What are probiotics and how do I get more from food?

We all know how important it is to look after your gut as it affects everything from your brain to your immune system. One of the easiest ways to look after your gut is to introduce probiotics into your diet.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can be helpful to your health, in particular your digestive system. Whilst ‘bacteria’ usually has negative connotations, your body is actually full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often referred to as ‘good’ bacteria as they help to keep your gut healthy and keep a balance of bacteria.

When you lose ‘good’ bacteria in your body, for example after taking a course of antibiotics, probiotics can help to replace them. They also help to balance the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria so your body is working as it should.

The most significant benefit of probiotics is that they help to improve gut health. As we have discussed previously it is very important to maintain healthy gut flora for everything from digestion to clear skin, metabolic health & mental wellbeing. The ‘good’ bacteria in probiotics are some of the very same bacteria that are found in a healthy gut, so when you eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements this ‘good’ bacteria ends up exactly where it needs to be.

Nowadays there are some amazing probiotic supplements out there with many strains of live bacteria to help promote a healthy gut flora. Here at Mindful Chef, however, we are big believers in eating whole, fresh foods to meet your nutritional needs. It is possible to balance your gut with the help of probiotic foods, which can be found in a number of different easily accessible sources. Here are our top probiotic foods:

Apple Cider Vinegar

Whilst apple cider vinegar is not technically a probiotic, it is made with an ingredient which is helpful to probiotics. The key ingredient in raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar is fermented apples, which contain pectin — a substance which is naturally occurring in apples and essentially for good digestion. The pectin promotes healthy digestion by promoting the growth of good bacteria (as opposed to most probiotics which are actually the good bacteria themselves).

If you’re looking to buy apple cider vinegar make sure to look out for the raw, unfiltered kind!


Traditionally kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk from a cow, goat or sheep. This mixture is then left to ferment for a day and the fermentation process breaks down the lactose to create a lactose free product.

As well as being an amazing probiotic, kefir has also been shown to exhibit anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory properties, reduce blood pressure and blood glucose.

Here at Mindful Chef we do not use dairy in our recipes however it is possible to make kefir from non-dairy milks and in particular coconut kefir contains many probiotic, bioactive compounds and as many as 30 strains of good bacteria. With coconut kefir becoming more and more popular it is now available to buy in many stores across the UK — check out Rhythm Health as one of our favourite brands.


We love to use miso in our recipes. Miso is created by fermenting soybean, barley, or brown rice with koji — a fungus. The fermentation process takes anything from a few days to a few years to complete.

Not only is miso an amazing probiotic but it also contains protein, is high in vitamin B12 and contains minerals such as zinc, copper and manganese — essential for good health, hence why we love to use it in our recipes!


Sauerkraut is made by fermenting shredded cabbage with lactic acid bacteria. Studies have shown that raw sauerkraut is an excellent source of friendly bacteria — it contains a mixture of over 13 different strains of gut-protecting bacteria and it has been shown to help a number of digestive issues, including leaky gut, constipation and diarrhoea. It is also high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes and is also a rich source of iron.

If you are looking to buy sauerkraut make sure to buy unpasteurised varieties so you get all the healthy bacteria!

Brine-cured olives

Not only are olives a great source of healthy fats but new studies have shown that they are also rich in beneficial bacteria. After olives are placed in brine bacteria causes them to ferment and then once eaten this friendly bacteria makes it’s way to your gut. Make sure to buy olives that have been fermented in brine, not just water to ensure you get the benefits!

Miso maple aubergine kebabs with red rice & edamame

Sweet miso hake with pal choi, pickled cucumber & black rice

Spanish quinoa paella with olives, lemon & roasted fennel

Originally published at blog.mindfulchef.com on July 27, 2016.