Probiotics have rapidly risen in popularity over the last few years, and for good reason! If you haven’t seen them mentioned on food labels (we’re looking at you, yogurt), commercials, and social media (#Probiotics has almost 1 million posts on Instagram alone!), you may have heard about them from your doctor — especially if you mentioned any sort of digestive trouble!
So, what exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms, like bacteria or yeast, and when consumed in adequate amounts they can provide a ton of benefits to you and your body. Those benefits can include improvements to regularity, bloating, and distention, especially for individuals with certain gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Think of them as the “good guys” in your gut, fighting to keep levels of harmful bacteria to a minimum.
Why all the hype?
If improved regularity and decreased GI symptoms aren’t enough, recent studies have linked our gut microbiome (the billions of bacteria living inside our intestines) to our mood, weight, and many other chronic diseases. Our gut microbiome needs to have the right balance of these “good” bacteria to keep our immune system strong, help us absorb all the nutrients from our meals, and keep us healthy overall. It’s no wonder everyone is jumping on the probiotic bandwagon. They are our body’s superstars, and they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Where can I find them?
While there are many probiotic supplements on the market, there are many food sources of probiotics. Incorporating foods that contain probiotics on a daily basis is your best bet to get your daily dose of these good gut bugs, along with the added benefit of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients these probiotic-rich foods contain! If you’re looking to incorporate some probiotic foods into your meals, here are some excellent foods to start with:
- Miso Paste
When scoping out these foods for purchase, especially yogurt and kefir, be sure to check the label to see if they contain “live active cultures.” Some food products may be pasteurized, which kills the good (and bad) bacteria.
If you check the refrigerated section of your neighborhood grocery store, you might be surprised to find all kinds fermented, probiotic-rich veggies — like carrots, pickles and beets too! But again, be aware: traditional shelf-stable versions of these items will not contain the probiotics. They’ve been pasteurized to extend their shelf life, and, as we mentioned before, both good and bad bacteria are killed during this process.
What about supplements?
If you’re still feeling the supplement route, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider about which supplement is right for you! There are a ton of factors to consider when choosing a probiotic supplement, and they can help you find the right one based on your medical history and needs.
Anything else to consider?
Probiotics may provide benefits in a variety of ways, beyond just altering the composition of the gut microbiome. However, in order to continue to reap the benefits of a probiotic supplement continuous consumption is needed. Studies have shown that the effects of probiotic supplementation are no longer detectable 1-4 weeks after individuals stopped taking their probiotic supplement.
Probiotic supplements are considered safe for most populations, but are not recommended for the critically ill or individuals with a compromised immune system. Possible side effects when starting to take probiotics include gas and bloating, but typically these side effects are short-term, and can be minimized by increasing the amount of probiotic-rich foods you eat or dose of the supplement you take gradually. Once your gut bugs make themselves at home, they settle down, and you can start reaping the benefits of their presence!