-- intro: Probiotics are all the rage, thanks to a wealth of new research suggesting that consuming "good" bacteria can aid digestion, keep you regular and boost your immune system. But probiotic foods are nothing new -- they've been around for thousands of years and are a staple of traditional cuisines around the world.
And it's well worth branching out from yogurt.
"Different species of bacteria flourish in different fermented foods, and they offer a spectrum of benefits," explains Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University and author of "The Good Gut." "So it's smart to eat a variety of fermented foods."
Check out this sampling of ancient probiotic powerhouses.
quicklist: 3category: title: Aged Cheeseurl: text: One more reason to love Roquefort and Gruyère: "The same bacteria and fungi that give aged cheeses incredible flavor profiles can add great microbial diversity to your diet," Sonnenburg says. Just use caution with aged cheeses made from raw milk; while harmful bacteria may be reduced in the aging process, pregnant women and the immunocompromised should still steer clear.
quicklist: 4category: title: Sauerkrauturl: text: In its simplest form, sauerkraut is shredded cabbage fermented in salted water. The tart condiment is packed with Lactobacillus plantarum, a powerful probiotic, which may help fight cancer and lower cholesterol. Look for raw (not pasteurized) varieties in the refrigerated section of your supermarket.
quicklist: 5 category: title: Kefirurl: text: This fermented milk beverage (originally developed in the Caucasus Mountain region of Eurasia) tastes like liquidy yogurt but contains a more diverse range of bugs—typically at least 10 species (compared with yogurt's usual two to four). It's made using kefir "grains," a starter culture that often includes a type of yeast that may protect against gastrointestinal distress, as well as a bacteria thought to ease constipation and another that can help alleviate inflammatory gut disorders. If you're lactose intolerant, you might find kefir easier to digest than milk because its probiotics consume much of the problematic sugar before you drink it.
quicklist: 7category: title: Kimchiurl: text: Because it's made from a variety of veggies and seasonings (including napa cabbage, garlic, chilies, ginger and fish sauce) and ferments for a long time, this spicy and pungent Korean staple contains a very diverse assortment of bugs. "Of all probiotic foods, kimchi probably ranks number one," says Raphael Kellman, MD, a New York City integrative physician and author of The Microbiome Diet.
quicklist: 9category: title: Misourl: text: A seasoning paste made from fermented soybeans, miso might deserve some credit for the famous longevity of the Japanese. Animal research suggests it may protect against cancers of the breast, colon, liver and lungs. The longer soybeans are left to ferment (sometimes with rice, barley or other ingredients), the more potent their health perks (Red and brown varieties are typically fermented longer than white). Try stirring miso into rice, dressings and sauces. Sadly, miso soup isn't a good source of probiotics because it's cooked. Sensitive to soy? A company called South River offers varieties made with chickpeas instead.
quicklist: 10category: title: How to Buy Bugs in a Bottleurl: text: Food is by far the best way to build up healthy gut microbes. But if you're not consuming lots of kimchi and kefir on a regular basis, consider taking a probiotic supplement. Tips for choosing a quality product:
Look for diversity of microbes: For general gut health, the more kinds, the better.
Check the colony-forming units (CFUs): The recommended daily dose varies but tends to be in the range of 1 to 10 billion CFUs per day. Most importantly, the label should specify that this number applies at the time of expiration -- not the time of manufacture. Reliable brands will promise live cultures through the expiration date. A "USP Verified" seal is another sign of a good buy.
Feed the friendly microbes: Your gut bacteria like to eat some of the same things you do, particularly plant-based whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Many of these foods -- called prebiotics -- contain types of fiber that your body doesn't readily digest; when the fiber reaches your large intestine, your microbes make a meal of it. Variety is key, says Justin Sonnenburg, PhD: "The healthy bacteria in your gut prefer different prebiotic fibers. Eating a range of prebiotics encourages microbial diversity."
This article originally appeared on Health.com.