The bacteria in your gut is as unique as your fingerprint and what you eat determines which types of bacteria can thrive in the gut. Some of your gut bacteria are helpful and necessary for digestion and immunity support, and some can be harmful to your overall health. Probiotics are live organisms, which when ingested in adequate amounts and from certain sources can help support gut health, digestion, mood, immunity and healthy aging.
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. There are several types of bacteria classified as probiotics, such as Lactobacillus found in yogurt and other fermented foods, Bifidobacterium found in some dairy products, and Saccharomyces boulardii which is a type of yeast.
Eating a varied diet with more vegetables, fruits and fiber, along with adding in probiotics can create a healthy microflora. Probiotics are regulated in Canada and USA – they must have a demonstrated safety profile, be able to survive the acidity of our stomachs, be able to colonize our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and must have a beneficial health effect demonstrated through research.
What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that could be added to the gut. Prebiotics are types of non-digestible fiber found in food which feed and nurture the good gut bacteria. Inulin is the most common prebiotic and it is found in onion, leek, garlic, artichoke, banana and chicory root. Another type of prebiotic is galacto-oligosaccharides found in human milk and fermented dairy products like yogurt, buttermilk and kefir.
What are the health benefits of probiotics?
When harmful/bad bacteria disturb the intestinal microflora, it leads to the development of digestive disorders. Probiotics help grow good bacteria in the gut, and can be especially important after taking antibiotics. Antibiotics work by killing good bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness and this decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems, like diarrhea. Taking probiotics help replace the lost good bacteria.
Probiotics are shown to help develop a stronger immune system, prevent infections in the digestive tract, reduce symptoms for certain digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and they may reduce the severity of eczema.
How can you add probiotics to your diet?
Probiotics are found in supplements and functional foods.
Probiotics are referred to be their genus, species and strain. The strain is important, as it creates a different performance. Health benefits can only be attributed to the strain tested. Click here to learn more about how to read and understand a probiotic name. When choosing a probiotic supplement, you should consider the product’s genus, species and strain, number of organisms/serving, serving size/capsule, dose and guaranteed potency until consumption. You can talk to your Registered Dietitian about which probiotic supplement would be best suited for you.
5 probiotic-rich foods to improve your gut health
If you’re interested in adding foods that contain probiotics to your diet, here are some options:
Not all yogurt is created equal when it comes to containing probiotics. Activia offers nutritious probiotic yogurts with Bifidobacterium lactis, a probiotic that helps with constipation and IBS symptoms.
Eating yogurt doesn’t have to be boring – add Activia’s light tasting and creamy yogurt to oatmeal or granola for different textures and flavours.
- Probiotic dairy drinks
DanActive is a probiotic dairy drink found in the yogurt aisle, that has been proven to help support the immune system. It contains the live and active probiotic, Lactobacillus casei Immunitas. This probiotic is shown to prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotic use and improve immunity in women, children, the elderly and even students under academic examination stress.
This fermented tea beverage is a potential source of probiotics. Kombucha is made by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar to black or green tea, then allowing it to ferment for a week or more. With fermented foods – the challenge is when they go through food processing, a lot of bacteria is killed off. Kombucha contains several species of lactic acid bacteria which may have a probiotic function but has not been evaluated. The drink is still recommended based on emerging evidence that consuming it may confer health benefits.
- Probiotic protein shakes
GoodBelly Probiotics has a range of food and beverages that contain live and active probiotic cultures. Their protein shakes contain Lactobacillus plantarum 299v which is shown to survive the stomach’s harsh acidic environment in order to grow in the intestines and promote core digestive health. This probiotic strain prevents antibiotic associated diarrhea and improves IBS symptoms.
Kefir is a creamy drinkable yogurt made from fermented milk and bacterial cultures. Liberté’s kefir is a delicious source of probiotics and it’s made in Canada! Kefir is also an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D which have major benefits for bone health.
I love drinking kefir on its own as well as blending it into my smoothie for an extra creamy and thick beverage.
When choosing a probiotic food, review the ingredient list to determine which microorganism is present in the product, how many live microorganisms per serving size are indicated on the food package and whether the product lists the health benefits. When taking probiotics from food sources, a daily dose is usually recommended for its full benefits to take effect. For supplements, take according to directions.
In general, probiotic foods and supplements are safe for most people, however some individuals with immune system problems or other serious health conditions should not take them. Talk to your Doctor or Registered Dietitian first to make sure they are safe for you. In some cases, mild side effects might include upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, and bloating for the first couple of days after starting probiotic foods or supplements.
Have you tried probiotic foods or supplements? Comment below if you have questions about probiotic-rich foods.