The 7 Best Probiotic Foods for Diabetesby David Mendosa Patient Advocate
Probiotic foods are fermented, but not all fermented foods are probiotic. Beer and wine are fermented but aren’t probiotic, which most of the scientific community defines as live microorganisms that can confer a health benefit. Just about all cuisines include probiotic foods because they preserve and enhance food by harnessing the benefits of good bacteria and yeast. They populate our digestive tract and help us break down our food.
Sauerkraut comes from Eastern European and Germanic cuisines and in German means “sour cabbage.” If you don’t make it at home, get raw sauerkraut from a refrigerated case of your market; pasteurization kills good and bad bacteria. Raw sauerkraut is low in carbs and can have 15 different species of good bacteria.
If you like spicy foods, you may prefer kimchi to its milder cousin, sauerkraut. Kimchi -- the national dish of both South and North Korea -- and sauerkraut rank among the very best probiotic foods for people with diabetes. They are the lowest in carbohydrates and calories of any of these foods while having lots of fiber. Usually made from napa cabbage and seasonings, kimchi comes as a side dish at almost every Korean meal.
Unflavored, natural yogurt from our markets adds active cultures after pasteurization and has nothing else but milk. Fermentation converts lactose, the sugar in milk, into lactic acid, which doesn’t raise our blood sugar levels and isn’t a carbohydrate. Greek yogurt and Middle Eastern labneh, which are strained, are even better, because straining removes even more lactose.
Kefir is the liquid cousin of yogurt, coming to us from the north Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia. Thick, creamy, and tangy, kefir has as many as a dozen live and active cultures of probiotic bacteria as well as helpful yeasts. The lactic acid breaks down the lactose sugar of milk, resulting in very little lactose in kefir. Just make sure that any kefir you buy is plain; add stevia at home if you want it to be sweeter.
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented whole soybeans. While I relish the taste of natto, some people don’t care for its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture, similar to a pungent cheese. This probiotic makes sticky strings around the soybeans. Its essential stickiness comes from its beneficial amino acid, which is responsible for the interesting taste of both natto and of many strong cheeses.
Tempeh comes from Indonesia, where they make it from soybeans into a cake form. It tastes smoky, nutty, and similar to a mushroom and is high in protein. Unlike most other soy products, which are highly processed, tempeh is close to soy in its whole food form. In our markets I have usually found tempeh made from combinations of soy and grain, but prefer plain soy tempeh. Look for “GMO free” on the packaging to avoid genetically modified soybeans.
Anyone who has eaten in a Japanese restaurant is familiar with miso soup,” writes Sandor Ellix Katz in his definitive book on probiotic foods, The Art of Fermentation. Miso, a paste typically made from soybeans, has a pleasant umami flavor. Probiotic-filled miso reportedly has more than 160 bacteria strains. The salty soup made from miso is low in calories and carbs and high in B vitamins and protective antioxidants.
We actually don’t have to eat any probiotic foods to get the benefit of probiotics. That’s because we can conveniently get lots of the good bacteria from supplements. The one that I take to supplement the probiotic foods I eat is Phillips’ Colon Health, which has three types of good bacteria totaling 1.5 billion cells. But we do have to eat something, so why not eat healthy food that is probiotic?