If you’re struggling with IBS or other digestive issues, you’re probably ready to do just about anything to feel better and get your life back.
You’ve experimented with meal-timing. And you’ve cut so many things out of your diet that there’s not much left that you CAN eat. IBS can take over your life. But there are things you can do to get your symptoms under control. For a comprehensive list of my favorite resources, you can download my IBS Resource Guide.
Probiotics are one of my favorite tools to help my IBS patients get their symptoms under control. When you eat probiotic foods or take a probiotic supplement, you are shifting the balance in your gut so you have more beneficial bacteria that can help balance your digestion, improve your immune function, stabilize your moods, and more.
If you’ve been following along this month, you’ve learned why probiotics are a big deal, how probiotics can improve your IBS symptoms, and how you can improve the health of your microbiome with prebiotics.
By now, you’re convinced probiotics are a good idea. So maybe you’ve gone to the store to get some. But trying to pick a probiotic can be overwhelming. There are so many different varieties of probiotics on the market. Some are refrigerated. Some aren’t. Some are cheap. Some are insanely expensive. And what about probiotic foods? Which is best?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about choosing the right probiotic.
The short answer is YES. If you are going to go with a probiotic supplement, it’s important to get a physician-trusted brand. If you’re working with a practitioner, check with them. A knowledgeable practitioner will be able to recommend a probiotic brand that is evidence-backed and has a beneficial effect on your specific health concerns.
I highly recommend you consult with your physician or dietitian before starting a probiotic or any supplement. But if you aren’t working with a practitioner, skip the store brand probiotic products and go with a name brand. There are some clues on the label you can look for.
Labels are there primarily for marketing. Every probiotic brand is competing for your attention in the store. But there are some key things to look for when considering which probiotic to buy:
✔ “Live cultures” — Probiotics are actual living bacteria. So it’s important that they are live and active.
✔ Check the CFUs — CFUs (colony-forming units) tell you the number of viable bacteria you’ll find in each dose of the supplement. Generally, you want to look for at least 1 billion CFUs. This seems like a lot. And it is. But keep in mind that your probiotic has to survive a trip through your digestive system — including stomach acid — in order to make it to your microbiome. Taking a probiotic with a high CFU count makes it more likely that enough will survive to take hold and help you.
✔ Strains — There are countless strains (types) of beneficial bacteria found in the microbiome. But probiotic supplements are generally made with the strains that have been the most extensively studied. Some of the most researched strains include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Saccharomyces boulardii.
✔ Your Health Concerns — Studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics are beneficial for specific conditions. If you’re struggling with IBS, look for a probiotic that specifically mentions IBS on the label.
Not necessarily. Probiotic supplements are sensitive to extreme temperatures. So you don’t want to leave any probiotic in a hot car. But, refrigerated supplements are not necessarily better.
Your probiotic needs to make it through both your body heat and your digestive system in order to survive long enough to benefit you. If a probiotic needs refrigeration to survive, it might not be formulated in such a way to make it through your digestive system.
I’m not saying all refrigerated probiotics are bad. But just because you find it in the refrigerated section of the health food store doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right probiotic for you.
I’m a fan of both. As a functional nutritionist, I always like to see my patients getting their nutrients from foods wherever possible.
Getting your vitamins, minerals, and even probiotics directly from your food has a number of advantages:
👍 Your digestion is active and ready to process and assimilate the nutrients effectively.
👍 When you get your nutrients in your food, you will also get the cofactors needed to properly absorb the nutrients. For example, in order for your body to effectively utilize calcium, you also need vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K2, and zinc.
👍 Probiotic foods potentially give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria. Many probiotic foods are naturally fermented and form a variety of strains of beneficial bacteria. They may not all be the most studied varieties, but when it comes to your microbiome diversity is important.
👍 They can be targeted to a specific condition like IBS.
👍 You have more control over which strains you are taking.
👍 Supplements provide you with a known CFU count. This can be helpful when you are taking probiotics to deal with a specific issue or condition.
Probiotic foods are typically fermented. Yes, this is a good thing. Fermentation allows the beneficial bacteria to multiply so you are getting a good dose.
✔ Yogurt — with live and active cultures.
✔ Kefir — a yogurt-like beverage.
✔ Kombucha — fermented black tea often flavored with fruit juice.
✔ Sauerkraut — make sure you buy the refrigerated variety. Canned sauerkraut has been pasteurized, which kills the good bacteria.
✔ Kimchi and other fermented vegetables.
✔ Tempeh and miso — made from soybeans.
But be careful. If you are on a therapeutic diet like the low FODMAP diet, not all of these foods may be beneficial for you. Again, make sure you consult with a knowledgeable practitioner.
I’m always looking to help my patients get the most band for their buck. So I like to choose probiotic foods that not only provide beneficial bacteria, but also fit in well with their eating plan and provide additional nutrients wherever possible.
Lactose free yogurt such as Green Valley lactose free yogurt or Stonyfield Organic Vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt. If you’re lactose-intolerant, you need to be careful when you eat dairy foods. But a lactose-free product can solve that problem for you.
Greek yogurt taken with a Lactaid tablet. If you can’t find a lactose-free yogurt, you can also pair a regular yogurt with a Lactaid tablet to help you tolerate it well.
Lifeway Kefir is my favorite lactose-free kefir product.
Sauerkraut juice or other fermented vegetable juice. If you’re eating low FODMAP you need to be careful with some fermented veggies. Just because they’re a part of a probiotic food doesn’t make the FODMAPS go away. But when it comes to fermented veggies, the juice is just as beneficial as the food.
Then I’d be happy to chat with you. Choosing the right supplements can be daunting, especially if you’re dealing with IBS, SIBO, or other digestive issues. Working with an experienced practitioner can help you get on the fast track to feeling better. And I can help you avoid the pitfalls of ineffective or unsafe supplements that can cause issues and waste your money!