I talk all the time about the benefits of probiotics and how we should all be incorporating them into our diets, but I’ve never really gone deeper into what they actually are and WHY we need them. So here it is, your guide to probiotics: what they are, why they are beneficial for overall health, and how to get them.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that live in our digestive system, alongside the “bad”bacteria” to balance them out. They line the digestive tract, and support your bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. We need these good bacteria because roughly 80% of our entire immune system lives in our digestive tract! There are SO many illnesses that originate in the gut, and most people don’t realize that having a healthy gut can help tremendously with those kinds of issues.
There are LOTS of different strains of bacteria, and each one can help with different symptoms. One of the most well-known bacterias is lactobacillus, which is one that you will commonly find in supplements.
What are the benefits?
Like I said before, about 80% of our immune system is in our gut, so there are huge benefits for the immune system in general. More than 40 diseases (depression, IBS, arthritis, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, etc.) have been linked to bacterial imbalance, so can you imagine what we could cure with some good bacteria in our diets?!
Good bacteria is also responsible for healing some skin issues (like eczema), helping the body create vitamin b12 (for energy), and can reduce colds and flus.
Probiotic-rich food sources
I always recommend that you get your probiotics from foods before you reach for a supplement, this is the most natural source.
- sauerkraut – try and find the naturally fermented kind, not the stuff you can find in a can that is pickled with tons of vinegar and salt
- kimchi – fermented korean cabbage (I love Farmhouse Culture)
- Yogurt – organic dairy or non-dairy of you are intolerant (don’t be fooled by yogurt, always stick with a plain unsweetened version, as sugar kills some of the probiotic benefits)
- any fermented veggies (carrots, pickles, beets, etc.)
- Kombucha – try to stick to a low sugar variety (my favorite brands are Kevita, Health-Ade, and Brew Dr.)
What about supplements?
Even though I eat probiotic-rich foods pretty much every day, I still take a good quality probiotic supplement most days. I have had digestive issues in the past (with all of my food intolerances), so I do this to ensure I am getting lots of good bacteria. This has helped my digestion so much, but it is very important to find a brand that is good quality.
- Look for brand quality – I like Nature’s Bounty and Garden of Life, but there are several great brands out there
- High CFU count – CFU stands for colony forming units, and you want your supplement to have a high CFU count, between 15 and 100 billion
- strain diversity – make sure your supplement has several different strains of bacteria, it will tell you this on the nutrition label
*Disclaimer: I hope this information helped, but remember, I am not a doctor. So this advice and knowledge comes from my nutrition training, so if you are needing a probiotic for a very specific reason, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor about what to take.