I f the claims of some probiotic foods and supplements are to be believed, you can never have too many beneficial beasties living in your gut.
So is using probiotic foods and supplements worth it? The answer right now is a solid “probably.”
“Probiotics” is a term used to describe living micoroganisms in the human digestive tract that can aid in digestion, keep not-so-good microbes in the gut in check and offer other gastrointestinal benefits.
“I think, for the most part, the scientific research is that they help the digestive tract and can help in things like diarrhea (and) bloating,” said Debra Tacad, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and instructor in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Nutrition Center.
Although probiotic bacteria and microorganisms already exist in the body, they also can be taken into the body by eating specific foods that contain them — among them, yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy product — or taking nutritional supplements. More and more foods and supplements now are being marketed with a probiotic angle.
Activia yogurt, for example, notes on its website the digestive benefits of bifidus regularis, a probiotic culture it contains that, Activia says, “helps regulate the digestive system when enjoyed daily as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.”
However, Tacad says all yogurts are inexpensive vehicles for adding probiotics to the body.
“It doesn’t mean you need to eat yogurt every day for there to be a benefit, but it has to be on a regular basis, like throughout the week.”
Probiotics also can be ingested as capsules or other supplements. But, Tacad said, nutritionists generally would recommend eating yogurt and other foods rather than taking supplements, mostly because supplements “aren’t as regulated” as food is.
Opting for yogurt and other foods also means “you’re getting calcium and protein and all of the other good stuff,” she said. “If you do want to do supplements, do your research and make sure it’s from a good, reputable source and a reputable company.”
Even people who are lactose intolerant might be able to choose an option such as kefir, because “the bacteria in the actual drink itself can serve to digest the lactose before you even try to absorb it,” Tacad said. “So it might actually be more tolerable for lactose-intolerant people.”
But start slowly, she added. “It’s probably better to just try a little bit. Don’t try a whole bunch. Just try to have a sip and see how you tolerate it.”
Check with your doctor before beginning a probiotic regimen, particularly if you have altered immune function, take antibiotics or have a chronic medical condition. Also ask a doctor or a registered dietitian if you’re confused about a particular probiotic product.
There are “so many things (on the market) now,” Tacad said, and “especially with how popular it is, it’s hard to trust some of the advertising out there.”