The human body is home to trillions of bacteria that help digest your food, improve nutrient absorption, control your mood, protect you from the bad bugs, and boost your immune system. They’re super important, but how can you get probiotics or these healthy bacteria if you’re excluding both dairy and soy from your diet?
As you probably know, most people associate good bacteria with eating yogurts. And that’s a fantastic way of boosting levels of healthy bacteria, but not much use if you’re on a vegan diet or if you’re lactose intolerant. Soy yogurts are another great way to obtain live bacteria cultures, but you may have a few reasons why you’d want to stay away from soy as well.
But hey, that’s fine! There are still many other sources of probiotics and prebiotics in the diet which will give you large doses of good bacteria and some food which will allow them to flourish in the body!
Why do vegans need probiotics anyway?
Since the dawn of time bacteria have been with us and are some of the simplest organisms on the planet. Naturally, the immune system was created to deal with these organisms and stop us from getting sick, but under some circumstances, these bacteria live symbiotically with us.
Did you know that at one point in ancient history, mitochondria evolved from an engulfed bacterium into the eukaryotic cell? Pretty amazing!
We’re not getting away from bacteria, so we have learned to live with them, and even have a mutually beneficial relationship in the gut. However, disturbance of gut flora can have terrible consequences for your well-being.
Reasons why you should include probiotics in your diet
- Bacteria help digest our food and provide important nutrients to maintain health
- Good bacteria help resist parasitic infection from taking hold in the gut
- Good bacteria train your immune system to deal with more dangerous types of bugs
- The gut and brain are closely linked and has poor gut health is a known risk factor for anxiety and depression
- Probiotics help reduce inflammation in the bowel and reduce the likelihood of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome
- A healthy gut population may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer
- Including probiotics in your diet or even in supplemental form may prevent side effects from taking antibiotics and restore the natural gut flora which had been destroyed by the previous use of powerful antibiotics
- Research suggests that people with a healthy microbiome may be at less risk of metabolic disease and obesity
Where can a vegan get probiotics in their diet?
Since dairy and soy are out, let’s look at a few foods which you should include in your diet to get probiotics. There are plenty to choose from! 🙂
If you know me, you know I love South Korea and I’m even learning Korean. To be honest, many Koreans are the opposite of a vegan.
In fact, a typical Korean diet can be heavily meat-based. Kimchi is one food that can be vegan and very healthy.
It’s basically made from fermenting vegetables like napa cabbage and adding other ingredients such as garlic, red pepper powder, ginger and more. Over time, lactic acid bacteria become the dominant bacteria and suppress pathogenic bacteria from the culture.
There have been many benefits associated with eating Kimchi like reduction of cholesterol, improving constipation, boosting the immune system and improving brain health. Vegan Kimchi has also been shown to result in similar bacteria levels as non-vegan Kimchi [1, 2 ]
Soy sauce is often used, but as an alternative, you can use coconut Aminos.
If you’ve ever tried Kimchi, let me know in the comments.
Fancy a different kind of tea than your regular black or green tea? Try out Kombucha!
It’s made by fermenting black, green or white tea with bacteria and yeast. It’s also known as SCOBY, which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
I know it doesn’t sound so appetizing, but there are many health benefits from the drink that you might want to include it in your diet.
It does contain a little bit of alcohol, but a very small amount, usually less than 0.5%. So it can be labeled as “non-alcoholic”.
Like Kimchi, it’s made by fermenting cabbage and has been eaten for hundreds of years in the diet and for preserving cabbage.
Studies have shown that the microbial community from the start of the fermentation process expands rapidly and is a great source of probiotics for vegans. 
One study showed that repeated consumption of sauerkraut may help reduce inflammation in the gut and also have anticarcinogenic effects and therefore may prevent some types of cancer. 
4. Real Pickles
Real pickles are made with cucumbers and spices. There are many different pickling methods employed by the food industry now, but they lack some of the health-promoting benefits you’d get from traditional pickles.
The best products are the ones which are still using lactic acid fermentation to break down the natural sugars in the vegetables to create a tasty and very healthy, probiotic-rich food.
Unlike cabbage, the great thing about cucumbers is they require less time to ferment.
You can find real picks in the store in the refrigerator section.
5. Dark Chocolate
I bet that chocolate is the last food you’d expect to have probiotics. Well, the goods is that it actually contains both prebiotics and probiotics!
I don’t know about you but I love dark chocolate. It’s a tasty treat, but also packed with antioxidants and has numerous health benefits associated with it.
The higher percentage dark chocolate the better because it will contain less sugar, but anything over 70% is good.
Due to the beans undergoing a fermentation process, you end up with a healthy probiotic food containing Lactobacillus Plantarum.
Prebiotics to feed the bacteria
Now you know what foods to include in your vegan diet which contain probiotics, how about a little food to help them grow? 🙂
There are many foods in a plant-based diet which will dramatically improve gut health and help feed bacteria. Here’s a few of them.
- Raw Leeks
- Raw Garlic
- Raw Asparagus
- Raw Onion
- Root vegetables like carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, beets
I expect that some of you may never have heard of the 5 probiotic foods before, and perhaps for some people, they are an acquired taste. But I recommend giving them a try as they are an excellent source of probiotics if you’re either a vegetarian or vegan.