Fermented foods and drinks have become popular in the last several years. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and some cheeses have probiotics that can help you get more beneficial bacteria into your gut. Fermented foods contain probiotics and in some cases prebiotics and/or a newer substance called “postbiotics” that together can be part of a healthy diet for your gut health. However, eating these fermented foods will not compare to a high-quality probiotic supplement. Read on to learn how probiotics compare to fermented foods.
What is a Probiotic?
Let’s start with the definition of probiotics. The World Health Organization, together with the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) defines probiotics as, “Live bacteria which when administered in adequate amounts, provide a benefit on the host.”
Probiotics vs. Fermented Foods
Amount of Probiotics
If you pick up a container of yogurt with live probiotic cultures and compare it to a probiotic supplement, you will notice that the probiotics in both products are measured in CFUs. This stands for colony-forming units and it is the measure of live bacteria. The yogurt will have anywhere from 1-2 billion CFU, but you will notice that the probiotic supplement will provide a much higher dose.
This is important because many studies evaluating probiotics show that most people will see benefits with at least 10 billion CFU and some probiotic supplements are formulated with doses that surpass 100 billion. Also, some probiotic supplements are formulated for specific health concerns, providing the appropriate strains, strength and other nutrients to address the issue. The bottom line: you would need to eat A LOT of yogurt to get the same benefits that a probiotic supplement offers.
More Probiotic Strains
Did you know that your gut is home to hundreds of different species of beneficial bacteria? All of these bacteria are needed for your body to function properly.
Fermented foods like yogurt, typically only contain one or two probiotic strains, while a quality probiotic will contain anywhere up to 20 different strains. This is important because most of the studies evaluating the benefits of probiotics have found that multiple strain probiotics are more effective. In other words, the more probiotic strains, the better because multiple strains contribute to more bacterial diversity in your gut.
Fermented foods contain probiotics that are naturally formed in the fermentation process. While these bacteria can be beneficial to the body, in the case of yogurt or kefir, the probiotic strains are milk-specific. Some of the probiotics found in kombucha are specific to kombucha, including acetobacter xylinoides and acetobacter ketogenum. While naturally found in these foods, you will not see these species on a probiotic label. Many of the probiotic species and strains studied in research are human-specific and studied for targeted benefits such as:
- For digestion: L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. plantarum, B. lactis, B. longum, B. bifidum.
- For constipation: B. lactis and L. casei.
- For vaginal health: L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. gasseri, L. crispatus, L. jensenii, L. reuteri and L. vaginalis.
You will find a very different makeup of probiotic bacteria in your probiotic supplement than you will in your yogurt. Additionally, some probiotic strains work better when in “teams” or as listed above, for specific issues. Microbiologists know this when they formulate probiotics for different goals; therefore, they can offer superior benefits.
Can the Probiotics Reach Your Gut?
Even though there is a small CFU found in yogurt from a handful of strains, there is no guarantee that those probiotic bacteria will survive the harsh environment of your stomach. Probiotics are living bacteria that are sensitive to temperature, light and moisture. That’s why you’ll find probiotic supplements that include acid-resistant bacteria and are formulated in capsules meant to survive your stomach acid. Additionally, most probiotics will be packaged in bottles or blister packs that allow the probiotics to be exposed to fewer changes in temperature, light and moisture.
Fewer Additives & Allergens
Lastly, a probiotic will contain fewer additives and flavours than you would find in food sources. Additionally, it is easier to find a probiotic supplement free from common allergens.
What’s Right for You
With all the probiotic options out there nowadays, there’s plenty of choices when looking for a probiotic supplement. You can find formulas that are made with probiotic strains to support your specific digestion complaints, mood and mental health, immune system, vaginal health, UTI support, as well as probiotics for kids. If you have a food sensitivity or allergy, it is now easier than ever to find probiotics made without dairy, soy or wheat. Additionally, there are many different formats of probiotics including chewables, powder, liquids and capsules. A practitioner or a good health food store can help you find the right probiotic supplement to help you feel your best, whatever your goal is.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your practitioner prior to taking herbs or nutritional supplements.