New Year’s Tune-Up, Part 2: The Care and Feeding of Your Probiotics

In an earlier entry, I talked about the wonderful little intestinal bacteria called probiotics and all the research lately that is showing how these beneficial bugs can help us stay well. This time, I’d like to tell you which foods contain probiotics, how to keep the bacteria in your gut happy, and which probiotic supplements to choose.

Where can you get probiotics?

A stroll down your local supermarket aisles will reveal that these gut-friendly bacteria are showing up everywhere, and in some surprising places—from mints, to mouthwash, to pizza, even chocolates. Bear in mind, however, that not all food products that boast of containing probiotics are going to pack a health whammy. There are over 30,000 species of good bacteria in the gut and they each have different virtues. And these beneficial bacteria are fragile; they need to be stored, handled, and processed with care if they’re going to do us humans much good.

A recent article in Prevention magazine offered the following ideas on how to harvest health benefits from probiotics:

  • Yogurt and kefir. Pick yogurts that say “live active yogurt cultures,” and be sure to keep these products chilled, since probiotics are heat-sensitive critters. Kefir, a delicious Eastern European beverage much like yogurt, but in liquid form, actually contains more probiotic strains than do most yogurts.'
  • Go for pickles, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh. The microbes responsible for the fermentation process that produces these food items are beneficial. Beware, however, that excessive heat and sterilization techniques used in producing such commercial products haven’t wiped out these microbes or rendered them inactive. Small local producers or home pickling are the best ways to assure that you are getting the real thing. In the market, look for labels that state “raw fermentation,” to be sure that you are getting live, probiotic bacteria.
  • Eat plenty of onions, bananas, asparagus, leeks, garlic, artichokes, wheat, oats, and soybeans, all foods that contain what are called prebiotics. Prebiotics are nourishing substances that the probiotic bacteria must have in order to grow and thrive.

What to look for on the label

Scrutinize your supplement. The Prevention article also advises that when looking for a bacterial supplement for your malady, look for the following information on a supplement bottle’s label:

  • CFU (colony-forming units). Be sure the supplement contains at least 1 billion CFUs.
  • Strains. Pick a probiotic that contains both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium
  • Stability. Because many of these bacteria can be destroyed by the strong acidity of the stomach, pick a bottle that says “acid stable” or “microencapsulated.”
  • Inulin. This viscous fiber is a fertilizer food for probiotic bacteria. Inulin, a starch found naturally in of root vegetables, will also provide you with some additional fiber.

And last but not least, don’t forget—

To exercise! Exercising (for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day) stimulates the normal contractions in the intestines (bowel motility), which coordinate the muscular activity in the lower alimentary canal, keeps the intestines healthy, and benefits the good bacteria by routinely removing toxins that can harm them.

©1996-2013, Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved. Disclosure: The information provided here is compiled by The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with editorial supervision by one or more of the members of the faculty of the School of Medicine pursuant to a license agreement with Yahoo! Inc. under which the School of Medicine and its faculty editors receive licensing fees and payment for services rendered within the scope of the License Agreement. Johns Hopkins subscribes to the HONcode principles of the Health on the Net Foundation.


Follow Yahoo Health on and become a fan on

Follow @YahooHealth on
Related Health News

Probiotic may not help colic