Although you may be convinced that probiotics are a great choice for your health, as a vegan, you may find it a bit difficult to include those healthy bacteria in your daily regimen. That is because many probiotics are grown in dairy products. The good news is there are several solutions for vegans including eating fermented foods, and some special, vegan-grown probiotic supplements. So, if you have already read articles on the benefits of probiotics for men, women, and children, but are wondering about vegan solutions, read on!
Can Probiotics be Non-lacto?
By now it is a common suggestion to eat copious amounts of yogurt after a round of antibiotics, in order to repopulate the good bacteria in your digestive tract. That is because yogurt is one of the easiest food sources of live, probiotic cultures. But, what about all of the vegans? Obviously, eating yogurt is not an option, but is there an alternative? Naturally, people turn to probiotics in pill form. Not quite as tasty as eating yogurt, but still packing a powerful probiotic punch. The trouble with most capsulated forms of probiotics is that they are not vegan. Many probiotics sold as supplements are also derived from cultured dairy products. In addition, the capsules themselves may be made from animal gelatin or include beeswax.
Food is still an option for vegans. There are actually several probiotic containing foods that are non-animal in source, you just have to know what to look for. The best vegan food sources of probiotics include:
Sauerkraut – one a staple of many traditional diets, sauerkraut has declined drastically in popularity, usually limited to that rare reuben sandwich, or a topping on hotdogs. Sadly, most of the sauerkraut that is consumed has little to no probiotic content due to the processing. Traditional sauerkraut involves a fermenting process which allows the good bacteria content to grow. In a study published in the Journal of Food Science (2009 May-Jul; 74(4), at least 15 strains of “good” bacteria were identified in naturally fermented sauerkraut.
Fermented Pickles – another traditional food rich with probiotics is the fermented -pickle. Not your more modern quick-process pickles made with vinegar, fermented pickles are made similar to sauerkraut, a process that causes probiotics to grow.
Water Kefir – this probiotic drink is created using special culture grains, water, and some form of sugar. Due to the fermentation process, the resulting beverage contains probiotics. In fact, according to a study reported in the International Journal of Food Microbiology (2011, 284-288), more than 400 bacterial strains were found in samples of water kefir.
Kimchi – a traditional Korean dish, Kimchi is a fermented mixture of vegetables and a number of different spices. The result is a very potent, strong tasting condiment that can contain many probiotics.
It is important to realize that not all fermented foods are made equal. First of all, many probiotics are damaged at high temperatures. This means that even if cabbage is naturally fermented to produce sauerkraut, the amount of processing required to can the product for extended shelf life kills many of the good bacteria. If you do decide to incorporate fermented foods in your diet, either make your own, or look for minimally processed versions. These will usually be found in a refrigerated section of a natural food store. Secondly, just because a vegetable is cultured does not mean it is vegan. Some companies use whey (a dairy product) to culture their foods. Salt can be used as a fermenting option, but you will want to check labels carefully.
Vegan Solutions in a Pill
Getting probiotics on a regular basis through the fermented foods mentioned above can be a bit of a challenge. After all, how many of us eat Kimchi on a regular basis? Although finding truly vegan probiotic capsule can be a challenge, it is not impossible. You will simply have to do your research, and lots of it. Find out where the cultures are sourced from, as well as what material the capsules are made from. Both of these factors can be vegan, but that is usually the exception. As you know, labels can be deceiving. Don’t jump for joy just because you see a probiotic labeled “vegetarian.” This can sometimes just be a fancy advertising ploy, while the cultures themselves have still been derived from dairy products. With a little bit of effort, you too can be enjoying all the benefits of fermented foods while sticking with your vegan lifestyle.
Photo Credit USAG-Humphreys @ Creative Commons – http://www.flickr.com/photos/usaghumphreys/