Most of us have heard that probiotics are “good” for us. But why? And what are the best sources?
Down through the years, people around the world have used fermented foods to promote their health. Whether it’s fermented vegetables, fermented yogurt or kefir, it’s been known for centuries that good bacteria is, well, good for us!
So, you might be wondering just why probiotics are so vital to your health.
Well, let me tell you a little miracle that happens to babies at birth.
During a normal delivery on the way down the birth canal, babies get their very first does of bacteria from their mother. This event starts the colonization in the infant’s gut with good bacteria.
As a side note, research shows that many c-section infants have less-than-optimal health after birth, and this is more than likely because they are not exposed to the mother’s healthy bacteria in the birth canal.
You see, having that good bacteria in the gut is so important, that babies start getting prepared for their earliest moments on the outside, and that proves just how incredibly important probiotics are to us throughout our life.
What Are The Benefits Of Probiotics
There are so many benefits of maintaining a healthy intestinal tract, but some of these include:
- Diarrhea prevention and treatment
- Strengthening the immune system
- Helping relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Reducing the side-effects of antibiotics
It’s hardly surprising that improving your gut health can have a profound effect on your overall health, when you consider this fact — our GI tract houses the bulk of our immune system, that is, around 70 to 80 percent of it.
Is Yogurt Really A Source of Probiotics?
Yogurt is probably the most well-known source of probiotics, but it’s certainly not the only one.
Other fermented foods including miso, fortified soy and juice drinks, fermented milk, fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut or kimchi (check labelling for active cultures), raw or unpasteurized yogurt, and supplements, are also a source of probiotics.
But, which is best?
For a probiotic to be beneficial, it must be capable of reaching and colonizing the intestinal tract. And, this requirement disqualifies many of the products we find on the market these days.
If yogurt is your source of friendly bacteria, you need to make sure you choose a good quality brand, containing lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium at the very minimum. You also need to be taking it once each day.
These two bacteria, are strong enough to survive your stomach acids, and therefore they can reach your intestines and get to work.
If the probiotics cannot reach your intestines, they will be of no effect, and are simply a waste of your money.
The problem with many of the dairy products, such as yogurts and kefir, it that some are unlikely to contain sizable quantities of live bacteria, due to the heat and chemicals used during food processing.
For this reason, it is important to buy dairy products which state the product actually “contains live cultures,” or “contains active cultures,” on the packaging.
What About Probiotic Supplements?
If your general health is pretty good, you probably do not need to take a probiotic supplement. Simply consuming a good quality active yogurt, for example, every day will be adequate to keep your gut healthy.
But, if you have a diagnosed gut problem, it is more likely that you will require a larger dose of probiotics, in the form of a probiotic supplement. This will help to regulate your gut health much more quickly and effectively.
Again, it is important that your supplement contains at least lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium, and that you store them correctly, to help extend their lifespan.
Choose Supplements Wisely
Never be fooled by very low-priced supplements. Many are actually made from cheap and unhealthy synthetic ingredients.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, you also need to be wary of extremely expensive supplements. In some cases, they are no better than a cheaper brand, and you are simply paying through the nose for marketing hyperbole.
The best way to know what you are buying, is to check the ingredients label, and compare across a couple of products for similarities and differences.
How To Choose The Best Probiotic
- Look for scientifically proven probiotics, i.e. your product has been through some testing to prove it does what the manufacturers claim it does. If you are unsure, you can call their helpline number, or look the product up online.
- In one UK study, from the Royal Free Hospital in London, 39 products were tested against a specific criteria. Researchers found that only Multibionta satisfied all six of their criteria points.
- Take care with probiotic drinks, which often have additives to make them taste better, usually sugar. This is problematic, since yeasts in particular tend to thrive on sugar. Yakult, for example, contains 18g of sugar per 100g. Compare that to 10g of sugar per 100g in a can of Coca-Cola.
- Add more fermented foods to your diet, like kefir, sauerkraut, and unsweetened yogurt — just make sure they do actually contain active bacteria.
- If you decide to take a probiotic supplement, go for one that contains at least the 5-10 billion CFU’s (colony forming units) per serving of bacteria. This is the amount generally recommended by physicians. Your supplement should be well packaged (bacteria are sensitive to light, heat and moisture), so it is best of they are kept refrigerated, and in an opaque container.
Do you take foods containing probiotics, or a probiotic supplement? Have you noticed an improvement in your health as a result?