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Q: What are probiotics and should I be taking a supplement?

A: Before taking any supplement, it is important to understand what probiotics are and the role they may play in immunity and overall health. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria or live cultures that can benefit your health by allowing the healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to thrive while inhibiting or destroying toxins released by other “bad” bacteria.

As new information becomes available, dietary recommendations change to reflect the latest research. Fat, a major source of energy, is considered an essential nutrient in the diet. So while you still want to avoid fried foods on a daily basis, do not pass up a fresh avocado or a salad topped with a few walnuts.

Potential Benefits of Probiotics Include:

  • Assisting with vitamin synthesis, particularly the B vitamins
  • Boosting the immune system by producing antibodies for certain viruses
  • Decreasing allergies, particularly in regard to skin reactions, such as dermatitis or eczema
  • Decreasing the risk of developing dental caries
  • Speeding the recovery from bacterial vaginosis
  • Reducing the problems associated with inflammatory bowel and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Helping people with lactose intolerance digest dairy products more easily
  • Reducing symptoms of diarrhea associated with antibiotic usage or acute illness.

The following foods contain probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Soy sauce
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Fresh Sauerkraut

*Check out Spotlight on Taste, for more information as to where you can find probiotics in the food you eat!

Probiotics work in tandem with prebiotics. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible substances that feed the probiotics, helping them to thrive in the GI tract. Bottom line: prebiotics help probiotics thrive.

Potential Benefits of Prebiotics include:

  • Reduces the risk of osteoporosis by enhancing mineral absorption, particularly calcium, iron, and magnesium.
  • May contribute to the decreased survival of some “bad” bacteria.
  • May decrease cholesterol levels and also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  • Some forms of prebiotics aid in the relief of constipation.

The following foods contain probiotics:

  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Wheat, Barley, Rye
  • Flax
  • Oatmeal
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Asparagus
  • Leafy Greens
  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Honey

Although "prebiotics" and probiotics are available as dietary supplements, they are easily found in many of the foods we eat. The bonus to eating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics are the valuable nutrients and fiber that are important for a healthful diet. It is advisable to check with your physician before starting any supplements.

Have another Nutrition question? Ask our Dietitian.

Jill Kwasny

Registered Dietitian