Probiotics. Gut health. Living Organism. Gut flora. Microbiota.

These buzz words are EVERYWHERE! But, what do they really even mean and do you need to be paying attention to the,? Today, I’m digging into this very topic and giving you the 411 on probiotics!

First up, what the HECK is a probiotic?! Probiotics are living organisms (good bacteria) that provide health benefits including immunity and gut function. Your gut flora (community of microorganisms in the digestive tract), where the majority of these good bacteria live, preforms a TON of functions from breaking down fiber into energy to synthesis (creating) different vitamins. There are many different strains of probiotics and these different strains help with different things and different health conditions.

So, we’ve deemed probiotics are good, but how do we get them? Well, like most dietitian’s out there, I always promote food first verses adding on the supplements. Why? You’ll reap WAY more benefits from consuming a nutrient dense diet VS simply supplementing various things individually. In terms of probiotics, you can find these in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and keifer, to name a few.

Okay, so now let’s talk supplements, the reason you’re all probably reading this post in the first place!  The big question here is “Do I need one?”. For starters, there is no set number as to how much probiotics a single person needs to consume each day. It really depends on the individual person, since no two gut floras are identical. Think of your guy as a unique little snowflake!

Generally, if you’re a healthy individual with no huge digestive issues and consume a variety of probiotic containing foods, I wouldn’t recommend you run out and buy a probiotic supplement. In these cases I tell my clients that taking a probiotic sort of acts as an “insurance policy” to ensure you’re not falling short. You may consider adding in a probiotic supplement if you have frequent gastrointestinal upset or are taking an antibiotic. If you have any seriously health issues I’d highly recommend talking to your doctor before adding one.

If you do decide that you want to take a probiotic supplement and it fits into your budget, there are a couple things to consider before handing over your cash:

  1. Remember there are different strains. It is important to align your probiotic of choice to your symptoms and the corresponding research. A registered dietitian can help with this!
  2. Check the CFU’s. CFU= Colony Forming Units, i.e. how much of the “good stuff” is actually in it. It’s been suggested to look for a number in the billions.
  3. Give it time. If you’re noticing GI symptoms and decide that taking a probiotic is right for you, know that it won’t heal all of your ailments overnight. Give it a couple of weeks and note any changes in symptoms you may notice, then determine your verdict.
  4. Check the expiration. Yup, probiotics have expiration dates! Once they pass this date the amount of CFU’s decline. So, don’t disregard that use by date!
  5. It’s not a “quick fix” for a poor diet. Bottom line here, you still need to eat a healthy diet including lots of variety. You can’t out supplement a poor diet!
  6. Be sure it’s been verified. For instance, look for “USP Verified”. This means that it has been tested for  potency and purity.

Another question that’s probably been eating at you by now is: Do I take one? At this time the answer to that in no. Currently, I eat loads of probiotic containing foods (yogurt and kombucha daily) and I don’t have any GI symptoms or take antibiotics. However, there was a period of time where I DID take one. This was about 4 years ago when I was working towards recovery from my eating disorder. I had horrible GI issues at the time. Bloating, food intolerances, indigestion, etc. I met with a gastroenterologist and decided it was a right fit. After stabilizing my diet, my symptoms improved, and I no longer felt the need to take a supplement.

Probiotics and gut health are hot health topics, and for good reason! Find out from a Registered Dietitian what probiotics are and if you need a supplement!

There is you quick and dirty probiotic 411! If you still have questions feel free to each out to me!

Happy eating,