Following a vegan diet means making certain changes in the foods that you eat. Consequently, this can have effects on your gut health, mainly because a lot of dairy products contain good bacteria. This bacteria is used to help with issues such as irritable bowel syndrome – and other digestive discomforts.
For those that don’t know, good bacteria are commonly called probiotics. They exist within our intestines and throughout your digestive system. Probiotics play a crucial role in managing your gut microbiome and ensuring that digestion occurs with limited issues. There are many health benefits to probiotics, which is why you need to try and get them in your diet.
This is where vegans are at a possible disadvantage. As we mentioned before, most sources of probiotics come from dairy products – like yogurt. If you used to eat yogurt, then you probably saw that most products have something on the side telling you it contains millions of live bacteria – usually called lactobacillus. So, when you cut this out of your diet, can you still get this beneficial bacteria?
The short answer is yes, you can. Vegan probiotics (like Jetson) exist, and there are lots of ways to get this good bacteria in your system. Today, we’re going to look at vegan probiotics in more detail. Before we get on to talking about the various probiotic supplements and sources, we’ll talk more about how probiotics are formed and the health benefits they bring. Everything you need to know can be found down below:
How Probiotics Are Made
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist within your intestines. Mainly, they help with digestion, and people with low amounts of probiotics usually suffer from digestive issues. Essentially, this bacteria is a live microorganism that lives inside your gut.
There are two main types of good bacteria, one of which we’ve already mentioned – lactobacillus. The second type is bifidobacterium, and you often find this in food products like yogurt, kefir, and other dairy foods.
Typically, probiotics are made by fermenting certain food products. Fermentation is essentially the process of letting something sit and develop for hours on end. During this time, good bacteria can develop in the food product. Thus, you have probiotics.
Lactobacillus is usually made by fermenting dairy products. Food manufacturers will ferment kefir grains or milk to try and generate this strain of probiotics. As these dairy products sit and ferment, the bacteria inside them starts to develop. Consequently, you get the typical sour taste that’s associated with things like natural yogurt. The lactobacillus gives it this taste.
Naturally, it’s not as simple as just leaving something on its own for a day or two. You need to have certain ingredients, including something called a starter culture. This is a microbiological culture which triggers the fermentation process. They will typically consist of a cultivation medium, which basically helps the bacteria grow. This can be a specific type of liquid, some kind of grain or seeds. Some strains of yeast have also been used as a starter culture to make various probiotics.
When the starter culture is added to the other ingredients, it mixes together and begins to ferment. After leaving it for at least 24 hours, millions of little bacteria will have formed. The longer you leave it, the more bacteria there will be – though this impacts the taste.
Which Vegan Probiotic Foods Are Readily Available?
The good news is that there are plenty of sources of probiotics for people following a plant-based diet. We mentioned kefir earlier, and you can actually find water kefir out there these days. The difference between this and regular kefir is that you use water kefir grains – rather than dairy ones. So, you can ferment these grains to generate the good bacteria your body needs.
Similarly, plenty of dairy-free yogurts are made with vegan probiotics too. Lots of soy and coconut-based yogurts are specially fermented to trigger the growth of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Thus, you can still eat yogurt and ingest beneficial bacteria without consuming any dairy products.
Of course, there are so many other sources out there for your vegan probiotics from food or drinks. Below, we’ve listed some of the most widely used and effective sources for you to try out:
Tempeh is one of the many soy products out there, and it’s typically used as a meat alternative. It’s similar to tofu, but the difference is that tofu isn’t a fermented soy product. For tempeh, the soybeans are fermented during the production process. Because of this, tempeh is packed full of probiotics – but also high in protein.
The only downside is that tempeh contains soy, which will be an issue for anyone that has a soy allergy. Don’t worry, there are still other options for you to try.
Those of you that have been to Korean restaurants may have tried Kimchi before. Effectively, it’s a fermented cabbage dish that’s mixed with lots of spices and other vegetables. The cabbage, veg, and spices are all put together in a jar. Here, a liquid is added to start the fermentation process. It’s usually left for a few days until the flavors develop, and you get a nice sour and spicy dish that’s full of vegan probiotics.
This is a fantastic option as it’s easy for you to make at home. Once you’ve made it, it will keep for a very long time, so put it in the fridge and use it as a side for as many of your meals as you like.
Sauerkraut is similar to Kimchi in that it involves fermented cabbage. The main difference is that this is the only food ingredient. Brine is used to ferment the cabbage, and lots of good bacteria grow within it. It’s very sour, crunchy, and is typically used in sandwiches or burgers.
