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The Real Deal with Probiotic Drinks
We got to the bottom of the trend to find out if drinkable probiotics offer up health benefits worth the costs.
Why Probiotic Beverages Are Everywhere
According to a recent Beverage Industry report, probiotic beverages are the hottest bottled drinks to claim space in your grocer's refrigerator section. Their labels say they can do everything from detoxifying the body to giving you a boost of energy.
While the FDA hasn't approved any health claims for any probiotics, and these "good bacteria" aren't considered essential to our diet, probiotics have become important in maintaining a healthful gut and stronger immunity, says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook. "Probiotics help maintain the natural balance of organisms in our intestines and can help treat and potentially prevent GI issues, such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and those resulting from antibiotic treatment," she says. Here's the deal on whether your gut and your wallet need to add probiotic beverages to your diet and grocery cart.
Where to Find Probiotics
Probiotics are found in yogurt and other fermented dairy products like kefir, naturally aged cheese like Gouda, fermented soybean foods like miso and tempeh, naturally fermented sour pickles and cabbage like sauerkraut and kimchi, sourdough bread, and the fermented tea kombucha, says Newgent.
"You can get plenty of probiotics from foods you eat," Newgent says. "If you're regularly eating foods rich in probiotics, purchasing these probiotic beverages isn't necessary, especially if you're on a tight food budget." A 32-ounce bottle of kefir has four servings and can cost $20-40. But it's certainly fine to opt for a probiotic beverage, especially if you have minor digestive issues or don't regularly consume natural food sources of these good bacteria, says Newgent. "I'd much rather see people drinking probiotic beverages than a soda!"
While there isn't a daily-recommended probiotics quota yet, Newgent suggests including one serving of probiotic-rich food daily, such as one cup of plain yogurt.
If you prefer to get probiotics through yogurt, look for products that carry the National Yogurt Association's "Live & Active Culture" seal. This seal means the refrigerated yogurt product contains 100 million or more cultures per gram at production time and the frozen yogurt product contains 10 million or more cultures per gram at production time, says Newgent. If you see this seal, you'll know you're getting significant probiotics. Obtaining the seal is voluntary, so if you don't see it, make sure the label of your yogurt or frozen yogurt contains the phrase "live and active cultures" so you know it contains the healthy bacteria that helps your gut.
What Kind of Probiotic Bottle to Buy
If you choose to go the drinkable probiotics route, Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of The 2-Day Diabetes Diet and Newgent recommend the fermented milk beverage kefir as a healthy drinkable probiotic. Newgent recommends Lifeway Kefir since they have probiotic-rich products and taste preferences that meet a variety of people's needs. She says that some of the products are also excellent sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Newgent also recommends GoodBelly's StraightShot probiotic beverage because it's certified organic with only 30 calories a "shot" and no added sugars. It's a dairy-free oat milk beverage so it's a probiotic option that's good for vegans.
"If you prefer to drink your probiotics, make sure the label mentions the strains of probiotics it contains as well as the CFUs (colony forming units) to know how much probiotic you are actually getting," says Palinski-Wade.
Probiotic Drinks Aren't Magic
Probiotics won't work digestive miracles in minutes. If you're hoping that chugging a probiotic beverage will help you "detox" after a particularly indulgent weekend or "clean your system" so you feel more regular, know that taking any kind of probiotic won't produce an immediate bowel movement like taking a laxative would, Palinski-Wade says. "However, over a period of time, regular consumption can help to improve regularity, decrease GI bloat, and combat constipation," she says.
Probiotics Are Fitness-Friendly Bacteria
If you're regularly following a strenuous training routine, you could be suppressing your immune system and making your body more susceptible to infection. Since probiotics can help to strengthen the immune system, consuming them regularly can benefit athletes and avid exercisers alike, says Palinski-Wade.
Remember that too much of a good thing isn't always better. While probiotics can be beneficial to your health, if you're eating multiple foods and beverages that contain probiotics along with supplements, you can potentially throw off the balance of bacteria in your intestines, says Palinski-Wade. If you choose to supplement your diet with probiotics, it's best to reach for food first and know how much you are consuming. If you want to consider probiotic supplements, speak with your dietitian or physician about what dosage is appropriate for you.
"Don't be obsessed about probiotics or think they can turn an unhealthy diet into a healthful one," says Newgent. "Often if you're focusing on eating a nutrient-rich, plant-focused, whole food-based diet, you'll probably be getting everything you need for good gut health."