What Are Probiotics?

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

What are probiotics?

In simplified terms, probiotics are live cultures. They’re found naturally in foods and in our guts. Our gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria. 1,000 different species – both good and bad – make up the “gut microbiota.” Probiotics are the “good” guys that help keep gut bacteria in balance.

As living things, probiotics also 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 is to keep your gut bacteria in balance, which ultimately boosts immunity and overall health. Moreover, when good bacteria are lacking, we may experience digestive discomfort. This may include constipation, diarrhea, infections, fatigue, and even heart conditions.

A balanced gut where probiotics are flourishing improves health. Research shows probiotics have a positive impact on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), allergies, lactose intolerance, mental disorders, cognitive function, and infections.

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 for nutrients! Furthermore, fermented foods are also rich in these bacteria because they undergo a process called lactofermentation. This produces beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, enzymes, etc. Foods like yogurt, aged cheeses, and sauerkraut are considered probiotic-rich foods. As mentioned earlier, probiotics have to be fed daily by prebiotics like asparagus, onions, and bananas.

If you’re experiencing gut issues or related conditions, continue reading the actionable steps 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 also tired or groggy? 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 also wipe out all the good bacteria, too. Be mindful of your medications. If antibiotics are unavoidable, then you’ll need to…


…Eat more probiotic foods!

Try both dairy and non-dairy yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, and kombucha. Eat fermented foods like naturally fermented pickles. Fermented sauerkraut, miso (fermented soybean paste), and kimchi are also great choices!

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

Additionally, sneak in more fruits, veggies, and whole grains to promote probiotic growth. Some great options are apples, bananas, chickpeas, lentils, beans, and 100% whole grains like oats and whole wheat.


Consider a supplement

Sometimes we experience gut issues or other 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 also unique to each gut. You’ll want to work with your dietitian to determine which strain is best for your health.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
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