Again, you can make this on your own, and it will keep for weeks in the fridge. On a similar note, you can also try making other fermented vegetables too. Things like sour pickles in brine will develop the healthy bacteria your gut requires. So, be creative and try fermenting lots of different veg in jars.
You may have heard about kombucha as it has become very trendy in the last few years. Most people don’t know this, but kombucha is actually a fermented tea drink. It has a sour and fizzy taste, which is thanks to one key ingredient; the SCOBY starter.
In essence, this is a starter culture that combines bacteria and yeast. It looks quite gloopy and jelly-like, but this is the trigger that starts the fermentation process. As such, it generates loads of excellent probiotics for you to consume. These days, most food stores sell ready-made kombucha in the drinks aisle. Having one of these with your lunch will go a long way to restoring the balance of your gut microbiome.
5. Sourdough Bread
Some sourdough bread will contain vegan probiotics. It all depends if they include a fermented starter or not. This is a combination of flour and water that’s been left to sit for a few days until it ferments. When added to the mixture, it creates a tasty loaf of bread with some good bacteria running through it.
Of course, if you’re gluten-free, then this isn’t an option for you to consider.
As we stated earlier, there are probiotic supplements available as well. These are probably the easiest way to get good bacteria into your system. All you have to do is swallow a pill, and millions of lactobacillus are consumed. Just make sure you double and triple check all the ingredients to ensure the probiotic supplements are vegan!
Why Aren’t Some Probiotics Vegan?
It’s important to note that good bacteria are technically vegan. We’re talking about microorganisms that exist in your gut, they aren’t animals. However, you need to look for products that are labeled as vegan probiotics. Why? Because some ingredients that are used to make beneficial bacteria are not vegan.
The previous example is a classic case to look at. If you ferment dairy foods to create lactobacillus, then this isn’t vegan. Animal products have been used as ingredients to trigger the fermentation process.
You should keep an eye out for the ingredients in probiotic supplements too. Many people assume that every probiotic supplement is vegan, but it might not be. Only choose supplements and probiotic sources that don’t include any animal products at all like Jetson.
If you’re wondering why so many probiotics exist in dairy foods, then the answer is simple. Dairy just reacts well with starter cultures and helps the bacteria grow a lot quicker. It’s the easiest way of creating beneficial bacteria for humans to ingest.
Why Are Probiotic Bacteria Good For Overall Health?
Everyone always talks about probiotic bacteria and that we need it. But why are these particular bacteria so critical for our overall health?
Plenty of research has gone into the world of good bacteria over the years. As a result, the following health benefits have been found:
A Digestive Balance
The primary health benefit of probiotics is that they help to maintain a bacterial balance in your digestive system. Sometimes, your gut can be imbalanced – which means there are too many bad bacteria in it. This commonly happens when you take antibiotics. Medication can remove bacteria from your body, and this means that some of the good stuff goes as well. But, the imbalance can also come from a poor diet.
This can lead to consequences with your immune health – you may get sick more often – and lead to digestive issues. When you consume probiotics, you replace all the good bacteria that was lost. As a result, there’s a healthy balance that leads to some of the other health benefits below.
Improves Your Digestion
Seeing as these bacteria live within your digestive tract, it’s only normal that they play a role in digestion. There are many types of digestive problems out there, with the most common being irritable bowel syndrome.
People with this condition often find that they’re very bloated and gassy after eating. This is because their digestive system isn’t working correctly, and it struggles to break down food. Some evidence has been found that suggests bifidobacterium is effective at treating this condition. People who supplemented this probiotic were seen to have reduced symptoms and better digestion after meals.
Prevent & Stop Diarrhea
People that suffer from diarrhea may find some comfort in lactobacillus. This probiotic is the subject of many medical studies that point to it reducing the risk of diarrhea in both children and adults. Not only that, but it was shown to reduce the symptoms and severity of diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
This is because your body is being filled with good bacteria to counteract all the bad bacteria in your gut. You’re preventing an imbalance that lets the bad stuff take over and cause problems like chronic diarrhea.
Improve Your Heart Health
The health benefits of probiotics extend beyond your digestive system as well. Some strains of good bacteria are proven to lower your bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
Your gut contains a substance called bile, which is used to aid with digestion. We need it, but it is also made up of cholesterol. Sometimes, bile is reabsorbed into the gut, where it finds its way into your bloodstream as cholesterol. As a result, increased levels of bad cholesterol lead to high blood pressure, which puts an increased strain on your heart.
