut. Try adding it to your morning muesli or blending it into a smoothie.

Acacia gum

Increasingly popular in recently years, acacia gum (or fibre) is commonly used as a powder that can be served in a drink. It has an extremely high fibre content of 86 per cent, making it one of the best prebiotics out there.

Berries

As well as being one of nature’s superfoods, rich in antioxidants and fibre, berries also contain a high level of polyphenols which act in a similar way to prebiotics. They have been found to interact with the good bacteria in the gut and help them to multiply. All types of berries including fresh and frozen are considered gut-friendly foods.

Raw leeks

Leeks are not only high in prebiotics but also vitamins K and C. They are also an incredibly versatile addition to many dishes including salads, quiches and vegetable bakes.

Asparagus

Eating asparagus raw is best to get its prebiotic benefits. However, if you find it too tough to eat, try blending it into a smoothie or lightly steaming it. It’s also super easy to make fermented asparagus at home by brining it in a mason jar.

Leafy greens

In case you need another reason to eat them, studies have proven that leafy greens including kale, spinach and chard are also a good source of prebiotics. They are also full of vitamins including A and C as well as fibre and potassium.

Cooking with probiotics and prebiotics

Here are some of my favourite recipes using plant-based prebiotic and probiotic foods.

 

Banana and Coconut Yoghurt Breakfast Parfaits

Ingredients

Method

  • 100g granola, store-bought or homemade
  • 225g coconut yoghurt
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  1. Add layer of granola at bottom of two glasses or jam jars then add layer of coconut yoghurt and bananas. Repeat process and finish with banana slices on top. If desired, drizzle with maple syrup.

Green Breakfast Bowls with Miso Dressing

Ingredients

Method

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • ½ cup alfalfa sprouts
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled & halved
  • 1 cup baby spinach

  • Miso Vinaigrette
  • 2 tsp white miso paste
  • Juice 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame oil

  • Scallions, sliced thinly, to top (optional)
  1. Wash brown rice in cold water then place in medium-sized saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to boil then cover and simmer for 15 mins until rice is tender. Take off heat and allow to cool for 5 mins.
  2. To make miso dressing, combine all ingredients in small bowl and slightly whisk.
  3. Add cooked brown rice to two bowls then top with baby spinach, alfalfa sprouts, fresh basil leaves and avocado. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of avocado then finally top with hard-boiled egg.
  4. Finish with generous drizzle of miso dressing and sliced scallions if desired.
  5. Serve immediately.

Kimchi Fried Rice

Ingredients

Method

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • ½ cup of kimchi, chopped
  • 2½ cups cooked jasmine rice, cooled
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp gochujang
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

  • Toppings (optional)
  • 2 fried eggs
  • Red chilli, sliced
  • Scallions, sliced
  • Fried shallots
  • Micro greens
  1. Heat oil in large nonstick pan or wok on medium–high heat.
  2. Add onions and garlic and cook for a few mins until soft. Add kimchi and cook slightly until fragrant then add cooked and cooled rice, carrot, soy sauce, gochujang and sesame oil until the mixture comes to the boil. Turn down heat and stir well until all ingredients have combined. Season as required.
  3. Divide fried rice into two bowls and top each bowl with fried egg, red chilli slices, scallions, fried shallots and micro greens.



 

Lisa Holmen

Lisa Holmen is a food and travel writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her blog, Lisa Eats World, is one of the leading food and travel blogs in Australia, featuring healthy recipes, restaurant reviews and food-inspired travel guides. Lisa divides her time between the bustle of Melbourne and her new home on the Mornington Peninsula where she loves meeting local producers, visiting wineries, soaking up the coastal lifestyle and adopting a “slower” approach to living.
An advocate of sustainable and ethical foods, Lisa is particularly passionate about healthy, organic and wholesome foods and cooking from scratch. She believes in simplicity in the kitchen and loves trying new recipes, drawing inspiration from her travel adventures and her heritage. Although she’s not a vegetarian, Lisa has an appreciation for plant-based cooking and wholefoods and tries to cook vegetarian at home wherever possible.