Probiotic foods: the most important questions and answers

Probiotische Lebensmittel: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

Probiotic foods have a very good health reputation. Various health-promoting effects are attributed to them. For example, probiotic foods are supposed to boost your immune system, prevent diseases and also have a positive effect on your body weight. But is that all correct?

In this article we try to answer the most important questions about probiotic foods. Here you will find an overview of what is actually true about probiotic foods. We want to help you find out if probiotic foods are right for you.

the essentials in brief

  • Probiotic foods contain health-promoting bacteria. These bacteria act in the intestine, where they support the intestinal flora and strengthen the immune system.
  • Probiotic foods are created through the process of fermentation. The healthy probiotic bacteria in the food are increased.
  • Probiotic bacteria can be found in dairy products, fermented vegetables, fruits and beverages. The most important thing is that the bacteria are ingested alive.

Probiotic foods: what you should know about them

Probiotic foods are considered very healthy. They are said to have numerous health-promoting properties, such as strengthening the natural defenses and building up the intestinal flora. A healthy intestine and a strong immune system protect against diseases and contribute to a good quality of life.

What are probiotic foods?

Probiotic foods contain cultures of bacteria that survive the digestive process and thus enter our intestines.

The word "probiotics" means "for life".

There they can have a health-promoting effect. In addition to lactic acid bacteria, these microorganisms also include bifidobacteria and certain yeast fungi.

By introducing these bacteria to the intestine, the intestinal flora improves. To do this, the microorganisms must arrive alive in the intestine. There they can multiply and rebuild existing bacterial cultures or replace harmful cultures.

The different types of bacteria that live in the gut are important for digestion and the immune system. This protects the body from diseases. A healthy gut contributes to a good immune system.

Probiotic foods need to be distinguished from probiotic supplements. Probiotic preparations are dietary supplements containing a composition of lactic acid bacteria. Probiotic foods, on the other hand, are foods that naturally contain probiotic bacteria.

keyword fermentation

The process that increases the lactic acid bacteria in food, thereby making it probiotic, is called fermentation.

Fermentation has a positive effect on many properties of food. Here we have put together a small overview for you:

property of food effect of fermentation
The taste fermented food tastes refreshingly sour and has a longer shelf life.
digestion the fermentation makes the food easier to digest and better tolerated.
anti-inflammatory the probiotic bacteria have an anti-inflammatory effect. (1)
prevent diseases Lactic acid bacteria support the intestinal flora and thereby prevent diseases related to the intestine. (1)
low calorie carbohydrates are broken down during fermentation. This reduces the calories and carbohydrates in the food.

So you can see that it is definitely worth eating fermented foods from time to time.

What effect do probiotic foods have on our health?

The health benefits of probiotic foods are controversial. There are many different types of lactic acid bacteria and their effect on gut flora and the immune system is still being researched.

The studies that have already been conducted on fermented foods give reason to believe that fermented foods and drinks have an increased health-promoting effect compared to non-fermented foods. (2)

Some lactic acid bacteria have been shown to have a positive effect on diarrheal diseases. In a meta-study on the effect of probiotics on gastrointestinal diseases, it was found that probiotic bacteria are generally effective in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal diseases.

However, not all probiotic bacteria have the same effect on all intestinal diseases. The type of disease and the respective strain of bacteria should always be coordinated. (3)

gastrointestinal complaint

Many people suffer from gastrointestinal problems. Probiotics can help. (Image source: pixabay / Darko Djurin)

What you should keep in mind is that many of the studies refer to probiotic supplements. With probiotic foods, it's harder to control which strains of lactic acid bacteria you're consuming. The proven positive effect of probiotics cannot be transferred to probiotic foods without restrictions.

Are probiotic foods useful after antibiotic therapy?

Probiotics are commonly used to reduce intestinal disturbances during and after antibiotic therapy. However, the benefits of probiotics are also controversial here and are still being researched.

A meta-analysis found that treatment with probiotics tends to be helpful in relieving gut discomfort after antibiotic therapy. The probiotics can be taken for up to four weeks. (4)

Probiotic foods can basically be an integral part of your diet. If you want to rebuild your intestinal flora after antibiotic therapy, you should not only rely on the lactic acid bacteria that occur naturally in food. It is best to talk to your doctor about whether and which probiotic preparations you can take.

When and for whom is the intake of probiotic foods otherwise useful?

