Should you add probiotics to your diet?
There’s been a buzz about them lately, but are they merely trendy—or a rich source of nutrients?
Probiotics are live bacteria that promote a healthy intestinal environment. There are many types, but the most common is lactobacillus.
Yogurt is probably the best-known probiotic food, and it’s made with lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophiles. When buying yogurt, though, look for the “live active culture” seal on the container—not all commercial yogurt has it.
Besides plain yogurt, probiotic foods include:
- Acidophilus milk
- Kombucha (a fermented green or black tea)
- Miso soup
- Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchee and other fermented foods
Benefits of Probiotics
Eating probiotic foods can contribute to a healthy metabolism and the development of a strong immune system, and may promote resistance to active infection.
Probiotics may be especially helpful to people who are:
- Undergoing surgical procedures
- Receiving chemotherapy
- Taking antibiotics
- Living with irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal conditions
And they can provide good balance during the holidays, when rich, heavy foods and sugary treats can do a number on the digestive system.
The average person could benefit by eating one to two servings of probiotic foods daily. People with acute conditions could be helped by two to three servings daily. Such foods are a healthy addition to the typical Western diet, which tends to be low in fiber and heavy in saturated fats.
However, you have to look at your overall lifestyle because probiotic foods are only a part of what constitutes a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats, and exercising are recommended to promote health.
Concentrated probiotic supplements are also available over the counter, and taking them has been found to help during acute intestinal conditions.
In any case, check with your primary care provider before starting probiotic supplements to make sure they won’t interact with any of your medications.
We do know one thing: Probiotic foods like sauerkraut, miso soup and kimchee have been popular for years in cultures around the globe. It’s a great time for you to start enjoying them too.
This article was reviewed by Carilion Clinic's Registered Dietitians.