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Probiotics Are Everywhere, but What Do They Actually Do?

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What is it about probiotics that makes them so healthy?

In the age of Goop, it’s easy to feel inundated with wellness advice.

If you can cut through all the noise about beautifying smoothies, you’ll realize one thing continues to crop up: the importance of probiotics. Doctors and holistic experts agree probiotics are an awesome add-on to your routine.

Though many medical professionals would argue probiotics aren’t an absolute essential (your body does a pretty good job of regulating bacteria on its own), most tout their digestion-aiding properties and find their good bacteria-boosting benefits a plus. The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Katherine Zeratsky explains that probiotics can help people suffering from digestive problems, guard against vaginal infections and help fend off infections and illnesses. What’s not to love?

More: Why kefir is one superfood you may want to make instead of buy

Though the idea of ingesting hundreds and hundreds of tiny live bacteria is a little hard to stomach, their gut-soothing and immunity-boosting powers are hard to beat. With so many probiotic products on the market, how’s a girl to choose? We’ll break it down for you…

Eat your probiotics!

A health trend in its own right, Greek yogurt is one of the most popular ways to get your probiotic fix. Though probiotics are present in regular yogurt and in whole-milk alternatives, Greek yogurt often boasts high protein content that also sways the health-conscious. If you’re stuck in the dairy section trying to make sense of all the tiny cartons, look for a National Yogurt Association “Live & Active Cultures” logo in the item’s nutrition facts. To earn the seal, Everyday Health says your yogurt needs “at least 100 million cultures per gram.” They report that if you’re looking to balance probiotic benefits and health, you should opt for a nonfat, plain, high-calcium product that’s low in sugar.

Fermented foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, have gained a bit of a cult following. As “superfoods,” their health benefits have earned them a spot on the menu at just about every trendy or healthy restaurant and on shelves at health food stores. Kimchi, a Korean pickled cabbage dish, contains many gut-healthy probiotic strains. The fermentation process also makes it nutrient-dense. Cabbage is also especially high in important vitamins and fiber, so if you can stomach the kind of funky taste, it’s well worth your while.

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Or drink them

Drinkable yogurt and similar products (like kefir) are also low in sugar and contain many live and active cultures to help support gut health and up your natural defenses against infection. Many kefir products actually contain more live cultures and more varied strains of good bacteria than yogurt. According to Dr. Josh Axe, a prominent wellness blogger, kefir is more nutritious than yogurt. He explains that kefir’s probiotic content is off the charts, including a greater range of strains and a higher probiotic count than almost any other probiotic-rich food. The best way to use kefir for health benefits? Axe says make your own.

Kombucha, another health craze, is also known for its probiotic content. The popular drink often contains apple cider vinegar, ginger and other natural immunity-boosters. Made from a live bacterial colony, this tea or fizzy drink is about as probiotic as they come.

Go the pill route

Health blogger Dr. David Williams argues that “the best way to support digestive health is first to add more probiotic foods” to your grocery list. So what to do if you need your fix but aren’t into the yogurts and drinks? Try a supplement, available at your local health or vitamin store. Don’t let the shelves of options overwhelm you. Williams suggests looking first for the supplement that contains the highest probiotic content and the most strains. Though it’s hard to pinpoint a specific “best” strain, a wide variety is often the most effective. Williams' top three to look for? L.acidophilus, B. longum, and B. bifidum.

You need live cultures, and since you’ll be purchasing a “still living organism,” you’ll want to store your supplements in cool, dry places where they won’t get too much light.

More: Why I drink kombucha, even though it took me time to love it

Ultimately, a mix of probiotic delivery systems is often the most effective. Having supplements on hand and a fridge full of probiotic foods is a surefire way to fit them in no matter what you feel each day. If you’re not sure you want a daily probiotic, try adding one into your routine if you feel a cold coming on or are taking antibiotics, times when you’re sure to need a little extra boost. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, test them all and find your favorites. Of course, there’s no best method, only what makes the most sense for you.

By Emma Miller

Originally published on HelloFlo.

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