Bloated? Gassy? If the probiotics in your gut are doing their job, your last meal went down smoothly and you're not feeling either of these uncomfortable and mildly embarrassing symptoms.
So what are these probiotic things? Here are the answers to all of your questions:
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria, but don't worry - they're the friendly kind. As live microorganisms, their biggest claim to fame is promoting gut health. When consumed in adequate amounts, foods and supplements containing probiotics can have many health benefits, especially related to digestion.
There are different types of probiotics, and some are more effective at treating certain digestive conditions than others. For instance, lactobacillus is one of the most common types, and it can relieve symptoms of diarrhea and aid in digestion for those who struggle to break down lactose. Bifidobacterium is another strain, which helps with irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive conditions. While the individual strains work in slightly different ways, you can assume than consuming any kind of probiotic can be beneficial. You may want to focus on the different strains if you have a specific digestive health condition that a particular probiotic can help with easing those symptoms.
Why are they good for you?
The amount of bacteria in your digestive system is critical for your overall health. Probiotics are key players in maintaining the right balance of bacteria necessary for gut health and disease prevention. An imbalance means there's an overload of bad bacteria, often due to illness or unhealthy diet, which can lead to digestive problems, allergies and weight issues. Probiotics are the good guys that save the day by restoring a natural balance of bacteria in the gut. This rebalancing is especially important after taking antibiotics, which wipe out both good and bad bacteria.
This healthy balance is further linked to weight loss, immune function and digestive health. According to Harvard Health, that translates to the potential treatment or prevention of certain health conditions, such as infection, diarrhea, colitis and Crohn's disease. Healthline also highlighted these health benefits of probiotics, which further included:
- Keeping the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- Providing relief from severe allergy and eczema symptoms.
- Reducing amount of belly fat.
- Increasing nutrient absorption from food.
- Improving skin health.
Some research shows that probiotics can even aid with mental health conditions. In a review published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, the authors concluded that probiotics can improve symptoms and behaviors related to anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and memory abilities. In another study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, participants who consumed probiotic yogurt and daily capsules reported improvements in general health, depression, anxiety and stress.
Can too much be bad for you?
Most people react well to probiotics, and there aren't any common major side effects. You may experience gas or mild abdominal discomfort in the first days of increasing probiotic intake, but these effects generally subside relatively quickly and your digestion should improve going forward. Of course there may also be side effects linked to other medical conditions, so talk with your doctor for more information.
How do you add probiotics to your diet?
Probiotics occur naturally in many fermented foods. Start incorporating these foods into your healthy diet to reap the benefits of these friendly bacteria:
Yogurt is one of the most popular source of probiotics, but make sure to read the label carefully. You want to choose yogurt with active or live cultures, as well as those that aren't high in added sugars. Here's a list of yogurts with probiotics from Livestrong to add to your grocery list.
This fermented dairy drink is similar to yogurt, but it tends to be better for people who have a dairy intolerance. Plus, it can help reduce the symptoms of gas and bloating.
Along with making a tasty addition to your lunch, fermented cucumbers are a great source of probiotics, as well as vitamins A and K. Go for the ones pickled in salt water because those made with vinegar don't have live probiotics. Keep in mind that pickles are high in sodium, so avoid overloading on them.
Miso is high in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium - and, of course, gut-healthy probiotics. The best way to eat this Japanese seasoning is in soup, which you can order at many Asian restaurants or make at home with this recipe from Epicurious.
This spicy, fermented Korean side dish is made with cabbage, radishes and scallions. It adds a kick of flavor to any rice dish, and you can buy it premade at most grocery stores that sell traditional Asian cuisine. Alternatively, try this traditional napa cabbage kimchi recipe from Korean Bapsang.
Cheese (some kinds!)
Unfortunately for cheese lovers, not all types contain the right type of bacteria that can create health-boosting probiotics. Go for the soft and aged cheeses, such as Parmesan, cheddar, gouda and Swiss. Eat This, Not That! even offered a health reason to splurge on the really good kind: The longer the cheese ages, the better it is for your gut health.
Perfect for vegan and vegetarian dishes, tempeh is also good for your gut. It's a fermented soybean product that has a firm texture and flavor similar to mushrooms. Use it as an alternative to meat in many dishes, including stir fry with veggies and rice or these recipes from Self magazine.
Get your sweet fix while improving your digestive health at the same time. Try to go for bars with 70 percent cacao or more for the most benefit.
Anything else you need to know?
While supplements are another popular way to increase probiotic intake, it's important to keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't monitor these supplements in the same ways that it does other drugs and medications. Instead, the FDA monitors probiotics in foods. Start with adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet before resorting to supplements. Of course, always talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your routine.