These foods and drinks can offer up healthy bacteria (and taste pretty good, too).
ou may have heard that probiotics are the new “it” ingredient you should include in your diet posthaste. You may also have no actual clue what probiotics are or how to get them. You’re not alone.
“Probiotics are healthy bacteria in fermented food and drinks that can help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut,” Marisa Moore, R.D.N. and consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, tells SELF.
Probiotics may do more than promote the growth of “good” bacteria in your system. “These bacteria can fight pathogenic organisms,” Shilpa Ravella, M.D., a gastroenterologist with expertise in nutrition and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, tells SELF.
In addition, there may be other probiotic-related benefits that science has yet to fully back up. “Although more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics, prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections, treat irritable bowel syndrome, speed treatment of certain intestinal infections, and prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu,” says Mayo Clinic.
So, there are clearly a few reasons you may want to incorporate probiotics into your diet. But how exactly do you do that? “There are several different strains of probiotics that you can get from different types of foods,” says Moore. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common probiotic strain, but you don’t have to spend hours researching which fermented foods have L. acidophilus and which don’t. Other strains can also be beneficial, and at this point, it’s all a bit of a guessing game. “Evidence or specifics regarding quantity and quality of probiotics in specific foods is limited,” says Moore. But the foods and drinks below can be a good place to start.
This is probably the easiest way to incorporate probiotics into your diet. Look for a label on the packaging that says “live and active cultures”—that’s your tip-off that the yogurt contains probiotics. Although dairy yogurts are most likely to have probiotics, manufacturers sometimes add probiotics to soy- or coconut-based varieties as well, says Moore.
One thing to note is that probiotics are alive, so you should eat the yogurt as soon as you can (or at least before its expiration date) to maximize your probiotic consumption, says Moore. They’re also heat-sensitive, so if you’re preparing a meal with yogurt it’s best to go with a cold recipe.
If you’ve never heard of it, this fermented milk product is kind of a drinkable yogurt, which probably either appeals to you massively or freaks you out a little. You can still add it into your diet either way. Kefir adds a dose of creaminess to smoothies or cold soups, says Moore, but those who are really into its texture can drink it straight, or add a little sweetener or fresh fruit to tone down its tart taste. “Some people buy pre-sweetened kefir, but I don’t recommend that because it has a significant amount of added sugar,” says Moore.