When you hear the word “bacteria,” what do you think of? Chances are your mind immediately goes to the foul and repulsive—things like food borne illness, gross germs and nasty infections. But not all bacteria are created equal. In fact, introducing “good” bacteria, or probiotics, into your body might just be your prescription for better overall health.
“I believe everyone should be on probiotics,” says Shekhar Challa, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist, digestive authority and award-winning author of the book Probiotics for Dummies. “In my humble opinion, probiotics are the next daily vitamins.”
Our body is populated with trillions of bacteria, about 90% of which is good bacteria and 10% of which is bad bacteria. Optimal health depends on the preservation of the delicate balance between good and bad microbes. It’s when this ratio gets thrown out of whack that we encounter problems—yeast infections, digestive issues and urinary tract infections, to name a few.
That’s where probiotics come in. Probiotics are supplements of good bacteria designed to help your body maintain a proper bacterial balance. Found naturally in food products like kefir and yogurt, they promote a plethora of beneficial health effects and contribute to overall vitality, wellbeing and resistance to disease. Probiotics can ward off a number of conditions, from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to allergies to the common cold.
In case we haven’t sold you yet on the pros of probiotics, here are just a few of the health benefits of this all-star bacteria:
Probiotics can improve the health of your digestive tract. First and foremost, probiotics are essential to proper digestive functioning. They play a key role in not only preserving and improving digestive health, but also in preventing certain digestive diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and possibly Celiac disease.
Probiotics promote women’s health. In addition to promoting overall vaginal health, probiotics can protect against recurrent yeast infections and urinary tract infections. “Probiotics have been shown to decrease the number of bladder infections and yeast infections in women,” Dr. Challa notes. Probiotics suppress the overgrowth of yeast, thereby helping to restore the healthy balance of vaginal microflora.
Probiotics bolster your immune system. Feeling under the weather? Pop a probiotic supplement—it may be your best defense against pesky colds and flus. Emerging research is exploring the ways probiotics might serve as immune system boosters, Dr. Challa says. “Evidence shows that probiotics boost immunity in people with sub-optimal immune systems, such as the elderly or people in stressful situations,” he notes.
Probiotics alleviate allergies and asthma. Probiotics may be useful in alleviating and preventing myriad allergic reactions, such as eczema, asthma and food allergies. “Allergic reactions are essentially overreactions of the immune system, and probiotics may play an important role in ensuring that your immune system distinguishes between truly harmful invaders and harmless things like pollen,” Dr. Challa says.
Ready to reap the amazing benefits of probiotics? To acquaint you with this friendly bacteria, we highlight some of our favorite probiotics picks.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice—now you can get your chocolate fix while supporting your digestive system, too. Attune chocolate bars, which come in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and mint chocolate flavors, deliver 6.1 billion CFUs of clinically supported strains of probiotics. Better yet, they’re only 90 calories per bar (and 100% gluten-free!).
Power up your morning with GoodBelly’s delicious organic drinks, which are formulated with Lactobacillus plantarum299v, a well-studied probiotic strain that supports daily digestive health. We especially loved the tangy Tropical Orange flavor, which tastes just like traditional orange juice but infused with a powerful dose of probiotics. All of GoodBelly’s drinks are completely dairy-free, soy-free and vegan.
KeVita is a refreshing, sparkling probiotic drink with calorie counts ranging from 5 to 45 calories per serving. We loved KeVita’s lineup of low-calorie flavors, which include coconut, mango coconut and mojito lime coconut. The beverages aren’t cloyingly sweet, and the carbonation gives them a fizz.
A smooth, creamy drink similar in taste to yogurt, Kefir is a lactose-free smoothie that’s chock-full of friendly probiotics, with 12 live and active cultures per one cup serving. We especially loved the Frozen Kefir varieties, a tart, tangy frozen dessert with only 90 calories per serving. It’s the perfect healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth cravings for a fraction of the calories of traditional ice cream.