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Probiotics contain powerful, “good” bacteria that keep your digestive system healthy — but they also do so much more. Probiotics have been shown to help with certain skin conditions such as rosacea, boost immune health and even help with mood disorders. In fact, one study found that taking a daily probiotic supplement can help improve mood.
Taking good probiotic supplements is great, and there are plenty of delicious foods that are packed with gut-healthy probiotics as well.
Here are five probiotic-packed foods you may want to consider adding to your diet.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish consisting of spicy vegetables — usually cabbage — fermented in probiotic lactic acid bacteria. Similar to yogurt, kimchi has a strain of probiotic bacteria called lactobacilli, which helps with digestion. Kimchi’s health perks don’t end there — it has anti-cancer and anti-obesity properties, can reduce cholesterol, help brain health and promote skin health.
If kimchi is a bit too spicy for your taste, you may want to try sauerkraut, another form of fermented cabbage that’s been a staple in Central Europe for hundreds of years. Like kimchi, sauerkraut’s fermentation process produces nourishing probiotics that have been linked to improved immune function, cognitive health, anti-cancer properties and weight loss.
Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk product with a tart taste. However, unlike yogurt, kefir is more of a liquid and is often drank. Originating from the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe, kefir is made with kefir grains, which are formed out of yeast cultures and lactic acid bacteria.
Kefir is a powerful and diverse probiotic source, containing about 30 strains of bacteria and yeast. In addition to its gut health benefits, the probiotics found in kefir are thought to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. Also, the carbohydrate kefiran — which is found in kefir — has antibacterial properties.
Pickles are packed with probiotics, low in calories and a good source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that is best known for its ability to help blood clot. The benefits of this food are many, but pickles themselves are simple — they are just cucumbers pickled in salty water and left to ferment in their own lactic acid bacteria, which is what makes them sour. However, pickles are also high in sodium, so they should be eaten in moderation.
5. Dark Chocolate
Not only is dark chocolate a great source of probiotics, it also has prebiotics — it’s essentially a two-in-one delicious, gut-healthy treat. Certain good microbes in the gut, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, ferment dark chocolate into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart, one study found. Cocoa powder, an important ingredient in chocolate, has polyphenolic compounds and a small amount of dietary fiber.
“In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” John Finley, Ph.D., who led the study, said in a statement.
However, experts say to eat chocolate in moderation — too much of this tasty treat can lead to weight gain.
Bonus Pick: Garlic
Garlic may give you stinky breath, but your gut will thank you for digesting it. Unlike the other food items on this list, garlic is not a probiotic source — rather, it’s a vessel for prebiotics. As a prebiotic, garlic helps cultivate a probiotic-friendly environment in the gut. In fact, without prebiotics, probiotics might not get enough nutrients to survive.
Garlic has many other health benefits as well, such as its ability to fight the common cold, lower heart disease risk and improve bone health. It’s no wonder this delicious and nutritious vegetable is so popular — just consider packing some breath mints the next time you chow down on some garlic-infused foods.
Related: 5 Foods to Boost Your Immune System
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.