The word bacteria tends to evoke a negative connotation, but you might be surprised to learn that there are good bacteria, too. That’s right, your body engages in a balancing act between good and bad bacteria, the latter of which can trigger disease and damage your overall health. The good bacteria, on the other hand, are called probiotics, and it’s estimated that our bodies are home to trillions of them.
But what are probiotics good for? These live microorganisms mostly reside in your stomach, and assist in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Essentially, good bacteria are good for your gut. If you ever struggle with diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome or other forms of an unsettled stomach, probiotics may provide some relief. You can consume more of these live microorganisms with probiotic-rich foods, or with probiotic supplements. And while the names and roles are similar, probiotics shouldn’t be confused with prebiotics, which act as a food source for healthy bacteria to grow. Probiotics and prebiotics work in tandem to promote the health of your gut.
To help you benefit from them, we’ll cover the best probiotic foods and suggest a handful of probiotic supplements you can take daily.
Without getting too deep into the science, probiotics are categorized by three factors — genus, species and strain. Here are the two most common genera of probiotics, each with a long list of individual species and strains:
- Lactobacillus – Located in the small intestine, lactobacillus and its various species and strains help digest lactose, improve total cholesterol levels and enhance immune health.
- Bifidobacterium – Located in the large intestine, bifidobacteria help digest fiber and complex carbs while producing B vitamins and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which help with gut health.
Again, remember that each of these genera has tons of individual species and strains. When hunting for foods high in probiotics, you’ll see these named and stylized specifically like L. acidophilus — short for lactobacillus acidophilus — which produces lactic acid and can be found in fermented foods and yogurt.
If you want to benefit from probiotics, check out these foods high in probiotics next time you’re at the grocery store:
- Yogurt – Containing lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, yogurt is one of the best probiotic foods. It’s great for those who struggle with lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Kefir – S fermented milk drink, kefir features a ton of different strains of probiotics.
- Sauerkraut – Finely shredded cabbage that’s fermented in lactic acid bacteria. Make sure to grab the unpasteurized kind, as pasteurizing can kill active bacteria.
- Miso – Found in the salty Japanese soup, miso contains fermented soybeans and is a great source of protein, fibers and vitamins.
- Pickles – Because cucumbers are preserved and fermented to make pickles, they contain lactic acid bacteria. But make sure you avoid pickles fermented in vinegar, which do not contain live probiotics.
- probiotic – This trendy fermented tea beverage is delicious and contains probiotics because of the fermentation process.
- Tempeh – Another fermented soybean product, tempeh hails from Indonesia and serves as a high-protein meat substitute. The fermentation produces vitamins and other natural probiotics.
Flavor-wise, many of the probiotic-rich foods are on the funky, briny side, thanks to the fermentation process that produces so many good probiotics. If you don’t fancy eating yogurt and drinking kombucha but still want to reap the benefits, there are a ton of great probiotic supplements available.
The best probiotic supplements contain a high dose of a single probiotic strain or multiple probiotic strains. Keep in mind that different strains have different health benefits, so make sure you’re shopping for one to meet your specific needs. Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFUs), and researchers recommend that a probiotic supplement contain at least 1 billion CFUs to be effective.
However, those numbers decline naturally over time as the supplement is exposed to air and variation in temperatures. When shopping for a probiotic supplement, check how to properly store it to maintain its potency. You should also look closely at CFU counts, as most companies will list the CFU tally at the supplement’s manufacturing date (when it’s highest). By the time you snag it from a drug store shelf, the CFU will have naturally dropped. It’s estimated that this number drops about 5% per month.
And, as is the case with any oral supplement, ensure the product is manufactured with quality in mind. When in doubt, look for a probiotic that follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for that extra seal of approval.
1. Align Probiotic Extra Strength
BEST FOR IBS
This probiotic supplement from Align contains 20 mg of Bifidobacterium longum 35624, a probiotic that may be effective for folks with irritable bowel syndrome. At about $50 for a 42-capsule bottle (the serving size is one capsule), it’s a bit pricier than some other options on this list but packs a heavy probiotic punch with 5 billion live bacteria per serving when manufactured.
2. Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics
If you’re looking for a probiotic supplement with a bunch of different strains, check out this option from Garden of Life. It features 16 probiotic strains and 50 billion CFU, plus a stress support blend with Ashwagandha, an herbal supplement that may reduce anxiety and may boost sexual health and overall mood. Some of the strains include L. helveticus ROO52 and B. longum RO175 which are linked to gut and mental health. This probiotic supplement is also third-party certified and manufactured using GMPs.
3. NewRhythm Probiotics
NewRhythm’s probiotic supplement blends 20 different strains, including L. rhamnosus and B. infantis, both of which may help with digestion, gas, bloating and abdominal pain. At 50 billion CFU, its veggie capsules are gluten-free, produced in a GMP certified facility and are third-party tested. A 30-serving bottle (60 capsules, two-capsule serving) costs under $20, making this a great trial size for anyone new to probiotics.
4. Culturelle Pro Strength Daily Probiotic
BEST PRO- AND PREBIOTIC
As we stated earlier, probiotics and prebiotics work in tandem to help your gut, with the latter fueling the former. This probiotic supplement from Culturelle features 12 million CFUs of L. rhamnosus GG along with 200 mg of inulin, a prebiotic dietary fiber. This is a straightforward probiotic supplement with only the one strain, keeping things simple and effective for your gut health.
4. Physician’s Choice Probiotic
AMAZON BEST SELLER
Sometimes, the only validation you need is that of Amazon reviews. This probiotic supplement — which sports 10 different strains and 60 billion CFUs at the time of manufacturing — has more than 90,000 Amazon reviews and a 4.5-star rating. Like the previous option, this supplement includes both probiotic strains and prebiotics to help fuel the gut bacteria.
5. NOW Supplements Probiotic-10
NOW manufactures some of the highest quality, most accessible and most affordable supplements on the market. This probiotic supplement is no exception, as it’s GMP-backed and features a blend of 10 different gut-benefiting probiotic strains at 25 billion CFU, which NOW says will last through the best by date. It’s also free of gluten and other common allergens like soy, dairy, nuts and eggs.
6. Nature’s Bounty Acidophilus Probiotic
If price is on your mind, check out this L. acidophilus probiotic supplement from Nature’s Bounty, which costs only $11 for a 200-tablet twin pack, coming out to about $0.05 per serving. Value like that can be hard to come by, but this supplement doesn’t skimp on the probiotics either. With 100 million CFU, this is a fantastic probiotic to keep at home.