Probiotics are commonly known these days for optimizing digestion and reducing stomach upset. They’re also beneficial for improving immunity, balancing sugar cravings, and some studies now even show they may help us lose weight. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are found in some fermented foods, and also produced  naturally by the body (in an optimal world). However, antibiotics, animal foods that contain antibiotics, birth control pills, prescription drugs, antibacterial soap, refined sugar intake, refined grain intake, and harmful fungi and viruses all deplete our natural healthy bacteria levels.

Why Do We Need Probiotics and Probiotic-Rich Foods?

Our bodies actually house more bacteria than cells in our body- we’re a walking piece of bacteria, basically. Bad and good bacteria are found everywhere, including our bodies. So naturally, we want to make sure that the good bacteria outweigh the bad. Don’t focus so much on getting rid of all the bad bacteria, since that’s a feat not one of us can conquer; focus instead on optimizing the good bacteria in your body.

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Where Probiotics Are Found:

Beneficial bacteria is naturally found in the soil, and is meant to be obtained through our food, however, due to soil depletion and the abundant use of pesticides and fertilizers in our soil, we can’t trust that we’ll get enough from eating a healthy diet anymore. So, fermented foods like cultured veggies (sauerkraut, kimchi, natural pickles), coconut yogurt and kefir, cacao beans, coffee beans, vanilla beans, apple cider vinegar, tempeh, miso, and kombucha are all examples of natural, plant-based fermented foods that contain or promote beneficial bacteria. Of course, dairy products are also fermented with beneficial cultures to produce natural probiotics due to the natural sugar lactose dairy contains. But since dairy isn’t the best way to consume any nutrients, probiotics included, obtaining your beneficial bacteria from other sources like those mentioned is your best option.

You can also choose to take a supplement, which are made from bacterial cultures that are fermented with a medium to fuel the good bacteria growth. They’re all over the market these days, however you need to be careful which ones you choose. Some contain traces of dairy, soy, and gluten, problematic to those with an allergy. Some also contain very few probiotic cultures by the time they make it to you. Others may contain a capsule that’s not strong enough to survive stomach acid levels, which can also affect how they’re absorbed by the body.

A Good Probiotic Supplement: What it Looks Like

A good probiotic will ease digestion, relieve gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, and may also help improve your immunity. Some people say that probiotics also promote brain-boosting benefits since our guts influence how our brains work. The digestive system is also referred to the “second brain”, which is one reason beneficial bacteria is so important in regulating how you feel all the way around.

When shopping for a probiotic, you can choose a supplement form or find it in many green superfood powders these days (all usually vegan). To make sure you’re consuming an optimal brand, here’s what to look for:

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1. Make sure it contains “live, active cultures”, specifically L. acidophilus and L. Bifidus cultures. These are only two beneficial cultures out of hundreds that exist, but are some of the best for digestive health specifically. If other beneficial cultures included, that’s even better, but look for those two strains above all else for a good, basic probiotic.

2. Look for enteric coated capsules which survive stomach acid better than other types.

3. Look for those that are dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free when possible. If they’re raw, even better since they’ll come from raw, living foods.

4. Choose a brand that’s non-GMO to make sure genetically modified corn and soy weren’t used in the fermentation process.

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5. Read the label to make sure it doesn’t contain sugar, which is often used in cheaper brands to jump-start the fermentation process.

Some brands are exclusively vegan while others are not.  Your best choice is to go with a powder form that contains beneficial probiotics and enzymes to aid in digestion. These can be mixed into drinks and are easily absorbed in the body. They also survive stomach acid levels just as good as some capsules. As always, if you can find an organic, whole food source, even better.

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Some ways to tell if your probiotic is working:

  • Better digestion
  • Better overall feeling
  • Less stomach problems
  • Less prone to sickness

What About The Numbers?

Some probiotics contain 1 billion cultures while some contain 200 billion and more! There’s no way to tell if one certain number works best for you or not. Just experiment and see what amounts seem to provide you with benefits. Most people don’t need extremely high amounts of probiotics unless they face serious health issues or suffer from yeast overgrowth or bacterial infections.

Do you use probiotics?

Image Source: Ryan Snyder/Flickr

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