Jun. 6. 2014
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

Today I’m sharing the Guide to Probiotics, including what they are, how they can help, and where you can get them.

I’m breaking it down for you to bookmark, share, and use as a resource here in the “nutrition topics” category. Let this be a mini-guide on all things probiotics and a tool for you to determine if they can help your digestion.



What are probiotics?


Probiotics are the army of good bacteria keeping a balance with the natural occurring “bad” bacteria and yeast in our digestive system. If you’ve ever taken a biology or microbiology class, then you could guess how many different strains of bacteria there are in this word, let alone in your gut (it’s a lot by the way!). Different bacterial strains have been studied in relation to helping ease or improve a certain disease/symptom, for example lactobacillus is one of the most well-known bacterias (which actually is just the genus, there are many varieties under this umbrella group, i.e. lactobacillus acidophilus). Other types of bacterias include saccharomyces boulardii, Enterococcus faecium, Streptococcus thermophilus, Leuconostoc, and Bifidobacteria.

Probiotics may be helpful for those suffering from allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cholesterol, blood pressure, lactose intolerance, chronic gut inflammation, bacterial overgrowths, h. pylori infections, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, and more.

I first was intrigued at the power of probiotics with aiding diseases/illnesses when studying h.pylori infections in graduate school. I was able to put probiotics to the test on myself personally when I had an ulcer caused by h.pylori in school. A quick primer on what that is – h.pylori is a bacteria that lives within the stomach. It’s unclear why h.pylori affects some individuals more severely than others, i.e. with ulcers, inflammation, or even stomach cancer. Some think these infections arise when the immune system is compromised. In my case, I got this the same time I had mono, a real double whammy. Both the diagnosis and treatments are not fun, but probiotics kept me on the treatment plan along with other natural foods/remedies, and I was able to kick it out and heal my gut over a long period of time. Since then I’ve been an advocate for healthy gut ecosystems and healing the gut with as many natural remedies as possible.

Many things may affect gut function including diet, lifestyle, and stress. And if you’ve ever been on antibiotics for an extended period of time, your gut is most likely lacking the army of good bacteria. Antibiotics are anti-everything, including both the good and bad bacteria lining your gut.

If antibiotics are fighting off the bad bacteria, guess what? They’re also fighting off the good bacteria colonies as well! Antibiotics are not just found in our prescription medication, but even in the US with our meat/dairy/egg and general factory farming food production. We must be mindful and feed our body with foods that promote healthy gut microflora and a healthy ecosystem. Consuming probiotic rich foods and a plant-based diet loaded with fruit and vegetable fibers will do this perfectly.


Where can you find probiotics?


Probiotics occur naturally in our digestive system already! They’re made from digesting the foods we eat. You can see how this can be an issue for those who don’t consume a diet high in whole foods and rely on the Standard American Diet for their nutrition. Highly processed foods, ones that contain those antibiotics from meats and dairy (again I’m referring to those not produced on an actual farm with “farmer Joe” taking care of his animals), and foods lacking in fiber are just some ways our bodies aren’t primed for a healthy ecosystem.

Our bodies make probiotics from the foods we eat through prebiotics. Prebiotics are basically the “food” for the bacteria to feed on. They’re indigestible ingredients, and two of the most common forms are inulin and fructo-oligosccharides (FOS).

Pictured above from left to right: sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and side of kombucha

Probiotic-rich food sources

Remember these should be first and foremost before supplementation

  • Fermented sauerkraut
    • Note that there’s a difference between naturally fermented sauerkraut/pickles/vegetables and the kind you find in a can loaded with vinegar and salt. This kind doesn’t contain the probiotics like fermented varieties do.
  • Fermented pickles
  • Kimchi, raw or all naturally fermented. You can also make your own!
  • Yogurt, all organic dairy or non-dairy alternatives like So Delicious! (preferred)
    • Be wary of yogurt brands on the grocery store shelves that advertise on fancy celebrity-laden commercials and other marketing tactics to make you believe their product is high in probiotics. Most yogurts don’t contain substantial amounts, let alone reach a billion CFU’s.
  • More fermented veggies such as carrots, shredded beets, etc.
  • Kefir, organic dairy kefir or coconut water kefir (my favorite)
  • Kombucha


What about supplements?


Probiotics are also found in supplemental form, varying from quantity of CFU’s (colony forming units), types (i.e. strains of bacteria), and form (i.e. pill, powder, etc.). Typically when I recommend probiotics to my clients with digestive issues or challenges, I recommend looking for a trusted, reputable company who undergoes third party testing if possible and has Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). You can always use consumerlabs.com to check how pure and potent a supplement is. They’re a great third party organization/lab who tests supplements in general. Some brands include: Dr. Ohhira’s, Jarrow, and Bio-KultGreen Vibrance contains probiotics. (I’m not a spokesperson for any of these products, these are just some popular ones and again will change with the needs of the person. Remember that this is a general recommendation and not intended to treat or diagnose any digestive issue.)

I always want to wrap up these nutrition posts with a mini-disclaimer, because in the end we are all different, especially when talking about our digestive systems. Therefore, the amounts, doses, and strain types may differ amongst everyone. Just be sure to do your research and check in with your good ole’ doctor. Feel free to contact me through the Services form as well if you have specific digestive issues or questions and are need of a new plan. I’d be happy to help!


Simple Congee Breakfast Porridge

How to Make Kimchi

Kale Caesar Salad with Maple Pepper Tempeh

Sparkling Botanical Ice Cream Float

OR read up on Should I Take Supplements?

I hope you all enjoyed this nutrition related posts as I’ve had a lot of requests from the Nutrition Stripped community! Have any more nutrition related topics you’d like me to cover or other questions about probiotics? Comment to share below so I know what you’d like covered!

xx McKel