Studies have found that foods containing probiotics can improve bacteria balance in the gut and possibly restore regularity in people with constipation. They may even boost overall immune function, and some evidence suggests that probiotics may shorten diarrhea related to antibiotic use, contaminated food, Clostridium difficile, or a virus.
Research is limited, so there are no specific recommendations on probiotic intake for gut health. “For most people, eating a variety of probiotic-containing foods most days of the week is enough to regulate digestion and relieve mild and/or occasional problems,” King says. Good options include:
Yogurt and kefir: Fermented dairy foods contain these beneficial bacteria, which help to break down some sugars—such as lactose—making them easier to digest.
Some studies show that dairy products with the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, common in yogurts whose labels say they contain live strains, can be safely consumed by people who are lactose intolerant. “Just eat them as soon as possible, since the content diminishes the longer they are stored,” says Janet Colson, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition and food science at Middle Tennessee State University. (You may also see other probiotics, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, in the ingredients lists of some fermented dairy products.)
Kimchi: Because it’s made from fermented vegetables, this Korean side dish is a good choice for those who don’t consume dairy, and it’s a great source of dietary fiber, and vitamins A and C. Sauerkraut is another option.
Miso: In addition to containing probiotics, miso, made from fermented soybeans, is high in fiber and protein. To preserve the beneficial microbial content, add miso to foods after they’ve been cooked or heated.
You’ll also want to mix in some prebiotic-rich foods, such as asparagus, artichokes, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, and soybeans.