What Are Probiotics?
Did You Know?
For a food to be considered probiotic, it must meet the following criteria:
- Have living microorganisms.
- Have a high enough concentration of those microorganisms to survive through the stomach.
- Provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.
According to the U.N.’s World Health Organization, probiotics are “live
microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health
benefit on the host.” In other words, they are tiny living organisms (like
bacteria and yeast) that may help improve your health beyond the basic nutrition
when you eat enough of them.
It’s important to note that there are many different types of bacteria,
and that not all of them are bad for you. Most of the time, bacteria is thought
of as something that can make you sick. However, many types of bacteria can actually
help you maintain good health. There are millions of bacteria that live in your
digestive system, and they help maintain good digestive function, boost your
immune system and maintain the overall balance between the good and bad bacteria
in your digestive tract.
Unfortunately, the good bacteria in your digestive system can be depleted
for many common reasons. For example, taking antibiotics, drinking excess alcohol,
eating a poor diet, or being under a lot of stress can all lead to lower amounts
of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Not only can a lowered amount of
the friendly bacteria lead to poor digestion, but the imbalance between the good
vs. bad bacteria can cause further problems if the imbalance is not corrected.
Most probiotics are very similar to the friendly bacteria that are found living
in your digestive system and taking probiotics is the easiest way to replenish
the good bacteria to help restore and maintain the proper balance. Probiotics
are usually eaten as foods (like yogurt, kefir, fermented milk, miso, tempeh,
and natto beans) or as dietary supplements in the form of capsules, tablets,
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Did You Know?
Studies have shown that eating probiotics regularly may help with:
- High Cholesterol
Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Immune System
- Kidney Stones
- Lactose Intolerance
- Oral Health
There are many health benefits that have been
linked to eating probiotics. It is important to note, however, that each of the
health benefits depends on the type of microorganism, and the benefits may vary
based on which strain of a specific bacteria is present in the food or supplement.
common health benefit that is linked with the bacteria commonly found in yogurt
is that the lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt helps lactose intolerant people
digest dairy products more easily. There have also been a number of studies that
have shown that certain probiotics can help treat and/or prevent conditions like:
diarrhea, urinary tract infections and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other
studies have shown that consuming probiotics may also reduce the recurrence of
bladder cancer, shorten the length of certain intestinal infections, and to help
prevent and manage eczema and other allergies in children.
There are also studies that suggest that eating a diet high in probiotics
may also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Although these findings are preliminary,
the researchers believe that probiotics may help reduce the risk of colon cancer
through several different ways. Certain types of bacteria may release cancer-causing
chemicals as a normal part of their metabolic activity, which can then build
up in the colon. Studies have shown that eating the right types of probiotics
may help reduce the exposure to these cancer-causing chemicals by decreasing
the number of bacteria that produce them, by metabolizing the chemicals themselves,
by producing chemicals that improve a cell’s ability to die (and thus preventing
an overgrowth of abnormal cells), by producing compounds that inhibit the growth
of tumor cells, or by stimulating the immune system to fight against cancer cell
growth. While these studies are preliminary and more research needs to be done
for conclusive information, the initial findings do point towards a link between
probiotics consumption and lowered cancer risk.
If you are planning on using probiotics to help you with specific conditions,
always consult your physician so that you and your doctor can create a comprehensive
health care plan that meets your needs.
Yogurt as a Probiotic
Did You Know?
According to the guidelines by the National Yogurt Association, yogurt must have
100 million (100,000,000) active cultures PER GRAM at the time of manufacture
for a yogurt to be certified as having ‘live and active cultures’.
Frozen yogurt can have 10,000,000 active culture per gram at the time of manufacture.
has been used around the world as a delicious and healthful food. It is made
by growing various forms of lactic acid bacteria in milk or soymilk. Not only
is yogurt enjoyed as a food by itself, but it is also used as a popular ingredient
in many sauces, dressings and other recipes.
Not all yogurts that you purchase in a store are considered to be probiotics.
In order for a yogurt to be considered probiotic, it must meet three very important
qualifications. First, the bacteria need to be alive in the yogurt. Second, there
must be enough of the bacteria to survive the harsh environment of your stomach
to pass into your intestinal tract. And third, they must provide health benefits
beyond basic nutrition.
Sometimes, it is difficult to figure out whether certain store-bought yogurts
are probiotics. There are several reasons why they might not actually be probiotics.
For example, if the bacteria cultures that were used to manufacture the yogurt
are the wrong variety, they may not help you beyond the basic nutrition. Furthermore,
even if the yogurt contains the right types of bacteria, there may not be a high
enough concentration in the yogurt to survive through your stomach. Finally,
even if there was a high enough concentration of the bacteria at the time the
yogurt was manufactured, the concentration of live and active cultures may decrease
rapidly while the yogurt is transported to the market and while it sits on store
What does all of this mean? The absolute best way to make sure that your yogurt
is probiotics is to make it fresh at home. When you make your own yogurt, you
are growing millions (if not billions) of the active cultures. Eating the yogurt
fresh within ensures that the yogurt cultures will remain alive and in a high
enough concentration to actually provide a health benefit. You also have the
choice of which yogurt starter you want to use. Always use starter from a manufacturer
you trust to have the right kinds of the friendly bacteria that will help improve
your health. And of course, making yogurt at home lets you choose which ingredients
are in your yogurt, so you can avoid artificial flavors, preservatives and other
Of course, if you are unable to make yogurt at home and need to purchase it
from a store, always read the label carefully so you know what you’re eating.
Make sure that the yogurt is fresh, and see if the yogurt contains ‘live
and active cultures’ as certified by the National Yogurt Association (NYA).