Several studies have confirmed that consuming fermented foods can improve health. There is evidence to suggest that probiotic foods can provide relief for the following conditions:

  • lactose intolerance
  • Diarrhea
  • inflammation of the airways

This health-promoting potential comes from the fact that probiotics activate the body's defenses and anti-inflammatory responses. (1)

Eating probiotics is always a good idea.

Especially if you suffer from lactose intolerance, it could be worthwhile for you to consume probiotic foods. A study has shown that the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be alleviated by treatment with probiotics and vitamin B6. (5)

Probiotic foods should be part of every healthy and balanced diet. However, keep in mind that probiotics cannot make up for an unhealthy diet.

Can Probiotic Foods Help You Lose Weight?

Obesity has a microbial component. The composition of the bacterial strains in the intestine differs in obese and non-obese people. (6)

This finding suggests that by influencing the intestinal flora, one can also influence weight. In fact, there are studies that confirm this assumption. For example, taking a probiotic supplement can limit weight gain on a high-fat diet. (7)

Probiotic bacteria work against weight gain in several ways:

function Effect
inhibit absorption of fat Certain types of lactic acid bacteria can help increase fat excretion. (8th)
promote satiety The formation of a satiety hormone can be promoted by probiotic bacteria. As a result, less food is consumed. (9)
reduce belly fat Probiotics can change the intestinal flora. This allows a protein that reduces fat deposits on the abdomen to be manipulated. (10)

When losing weight with probiotics, it is important to pay attention to the type of lactic acid bacteria. A probiotic yoghurt that has been mixed with the bacteria Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus has been shown to reduce body weight. (11) Other lactic acid bacteria, on the other hand, can even promote weight gain. (12)

Caution is therefore required when losing weight with probiotics. In addition, you should also note that the studies that show a positive effect on weight were mostly carried out with probiotic supplements and not with natural probiotic foods.

If you want to change your diet, you should include natural probiotic foods. A balanced diet definitely contributes to a healthy body weight.

Are there vegan probiotic foods?

The healthy lactic acid bacteria are not only found in dairy products. There are many vegan alternatives to probiotic dairy products. Fermented vegetables, for example, are also very rich in probiotic bacteria.

If you eat vegan, you can get probiotic bacteria from the following foods, among others:

  • sauerkraut
  • pickles
  • kimchi
  • miso
  • kombucha
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • tempeh

The most important thing about probiotic foods is that the lactic acid bacteria in the food have been increased through fermentation and that they are eaten alive.

Can I make my own probiotic foods?

Basically, you can ferment any food and thereby increase the proportion of lactic acid bacteria in it.

You can easily ferment food yourself at home.

All you have to do when fermenting is chop vegetables, such as cabbage or carrots, and leave them sealed in a container with a little salt for a few weeks. During the fermentation process that is set in motion, the lactic acid bacteria convert sugar and starch into lactic acid.

Can probiotic foods have side effects or be dangerous?

Probiotic bacteria are generally considered harmless. Nevertheless, in some cases side effects can occur due to the activity of probiotic bacteria. These side effects include:

  • infections
  • disturbed metabolism
  • excessive stimulation of the immune system
  • gastrointestinal disorders (13)

In principle, however, natural probiotic foods should not have any long-term consequences. You should always listen to your body. If you notice that you cannot tolerate something, you should avoid it.

Which foods are probiotic?

Many natural foods are rich in lactic acid bacteria. Foods such as sour milk products and vegetables fermented with lactic acid bacteria have a high proportion of probiotic bacteria.

Below you will find a list of foods that have a high content of lactic acid bacteria.

Probiotic dairy products

Dairy products, which consist of fermented milk, are particularly rich in lactic acid bacteria. In addition, these foods have the advantage that you can get them in good quality in the supermarket.

When looking for probiotic dairy products, you should always make sure that they are unpasteurized. The healthy bacteria cannot survive in pasteurized products.


Yoghurt is made from milk fermented by lactic acid bacteria. Most bacteria are contained in natural, unpasteurized yoghurt.

In addition to being high in lactic acid bacteria, which are good for the gut, yogurt has other health benefits. For example, it can lower blood pressure. (14)


Yogurt is one of the most well-known probiotic foods. It has many health benefits. (Image source: unsplash / Sara Cervera)

Yoghurt does not have to be missing in the vegan diet either. Vegans can use soy or almond yoghurt as an alternative to dairy products.


Kefir is a product made from cow's, sheep's or goat's milk to which lactic acid bacteria and the so-called kefir grain are added. This converts lactose into lactic acid and ferments the milk.

Compared to yoghurt, kefir has the advantage that it is almost lactose-free. This makes kefir safe for people suffering from lactose intolerance.

