Probiotics are all the rave right now. From pills, powder and liquids, there are so many probiotic supplements out on the market. But what should you be looking for in a probiotic and how much of this supplementation do you need?
We will be breaking down the dos and don’ts of probiotic supplementation.
First off, even though probiotics have been heavy in the headlines recently, there is a lot that researchers are still trying to uncover about probiotics. BUT what we do know is that:
- Probiotics can be found in fermented foods (like sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir and kimchi), yogurt made with live cultures and some cheeses (like cottage cheese, gouda, mozzarella)
- Probiotics help keep the levels of good bacteria in the gut in check. If you need an overview of gut health, check out this crash course:
- Prebiotic foods help to fuel the good bacteria in the gut.
- There are various strains of bacteria that play different roles in our gut health.
- Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFU).
Try to get your good bacteria from natural food sources first.
Yogurt is usually the first thing that comes to people’s minds but there are many options to for probiotic-rich foods. Sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, tempeh (fermented soy), Kefir (fermented milk), kimchi all serve the body that good bacteria. If you struggle to get these foods into your diet or need some extra help, then supplement as needed.
Make sure you are also eating prebiotic-rich foods.
Prebiotics are basically the food that probiotics need in order to thrive. It is one thing to create good bacteria in your gut but it’s even more important to make sure you are feeding that good bacteria so it can survive AND thrive.
Examples of foods high in Prebiotic Fiber:
- Legumes and beans
Pay attention to the dosage of your probiotic supplements.
Probiotic dosage is measured in colony-forming units (CFU). Higher doses have been found to have the best results. However, the dosage can vary. Some probiotics are effective at 1-2 billion CFU and others may need around 20 billion CFU. Extremely high dosage (in the trillions) has not shown any adverse effects but research also hasn’t shown any benefit in intaking that high of an amount.
Read the label and know what strains of bacteria are in the supplement.
Certain strains are more effective in achieving specific results than others. Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces are common strains found in supplements. Many of the supplements will contain a blend of many different strains.
Key probiotics for constipation:
- B. longum
- S. cerevisias
Key probiotics to improve IBS symptoms
Key probiotics to aid in weight loss
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
Key probiotics to support brain health
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus rhamnous
Pay attention to the “best by” date
As probiotics sit on the shelf some of the bacteria die over time. As the probiotics sits, the number of organisms in the supplement may not match what is advertised on the package.
D o n’ t
Rely solely on supplements.
Our gut is a very hostile and acidic environment. Sometimes these supplements can’t stand the test and the bacteria are ineffective by time they reach our gut. There are different methods of coating and treating the bacteria to help improve the chances the bacteria reaches the gut, but it is not a given that it will.
Eat foods that will override the probiotics
Stay clear of processed sugars and unhealthy fats. These types of foods will actually help feed the bad bacteria and starve the good bacteria. You can take all the supplements you want, but if you are fueling your body with heavily processed sugars and fats the good bacteria won’t survive.
Let the trigger words fool you
Some packaged foods may claim to have added probiotics. Read the label to see what strains are contained in the food and take note of the dosage. When buying yogurt, look for one labeled “contains live cultures or active cultures.” Yogurts labeled “made with live cultures” actually may have been heat treated after the cultures had grown, which means the bacteria is no longer active.
New research is on the rise highlighting the awesome health benefits that probiotics provide. Fermented foods provide more benefits than supplementation can. If you choose to use supplementation, be mindful. Pay attention to what is inside of the supplement and how many CFUs are present.
Happy gut, happy life.