Some forms of beneficial bacteria will produce lactic acid that helps break down the bile in your gut. As a consequence, this reduces the chances of cholesterol entering the bloodstream, etc.
In fact, there was a review that looked at five separate studies on the effects of probiotics and bad cholesterol. This review found that eating probiotic yogurt for 2-8 weeks significantly reduced the amount of bad cholesterol in the body.
Boost Your Immune Health
Your gut is a key part of your immune system. Therefore, probiotics are closely linked to your immune health. Studies have shown that taking a daily probiotic could help prevent the growth of bad bacteria in your gut.
Furthermore, certain probiotics can increase the production of natural antibodies in your system. These antibodies can lead to a boost in immune cells as well, which helps prevent diseases.
Improve Your Mental Health
Lots of recent research concludes there is a link between gut health and mental health. One review of 15 studies found that taking a daily probiotic for up to two months can lead to a reduction in the symptoms of many mental health conditions. This includes anxiety, OCD, and depression.
Another study found that taking a probiotic supplement for 8 weeks greatly lowered the depression levels in patients.
It’s believed the reason for this link is because the gut is so closely linked to the brain and your mood. Issues with your digestive system can trigger mental health problems, and vice versa. So, by ensuring your gut is healthy and full of good bacteria, this benefits your mental health.
Why Are Probiotics Beneficial For Vegan Diets?
Naturally, people following a vegan diet will see all of the same health benefits as those not on a plant-based diet. If you start consuming probiotics, you are going to improve your overall physical and mental health.
However, this is arguably more important if your diet is vegan. Why? Well, there’s one main health issue with this type of diet – it can cause various digestive issues. The problems mainly come because vegans tend to eat lots of legumes and beans as a source of vegan protein. There’s no denying the health benefits of beans/legumes, but eating too many of them can cause certain problems.
Primarily, it comes down to increased fiber intake. Fiber does a fantastic job of filling you up and aiding your digestion. But what happens when you eat too much fiber? You start going to the toilet more frequently, your stools could be looser, and you may be very gassy. In fact, lots of vegans suffer from IBS because of a high-fiber diet fueled by beans.
So, vegan probiotics help to counteract this. They bring a balance to your digestive system and can ease the symptoms of IBS. As you read earlier, various strains of probiotics can prevent and calm the symptoms of diarrhea, as well. Therefore, vegans need to take probiotics to maintain healthy digestion and prevent any issues like IBS or leaky gut syndrome.
Why Are Vegan Probiotics So Important?
The majority of people get probiotics from dairy sources. As we’ve said many times before, this mainly comes from yogurt or yogurt-based drinks. The second most popular way of ingesting probiotics comes from supplements. But, for vegans, both of these options present specific issues.
Obviously, dairy probiotics don’t fit the vegan diet. Dairy is an animal product, so it can’t be eaten. This rules out so many probiotic products on the shelves in many shops. Then, you have probiotic supplements, many of which aren’t actually vegan. If you look at the ingredients, some will contain dairy probiotics, as well. The packaging will probably say ‘suitable for vegetarians’, but only take them if they explicitly tell you they’re vegan-friendly.
This is why vegan probiotics are so critical – you won’t get enough good bacteria without them. When we talk about vegan probiotics, we’re not just talking about supplements. We’re talking about all of the things mentioned in the previous section, such as:
- Soy or coconut yogurts with live cultures in them
- Water kefir
- Sourdough bread
- Fermented vegetables
When you think about it, there’s a surprisingly long list of vegan alternatives to help you get the probiotics your body desperately needs. Remember, if these vegan options didn’t exist, then how would you get any probiotics? You’d need to depend on a supplement, which has a few flaws as you can forget to take it – not to mention it’s quite expensive to keep buying them over and over again.
So, to answer the question, vegan probiotics are essential because they ensure that people on plant-based diets don’t miss out on good bacteria. You can improve the bacterial balance in your gut, which leads to all the health benefits we previously discussed.
To round off this guide, we need to summarize the key points. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that present a range of health benefits to humans. They’re found in your gut, but you can have decreased levels of good bacteria due to health problems, a poor diet, or antibiotics.
As such, you should increase your probiotic intake by consuming specific foods or taking a supplement. Typically, most probiotic foods contain dairy, but there are plenty of vegan alternatives. Vegans need to be mindful of probiotics as you can easily miss out on them. Plus, common digestive issues that are brought on from a high-fiber vegan diet will be helped by probiotics.