We've all been there. You're scrolling through your Facebook feed and you see a post about the benefits of probiotic supplements. Your friend takes them and she seems to be doing just fine.
But then you remember that you read an article about how probiotic foods are actually better for gut health. So which should you take? Probiotic supplements or probiotic foods? Let's break it down.
In this article, we will review the pros and cons of probiotic supplements. We'll be making the case for why in most cases, fermented foods and probiotic foods are preferable to supplements.
Supplements are a booming wellness product
As of this writing, simply searching up 'probiotic supplements' on Amazon will yield you over 3,000 results. Clearly this is a booming segment of health and wellness products.
Here are some of the features cited on Amazon's top product listings:
- "20 Specially Selected Probiotic Strains"
- "Contains Prebiotic Fiber Blend"
- "More clinically studied strains than the leading brand"
- "85 Billion Guaranteed!"
- "Acid and Bile Resistant, ensured Delivery Right Into the Digestive Tract"
- "#1 Doctor Recommended Brand"
While there is nothing wrong with supplement manufacturers citing these features, the fact is that they do actually highlights the main concerns that exist with probiotic supplements.
What is the main problem with probiotic supplements?
It is whether these supplements can actually delivery on their claims and whether any/all of the "billion of diverse strains" of active cultures and beneficial bacteria are actually getting to your gut.
Something to be aware of is that supplements products are not subject to any regulatory agency which would verify whether what's described on the label can actually be found in the product.
Government regulation of probiotics in the United States is complicated. Depending on a probiotic product’s intended use, the FDA might regulate it as a food ingredient, a drug or a dietary supplement.
Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which don’t require any FDA oversight or approval before they are marketed.
Dietary supplement labels may make claims about how the product affects the function or structure of the body without FDA approval.
However they are NOT allowed to make health claims without the FDA's consent. An example of such a claim would be that a probiotic supplement that claims to "lower your risk of colon disease."
In an analysis of various probiotic brands sold in the U.S., Consumer Labs found that 5 of the 19 brands examined either did not contain the number of live microorganisms stated on their label. What's worse, some of them contained contaminates from common harmful bacteria or mold.
When it comes to dietary supplements, because there is no guarantee you’re ingesting exactly what the label claims, it's vital to select a probiotic from well-researched and credible brand.
So when should I take a probiotic supplement?
The FDA does regulate probiotic products that are developed for medical purposes. For specific medical issues, and under the guidance of a doctor, protocols using specific strains of beneficial bacteria to address specific concerns are appropriate and beneficial.
Why do I need probiotics daily?
Awareness around the importance of gut health has grown in the last decade. This has created consumer demand for the health benefits probiotic products.
More people understand that getting live, active cultures into their systems on a regular, daily basis can help boost the immune system, regulate digestion and metabolism.
If its beneficial bacteria you're looking for, find them in fermented foods
If its probiotics we're trying to get more of, why not opt to get them from fermented and probiotic foods, rather than supplements? In our article The 7 Principal Health benefits of Fermented Foods, we dive deep into the many reasons why these foods are so beneficial to health.
Fermented foods' probiotics are effective and survive the acidic environment in the body.
The main type of beneficial bacteria, lactobacillus is well researched to survive the acidic environment of the stomach and digestive tract.
Fermented foods are more economical than supplements.
Prices vary, but a bottle of supplements from a reputable brand can cost between $50-80 per month. That breaks down to between $1.66 - $2.66 per serving.
By comparison, fermented foods can be between .63 and $1.25 per serving (to arrive at these numbers, we took our most popular items here at Olive My Pickle and divided the total serving sizes by the package price of $9.99.) And with fermented foods, you get many health benefits beyond the probiotics with that amount spent, which you can read about in our article The 5 Reasons Why Fermented Foods Are Functional Food.
Fermented foods and probiotic foods are a delicious and enjoyable REAL food.
You probably already know that getting nutrients and vitamins from whole foods rather than supplements is preferable. And we've explained the problems with dietary supplements and their lack of regulation, efficacy and dependability.
If you are currently taking a probiotic supplement simply to maintain gut health and wellness, the good news is that you can switch to eating a few servings a day of delicious, whole fermented foods and enjoy even MORE of the gut health benefits you're looking for.
To learn more about probiotic and fermented foods, the microbiome and gut health check out our related articles:
How To Improve Gut Health: 9 Everyday Habits for Better Gut Health is our beginner-basics guide to starting your gut health journey. We'll give you nine easy habits to incorporate on your gut health journey.
Curious about fiber? This primer is all you need to know, check out our article The Best Types of Fiber for Gut Health.
Curious about prebiotics versus probiotics? Read all about them in The Best Fiber for Gut Health
Love your gut and it will love you back! It’s really that simple.
By consuming probiotic-rich foods, we are giving our bodies the good bacteria they need to function properly. In turn, these good bacteria help improve our overall health in so many ways – from better digestion to a stronger immune system.
Go ahead and give your gut some love with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Your body will thank you for it!
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