Probiotics are naturally available in a variety of foods, but it feels like they are finding their way into everything these days - protein powders, green powders, snacks, bottled beverages, teas, bars, cereals, gummies, and more. But what really are probiotics and are they actually good for you?
What Are Probiotics?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics are beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in your body, namely Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (2). These good bacteria help to fight off bad bacteria and maintain a healthy balance in your body. Consuming probiotic rich foods with live cultures is a good way to add more beneficial bacteria to your body.
What Foods Contains Probiotics?
Per a recently updated article from Harvard Health Publishing, fermented foods go through a process called lactofermentation. During this process, bacteria feed on the naturally occurring sugars in the food, make lactic acid, and create "an environment that preserves the food and promotes beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as various species of good bacteria." These good bacteria = probiotics!
Many fermented foods contain probiotics, but some don't due to baking, canning, or other preparation/preservation methods. For example, though fermented, wine, beer, sourdough bread, and most cheeses do not contain probiotics. The following foods contain probiotics*:
Yogurt (my personal favorite!)
Kefir - fermented milk beverage
Kombucha - fermented tea beverage
Sauerkraut - fermented cabbage
Kimchi - Korean fermented vegetables
Tempeh - fermented soybean product
Miso - fermented soybean product
*Look for phrases like "live and active cultures" on the label to ensure that what you're purchasing actually contains active cultures.
Some strains of probiotics are very delicate and easily destroyed. To ensure you reap the benefits of the above mentioned probiotic-rich foods, keep them away from heat and light and consume them within a week or so of opening.
See below for 5 different ways to eat yogurt:
Are Probiotics Good For Your Health?
As stated earlier, probiotics are good bacteria that are found in the body and some foods. Probiotics play a beneficial role in promoting balance in the body. For most people, eating a well-balanced diet that is rich in dietary fiber is all they need to keep their good bacteria at proper levels; however, incorporating probiotic rich foods into your diet is an easy way to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your body (1)(2).
Additionally, consuming probiotics may be beneficial for a variety of conditions and ailments, including but not limited to diarrhea, constipation, IBD, IBS, yeast infections, UTIs, lactose intolerance, eczema, and upper respiratory infections according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, it's important to note that efficacy can vary person to person and probiotic to probiotic as not all probiotics behave the same way.
Are Probiotics Safe to Consume?
Probiotics from food are generally safe to consume; however, there are some conditions that warrant caution when it comes to taking a probiotic supplement or home-fermented food or beverage. Individuals with a weakened immune system, critical illness, or recovering from a recent surgery need to exercise caution. Always ask your healthcare provider if a supplement or medication is safe for you.
The Bottom Line
Probiotic rich foods are generally safe to consume for most healthy individuals and may even benefit your health. Rather than purchasing expensive probiotic supplements, choose delicious probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, which, in addition to probiotics, is rich in both protein and calcium.
For more info on probiotics, check out the following links: