What Are Probiotics?

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Probiotics are all the rage in the grocery aisles these days. Probiotic shots, drinks, chips, pills, potions, and even beauty products. Are they really worth all the hype? Before hitting the supplement aisle, let’s take a deeper look at probiotics – what they are, what they do, and how to add them to your lifestyle.

What are probiotics?

In simplified terms, probiotics are living microorganisms, or live cultures, that are found naturally in foods and in our guts. Our gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria and 1,000 different species – both good and bad – making up the “gut microbiota.” Probiotics are the “good” guys that help keep our gut bacteria in balance. Some of the most common probiotic names you’ll see on labels are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Enterococcus faecium.

As living things, probiotics get hungry and need to eat frequently. The term prebiotics refers to the food that probiotics feed on.

Prebiotics are non-digestible food components found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

What probiotics do

The main role probiotics play in your body is to keep your gut bacteria in balance which ultimately boosts immunity and overall health. When our good bacteria are lacking, we may experience gastrointestinal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, infections, fatigue, brain fog, lack of memory and concentration, poor immunity, and can even develop heart conditions.

A balanced gut where probiotics are flourishing is known to improve health in a variety of ways. Research has shown that probiotics can have a positive impact on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), allergies, lactose intolerance, cholesterol, blood pressure, overall inflammation, bowel movements, skin conditions, mental disorders, cognitive function, and infections (cough, cough!).

How to add probiotic-rich food to your diet

Many strains of probiotics are found naturally in our foods. Remember, whole foods should always be the first choice in getting our nutrients! Fermented foods are rich in probiotics because they undergo a process called lactofermentation which produces beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics. Foods like yogurt, aged cheeses, and sauerkraut are considered probiotic-rich foods. As mentioned earlier, probiotics have to be fed daily by prebiotics such as asparagus, onions, leeks, and bananas.

If you’re experiencing gut issues or other gut-related conditions, continue reading the actionable steps for more details on how to get more probiotics in your diet.

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Actionable Steps


Check in with your gut

Are you having issues in the bathroom? Does the common cold catch you a lot? Are you feeling tired or groggy (more than you would like to admit)? Have you taken prescription-based prolonged antibiotics at any point in your life? Then you may need to up your probiotic game.


Avoid antibiotics when you can

Antibiotics don’t just fight off the bad bacteria, they wipe out all the good bacteria, too. Be mindful of your medications. If use of antibiotics is unavoidable, then you’ll need to…


…Eat more probiotic foods!

Try out both dairy and non-dairy yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, and kombucha. Fermented foods like naturally fermented pickles (not the ones saturated in vinegar and salt), other fermented veggies (carrots, beets, onions, etc.), fermented sauerkraut, miso (fermented soybean paste), and kimchi are all great choices too!

Pro Tip: Try using kefir or yogurt in your oatmeal or overnight oats. Add fermented veggies to salads. Cook tofu, tempeh, chicken, or salmon in a miso marinade. Or finish the day with a kombucha float!

Don’t forget to also…


…Eat plenty of prebiotic foods

You can easily sneak in more fruits, veggies, and whole grains to promote probiotic growth. Some great options are apples, bananas, artichokes, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, beans, and 100% whole grains like oats and whole-wheat.


Consider a supplement

Sometimes we experience gut issues or other health conditions where probiotic supplementation may be needed. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement. Not all supplements are the same and everyone’s gut requires different types of probiotics.

Also, always choose a trusted brand that undergoes third-party testing with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Take a look at www.consumerlabs.com to check the supplement’s purity. The need for certain probiotic strains is unique to each gut so you’ll want to work with your dietitian to determine which strain is best for your health condition.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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