You've probably seen probiotic supplements and foods high in probiotics at your local grocery store. But are probiotics good for you? Are the stories about probiotics and gut health true? Here's a look at the benefits of a probiotic-rich diet and which foods are best in the world of probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics contain live microorganisms, like bacteria and yeasts, that provide health benefits and come in the form of supplements or food, NIH shares.
The microorganisms are the same or similar to ones that naturally live in your body, such as the bacteria in your intestines that help digest food. The most common bacteria in probiotics are bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, but probiotics may include other microorganisms too.
The Benefits of Probiotics
According to Cleveland Clinic, the benefits of probiotics include:
- Decreasing bad bacteria in your gut that may cause infection or swelling.
- Stabilizing barriers against bad bacteria.
- Replacing good bacteria lost from antibiotics.
- Restoring the good versus bad bacteria balance in your body.
By doing all this, the NIH says probiotics can help with a number of issues:
- Minimizing digestive disorders like diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Alleviating or diminishing allergies like hay fever or eczema.
- Helping with liver disease, infant colic or the cold.
Harvard Health notes that probiotics can also be used in the treatment or prevention of:
- Crohn's disease
- H. pylori (which causes ulcers)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Vaginal infections and UTIs
- Digestive tract infections
- Reducing bladder cancer recurrence
While there is still a lot to learn about probiotics, the research is promising. Most people have few or minor side effects from taking probiotics, but anyone with a compromised immune system should consult their doctor first.
Foods High in Probiotics
Many fermented foods, like yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut, are naturally high in probiotics, according to Mayo Clinic.
Kimchi is a Korean food made from fermented and salted vegetables, like radishes and cabbage. It may have seasonings like garlic, ginger and chili powder, Men's Health shares.
Yogurt has live and active cultures, like lactobacillus bulgaricus. Greek yogurt is an especially good choice because it has more protein and less sugar and sodium than many other types of yogurt.
Olives are also a good probiotic; they have healthy fats and are full of antioxidants, Time reports.
Tempeh, which is made of fermented soybeans, is also high in protein and can help lower cholesterol. Miso, a paste made from soybeans, is delicious to eat in the form of miso soup.
Other high-probiotic foods include milk, buttermilk and some soft cheese, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Probiotic Food vs. Supplements
Although there's nothing wrong with taking supplements, you might see better results with a healthy diet that includes fiber-rich and probiotic-rich foods, Men's Health suggests.
Supplements, which may have only one or two probiotic strains, aren't regulated, so they aren't guaranteed to be high quality. When researchers compared the bacteria in supplements versus fermented foods, they found a greater diversity in probiotic foods, which is better for your health, Phys.org notes.
In general, probiotic foods are a better choice than probiotic supplements, Cleveland Clinic concludes. Some probiotic foods are low-calorie and very filling, and others come full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs. The environment provided by a fermented food lets healthy bacteria thrive while also creating short-chain fatty acids that can help with inflammation, cholesterol and immunity.
Every now and then, you might want to add a supplement to your probiotic-rich diet if you want a particular bacteria strain not available in the foods you're eating. You might also want to add some prebiotic foods that help your good bacteria thrive, like onions, asparagus, beans, leeks, garlic and green bananas.
Are Probiotics Worth the Hype?
So are probiotics good for you? The answer is a resounding yes. And when you're considering how to add probiotics to your daily routine, lean toward food high in probiotics rather than supplements. Not only are probiotic foods delicious, but they're great for your health too.