Probiotics-those helpful little bacteria that live in your gut-are on almost every dietitian’s list of recommended daily supplements and have been a buzzword among the health-conscious for the past couple years. It’s for a good reason, as studies continue to show that those little bacteria can pack a powerful punch. “Not only do they regulate your gut, but more studies are showing that they help fight long-term diseases and illnesses,” says registered dietician Amy Shapiro, MSRD, founder of Real Nutrition NYC.
Evidence is mounting that adding probiotics to your diet can have a profound effect on your digestion, by fighting inflammation in the gut, boosting the immune system, and neutralizing some toxins while helping to block out others. And increasing the amount of “good” bacteria in your gut can also impact your body in far more surprising ways-like battling anxiety and depression. If none of that convinces you to try adding more probiotics to your diet, remember that probiotics are also great for your skin. Thanks to all these remarkable benefits, probiotics are very trendy right now, and popping up in products like chocolate, gummy candy, and sugary drinks, but there are far more natural ways to add them to your diet.
“I think everybody benefits from probiotics, from kids to adults,” says Shapiro, who thinks adding probiotics to your diet is always a good idea, but is particularly important when you’re sick, fighting a cold or flu, or on antibiotics. “Antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good ones, so supplementing with a probiotic helps return the good bacteria to your gut,” says Shapiro. “Plus, a lot of illnesses come through our guts, so during cold and flu season it’s good to supplement your diet with probiotics.”
Luckily many of the foods that have high doses of so-called good bacteria are also delicious. “Greek or Icelandic yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, miso, or anything that is fermented, are all good ways to introduce probiotics to your diet,” says Shapiro. She also suggests drinking kombucha, the fermented black or green tea that is lightly effervescent and slightly sweetened.
While store shelves are stocked with yogurts touting live cultures, some contain so much sugar that the probiotic health benefits are rendered almost moot. For those trying to reap the most probiotic benefit, Payne suggests skipping the store-bought stuff and trying to make your own, without all the added sweeteners.
As for how to eat all those probiotic-rich foods, homemade or store bought (no judgment), Payne suggests just adding it to your usual meal. “Eat small portions with every meal, for example a yogurt dipping sauce, a scoop of kraut on your sausage, a fermented pickle alongside your lunch sandwich or on it,” suggests Payne. “By eating small amounts frequently, we reap the benefits every time other food is going down and we continue to build our immune function by challenging our body with friendly live cultures.”
Overall, Shapiro isn’t particularly worried about the specifics of how people use probiotics, so long as they do use them. “Just incorporate them in a way that works for your life, otherwise it won’t be a habit that lasts,” she says. Based on the scientific reports from the field-good skin, lowered inflammation, happy tummy-adding probiotics to your diet is definitely a habit you want to last.