Get the Most from Probiotic-Rich Foods

Skyr-Swirled Beet Dip

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Fermented foods are hot – consumption increased 149% in 2018, led by more novel products like kombucha and kimchi (3). For the past 2 years, dietitian-nutritionists ranked fermented foods #1 on the list of popular foods in the 7th annual report, “What’s Trending in Nutrition” (1,2).

Growth in the world of fermented dairy comes from interest in new products like Icelandic yogurts or  skyr, which is similar to Greek yogurt, and plant-based yogurts made from ingredients such as soy, cashew, almond, and coconut (4).

Check out my recipe, Skyr-Swirled Beet Dip, published in Food & Nutrition Magazine, p. 35/ July/August 2019  It won a recipe contest sponsored by Siggi’s.  My prize with a one-month supply of Siggi’s coupons.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Other fermented foods include kefir (sometimes called drinkable yogurt), sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, natto (Japanese fermented soybeans), miso, some pickles and cheeses.  Fermentation is embedded in medicinal and culinary traditions around the globe. We like their complex and interesting tastes and the longer shelf life fermentation brings to food. We’re eating fermented foods for another reason – digestive wellness and general health (6,7).

Fermented foods offer naturally occurring “good” bacteria and yeasts – probiotics. Probiotic means “for life” and consumption of these microorganisms may promote microbial balance in the body, healthy digestive and immune systems, and have positive effects on brain health, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and more (2,14).

Why not just pop a probiotic pill? They have benefits, but fermented foods offer additional key nutrients and fermentation can increase digestibility and the bioavailability of nutrients. Yogurt and kefir (sometimes called drinkable yogurt) supply protein, calcium and potassium. Sauerkraut and spicy Korean kimchi are made from the cruciferous vegetable cabbage and may include other vegetables which offer dietary fiber and nutrients such as vitamin C, A and iron, depending on the ingredients, along with probiotics. (8,9,10).

Kombucha, a slightly fizzy drink of fermented tea, has been around since at least 220 BC. It provides B vitamins, trace mineral, organic acids, like acetic acid and others that are produced when vinegar is made. Kombucha is known for its antioxidant polyphenols which may help decrease inflammation, promote gut health and confer other benefits. The fermentation process produces alcohol which is controlled to stay below 0.5%, above which it would be categorized and taxed as an alcoholic beverage. (11,12,13)

Get the Most from Probiotic Foods:

  • Kombucha: Compare labels if you’re concerned about added sugars and calories. Pat attention to portions – too much can cause side effects (9,11).
  • Dairy and Dairy Alternates: Look for the words” contains live and active cultures.” Check labels for added sweeteners.
  • Fermented Veggies: Choose from products found in the refrigerated section of markets as they’re likely to contain more probiotics than shelf-stable ones. Look for ones produced by lacto-fermentation or look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label. Veggies pickled with vinegar don’t contain probiotics. Fermented veggies tend to be high in sodium if that is a concern. Be mindful of portion sizes. Observational studies have linked diets high in pickled foods with some types of cancer (5).
  • DIY fermentation is popular. If you decide to make your own, engage in clean, safe production practices (15).
  • Heat is the enemy of probiotic-rich foods. They’re a wonderful ingredient in recipes but know that heat will destroy beneficial organisms.

Here’s my recipe, a perfect starter for summer BBQ season.

Skyr-Swirled Beet Dip

Makes about 2 cups.

1 cup chopped, peeled, cooked red beets (about 1-pound of raw, trimmed beets)

1 cup Siggi’s 4% or 0% Skyr, divided use

½ cup tahini

½ cup cooked garbanzo beans

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice

To serve:

Chopped toasted walnuts or pistachios

Chopped cilantro leaves or thinly sliced green onion

Pita chips or raw vegetable slices

  1. In bowl of food processor, combine beets, ½ cup Skyr, tahini, garbanzo beans, garlic, salt and lemon juice.  Whirl until smooth, stopping to scrape down side of bowl once or twice. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if needed.
  2. To serve, spoon dip into a bowl.  Top with remaining ½ cup Skyr. Swirl into beet dip.  Sprinkle with walnuts and cilantro.  Serve with chips and / or vegetables.   Makes about 2 cups.


  1. Annual Survey Reveals Food Trends Among Consumers and RDs
  2. Food Trends: What’s Hot in 2019 Berkley Wellness
  3. Fermentation On Fire. US Retail Sales of Kombucha and other fermented Beverages Surges 17% in 2017. Elaine Watson. February 13, 2018. Food Navigator.
  4. Yogurt Sales Decline as Options Increase. Victoria Campisi. April 23, 2019. The Food Institute.
  5. Why we love fermented foods. Berkeley Wellness. April 16, 2016. s
  6. Gut Health and Functional Foods Top Charts of 2019 Food Trends by  Ariel Knoebel Food & Drink  Dec. 18,2018
  7. Digestive health, a top trend heading into 2019 F 12.04.2018. Keith Nunes. Food business News.
  8. Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut: An Ancient Food Taking the Spotlight in Health and Wellness. Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 20, No. 11, P. 12.  November 2018.
  9. Kimchi Has Many Health Benefits, but Also a Significant Drawback. Marie Dannie. Reviewed by Jull Corleone. December 18, 2018.
  10. Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food. J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):6-20. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2013.3083. Park KY1, Jeong JK, Lee YE, Daily JW 3rd.
  11. What Are Kombucha’s Health Benefits (and How Much Can You Safely Drink? A dietitian explains this trendy fermented tea’s probiotic benefits
  12. Kombucha, Colorado State University Extension.
  13. Side Effects of Too Much Kombucha by Jillian Kubala, MS,Rd, October 30, 2018.
  14.  Fermented foods for better gut health. Kelly Bilodeau, May 16, 2018, Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
  15. Canning Pickles and Fermented Foods. University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

© Lorelle Del Matto 2019

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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