Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that reside in your digestive tract. They help maintain a healthy digestive system by decreasing the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics are often called "good bacteria" because of their health benefits.
Many Americans take probiotics to aid digestion or to treat conditions such as diarrhoea, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and yeast infections.
Many health food stores carry probiotics as dietary supplements, but they are also available in certain foods.
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Types of Probiotics
When buying probiotic-rich foods, check product labels. There are two main groups of probiotics: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each group has different species, and each species has different strains.
Some common probiotics include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidus and Saccharomyces boulardii yeast.
Yoghurt and Kefir
Some popular yoghurt brands contain probiotics. For example, Dannon's Activia contains Bifidobacterium animalis, a probiotic that speeds digestion. When shopping for yoghurt, look for products that feature the words "live" or "active" on the package. This means that the product contains living and active bacteria, which will promote digestive health.
The probiotics in yoghurt include Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophilus and bifidobacteria.
Kefir is a creamy dairy drink similar to yoghurt. It contains probiotics not usually found in yoghurt, such as Lactobacillus caucasus.
Select cheese products also contain probiotics, including Kraft's LiveActive natural cheese snacks (which contain the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis) and Iavarone Bros. Specially Selected Amish Yogurt Cheese (prepared with the probiotic live cultures Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifid bacterium). Other good sources of probiotics include blue cheese and other aged cheeses.
Probiotic-rich cheeses often feature words such as "live culture," "active culture" or "probiotics" on the packaging.
Other Dairy Products
Other probiotic-rich dairy products include acidophilus milk and buttermilk. Like yoghurt, kefir and cheese, acidophilus milk and buttermilk are produced by fermentation---a process in which lactic acid bacteria break down lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. Acidophilus milk is cultured with the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, while buttermilk is often cultured with the probiotic Streptococcus lactis.
Nondairy Fermented Foods
Certain nondairy fermented foods are also rich in probiotics, including sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage), tempeh (a fermented soybean product) and soy sauce.
The probiotics found in nondairy fermented foods include Lactobacillus planatarum, Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
When buying fermented food products, make sure the labels include words such as "live" or "active cultures." Many commercial brands of nondairy fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, do not contain probiotics.
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