Probiotics are becoming quite popular in the food and supplement industry these days. Probiotics are bacteria that are used to help maintain healthy microorganisms in the intestine. Humans naturally have between 500 and 1,000 different strains of bacteria in their bodies.
These microorganisms support the body for optimal digestion and to aid immune function. Only certain types of bacteria or yeast have been shown to work in the digestive tract. Other strains have been studied for their abilities to enhance immune function. Many other strains used in probiotic supplements have not been studied effectively to understand their effects.
Many people use probiotics to help with digestive symptoms caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria and also help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotic use.
Probiotic food products
Probably the most popular and well-known probiotic food product is yogurt. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with certain probiotic strains, creating yogurt’s characteristic tangy flavor. Yogurt can have different types of probiotic strains, although Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two types most commonly used in products.
When choosing yogurt for probiotic benefits, your best bet is to make sure that the product has “live and active cultures” on the label. The ideal yogurt choices are organic (antibiotics used in cows can decrease probiotic content), plain, and made without added sugars. Wallaby Organic, Straus Family Creamery, Stonyfield Farm, and Nancy’s Cultured Organic are all good organic yogurt options.
Although yogurt is still the king in terms of being the most well-known of probiotic foods, kefir is quickly gaining in popularity on grocery store shelves in the United States. Kefir is a drink popular in Eastern and Northern Europe. This fermented dairy product contains many major strains of bacteria and beneficial yeasts that are not present in yogurt. Kefir is typically made from fermented cow milk, but it may also be made by fermenting coconut milk, sweetened water, coconut water, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk.
Kefir packs a more powerful probiotic punch than yogurt, due to the sheer potency and number of different Lactobacillus strains. Kefir is also a good source of calcium, B vitamins, vitamin D, and vitamin K. When choosing a good kefir product, the best options are those products with minimal additives and sweeteners. Plain organic kefir varieties are ideal. Some good organic kefir choices include products by Lifeway, Green Valley and Helio’s.
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has probiotics such as Bifidus bacteria. Kombucha tea is available in health food stores and many larger grocery stores. The tea available in stores can often have a lot of added sugars. Although kombucha can be a fun way to add probiotics to the diet, many experts agree that yogurt, kefir and naturally fermented foods are better choices for the best benefit.
Probiotics are naturally found in small amounts in fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and tempeh. Adding fermented foods to your meals daily is an expensive way you can help improve the quality of your gut bacteria naturally.
There are many different types of probiotic supplements on the market today. Probiotic supplements come in many forms-gelcaps, liquids, powders and tablets. Most experts agree that the best probiotics have multiple strains in their formula. Different probiotic supplements are marketed for targeting different bacteria within the body. Some of the most popular supplements are used to improve the health of the digestive tract, the vaginal tract, or to boost overall immune function. When choosing a probiotic, make sure to read the label carefully to ensure you are getting the appropriate strain desired to support your specific health condition. For the best probiotic supplement recommendation to support your health, take our Vitamin Advisor questionnaire or speak with your nutritionist or other health care provider.
- Today’s Dietitian. Friendly Bug Invasion. September 2013.