Probiotics are living microbes administered at levels that have documented health benefits
Probiotics are living microscopic organisms – bacteria – which many have touted as a miracle cure for a wide variety of symptoms and ailments.
However, simply adding bacteria to food does not imbue it with health benefits and probiotics may not be right for everyone. If you’re interested in this trendy ingredient, it’s important to understand the documented health benefits and how probiotics can fit into your meal.
Probiotics and their Benefits
Probiotics are living bacteria, administered at levels that have documented health benefits. While there are numerous probiotic strains, many probiotic products contain bacteria from the genera Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.(1) Both genera are a regular source for scientific studies concerning probiotics and their potential health benefits. Finding these names, or “live and active cultures,” on the product’s packaging or ingredients label is a good indicator of the presence of probiotics.
Research is still ongoing but some studies have shown that probiotics promote general gut health,(2) boost immunity(3) and may even help to improve your mood.(4). Think of consuming probiotics as adding extra, helpful bacteria to your stomach. Once there, they help keep harmful microorganisms in check while aiding in digestion.
However, there are concerns that processing, storing and cooking may affect probiotics’ ability to reach your intestine alive and deliver any health benefits.
Most importantly, everyone’s body is different and people will react to probiotics in different ways. If you’re curious about potential health benefits, try it out and trust your gut.
Where to find Probiotics
While probiotics are available as dietary supplements, they’re present in food for one of two reasons: fermentation or fortification – the addition of ingredients to improve the product’s nutritional content, as seen in some probiotic drinks.
To foster fermentation, bacteria or yeast are added to food during processing. For example, bacterial cultures are added to milk to make fermented dairy, such as yogurt. The cultures remain in the food through packaging and are consumed when we eat yogurt.
Sourdough bread, fermented vegetables including sauerkraut and kimchi and some cheeses – such as Cheddar, Gouda, and Parmesan – may also contain probiotics.
However, fermented dairy is often the main source of probiotics in our diets, with yogurt being the most common example. Kefir and other drinkable yogurts are becomingly increasingly popular as they often contain multiple probiotic strands and the nutrients of yogurt in a more portable form.
Furthermore, the fermentation process for both yogurt and kefir reduces the amount of lactose in the food – so lactose-intolerant people may find these products easier to digest.
(1) Probiotics Basics
(2) A Meta-Analysis of Probiotic Efficacy for Gastrointestinal Diseases
(3) West N.P., et al. Probiotics, Immunity and Exercise: A Review
(4) A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of a Probiotic in Emotional Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome