You know you need to clean up your diet, but it’s hard! You’re thinking, “Can’t I just pop a pill instead?” Supplements are everywhere so we assume that they work. A pill contains a concentrated amount of the exact nutrients we’re looking for. Logically, it would seem that supplements are actually better than food. But are they?
Are probiotic supplements better than probiotic foods?
While most supplements are labeled in milligrams (mgs), the strength of a probiotic supplement is measured in something called colony forming units (CFUs), which is a unit of bacteria. In general, a bottle of a probiotic supplement can be expected to have around 10 billion CFUs or less. When a team at Mercola.com tested a sample of fermented vegetables, they found that the vegetables contained 10 TRILLION CFUs in just one serving! Just one serving of fermented vegetables contained the amount of good bacteria as an entire bottle of probiotics. If you still weren’t totally sold on fermented veggies before this, you should be now.
Now we know that fermented foods can give us a LOT more good bacteria then we’ll get from probiotic supplements, but what about cost? Healthy food costs more money and this lifestyle can be tough on our wallets. Let’s look at the numbers.
Are probiotic supplements worth it?
The current bestselling probiotic supplement on Amazon boasts 40 billion CFUs. At its current selling price, you get 2.2 billion CFUs per dollar. Sounds like a good deal, right? Let’s compare that to a sample of sauerkraut. We found a 32oz jar on Amazon that contains 30 servings, or 30 trillion CFUs. At its current selling price we get about 7.2 trillion CFUs per dollar with this probiotic food, which is more than 3000x what we’d get with the supplement. To say that another way, sauerkraut is three thousand times less expensive than probiotic supplements for the same potency.
We’ve talked primarily about fermented vegetables so far, but different types of fermented foods have different amounts of CFUs and different unique benefits. One of the primary ingredients in kefir is a substance called kefiran, which has antibacterial, anti-tumor, and anti-fungal properties, something we typically don’t see with probiotic supplements. Research indicates that drinking kefir will increase the lactose-tolerance of people who are previously not tolerant to lactose. A class at the University of Florida tested the CFUs in the goats’ milk kefir that their professor drank every morning. They found 10 billion CFUs per mL, or 150 Billion CFUs per tablespoon of kefir. That’s over one trillion CFUs in an 8 oz glass.
We’ve shown you that probiotic foods have a higher concentration and cost less than probiotic pills, making them a smarter choice for both your body and your wallet. But in case you’re still not convinced, consider this. The probiotic supplement market is largely unregulated. Unless a probiotic is marketed specifically to treat a certain medical condition, there is no testing for safety or efficacy. You really don’t know what you’re getting.
As for fermented foods, the biggest mistake people make is assuming that all pickles are "the healthy kind." At Olive My Pickle, we like to say, “Not all pickles are created equal.” Fermented products and pickled products are vastly different in their health benefits. Any grocery store pickle, kraut or kimchi that either contains vinegar OR sits on an unrefrigerated store shelf is not a live ferment and therefore not a live food. In addition, some of those mass market kefir bottles are loaded with sugar which can counteract many of the probiotic benefits of cultured foods, because an excess of sugar can wreak havoc on your gut. To find real, raw milk products like the kefir we've discussed in this article, you'll need to shop at a local natural food store or your local farmer's market.
1. When it comes to potency, probiotic foods are far more potent than probiotic supplements.
2. Probiotic foods naturally contain more functional "super food" benefits than supplements.
3. The probiotic supplement market is unregulated and the actual CFU counts are questionable.
Eating whole, plant based fermented foods is the best way to get live cultures and probiotics into your body. Plus they taste amazing.