Kefir has a high content of microorganisms, which are said to act against bacteria, fungi and even tumors and cancer by activating the body's defences. (15)

There is also water kefir as an alternative for vegans. This is made from water, fruit or vegetable juice. As with traditional kefir, lactic acid bacteria and the kefir grain are added to the liquid.


Not all cheeses contain probiotic bacteria. Mozzarella, Cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda and Parmesan are examples of probiotic cheeses. They contain live lactic acid bacteria.


The probiotic bacteria in mozzarella survive both processing and digestion. (Image source: unsplash / Sebastian Coman Photography)

A study has shown that the probiotic lactic acid bacteria contained in mozzarella do not die off when the cheese is processed. The bacteria can also partially survive digestion and thus reach the intestine. (16)

Probiotic Vegetables

Vegetables can also contain lactic acid bacteria. To do this, it must be fermented. During the fermentation process, the probiotic bacteria multiply, making the vegetables acidic and longer lasting.

Fermented vegetables are a good alternative to probiotic dairy for people who follow a vegan diet. However, fermented vegetables should be on everyone's menu. The health-promoting effects of fermented food are much greater than in the unprocessed state. (2)


You can easily ferment your own vegetables at home. This makes it more durable and the healthy lactic acid bacteria multiply. (Image source: unsplash / Brooke Lark)

When it comes to fermented vegetables, you should always make sure that they are of good quality and fresh. Unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that you cannot buy your probiotic vegetables in the nearest supermarket. The good news, however, is that you can easily ferment your own vegetables at home.

Pickled cucumbers

Pickles also contain probiotic bacteria. However, you must note that only cucumbers that have been pickled in brine have been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. Pickles do not contain live lactic acid bacteria.


Sauerkraut is made by fermenting cabbage using lactic acid bacteria that naturally occur in cabbage. Fermenting the cabbage makes it easier to digest and increases the levels of live lactic acid bacteria.

You should eat sauerkraut raw if possible. If the vegetables are heated too much, the valuable bacteria die off quickly. After all, the aim of probiotic foods is for the lactic acid bacteria to reach the intestines alive.


Kimchi is not dissimilar to sauerkraut. Kimchi is a Korean dish made from fermented cabbage. The vegetables are also seasoned during the fermentation process. Kimchi is rich in lactic acid bacteria, fiber, protein and vitamins.

Other probiotic foods

In addition to fermented milk products and vegetables, there are other foods that contain valuable lactic acid bacteria.

  • Kombucha : Kombucha is tea fermented by the addition of a yeast fungus. This fermentation produces not only alcohol, acetic acid and carbonic acid but also lactic acid. If you choose to drink kombucha due to its high levels of probiotic bacteria, make sure it's fresh. Otherwise the lactic acid bacteria will die and no longer have any effect on your intestinal flora.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar : Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples. Lactic acid bacteria also form during this fermentation process. Apple cider vinegar has many other proven health benefits. It is also very easy to incorporate into a balanced diet.
  • Miso : Miso is a spicy paste from Japanese cuisine. Miso is made from soy and grains. The paste is fermented by lactic acid bacteria and thus develops its spicy taste. Miso not only has a high proportion of lactic acid bacteria, but also protein and fiber.
  • Tempeh : Tempeh is a product made from soy, which has also been fermented. Fermentation occurs through lactic acid bacteria, making tempeh a source of probiotic bacteria. Aside from the lactic acid bacteria, tempeh is also rich in proteins. Similar to tofu, you can also include tempeh in your diet as a meat substitute.

Alternatives to probiotic foods

There are some alternatives to probiotic foods. Below you will find a small list:

  • probiotic supplements
  • fiber
  • drink a lot

If you find it difficult to incorporate probiotic foods into your diet, you can easily resort to probiotic supplements. However, you should find out more about this.

You can also support your intestinal flora with a high-fiber diet. Prebiotics, which are among the dietary fibers, increase the growth and activity of the intestinal bacteria. So prebiotics and probiotics make a good team.

Whatever you do to do something good for your body is to drink enough water. This also boosts digestion and metabolism.


Probiotic foods actually have a lot of health-promoting potential. They have a positive effect on the intestinal flora. This in turn has many health consequences. Probiotic foods can provide relief for certain ailments such as lactose intolerance, diarrhea, inflammation and obesity.

While probiotic foods can have a positive impact on your health, you shouldn't rely on them alone. In sensible amounts as part of a balanced diet, probiotic foods contribute to a healthy body.


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