Probiotics are well known for their health benefits, even beyond the typical gut-related issues they’re commonly used for. In this blog you’re going to learn how to maximize your probiotic power, enhance your microbiome, and how to spot a great probiotic drink vs. a poor probiotic choice (hint: Kombucha might be tasty, but sits near the bottom of our list).
How do you get more probiotics in your diet?
What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
Is Kombucha a good probiotic?
This and more below!
Probiotics are types of healthy bacteria taken in the form of fermented foods or supplements. Probiotics enrich your gut microbiome with healthy bacteria to digest different types of prebiotic fibers and produce beneficial compounds as a byproduct.
Bacteria are located everywhere in, on, and around your body, but they are especially concentrated in the digestive system. Here, they convert prebiotics into antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compounds to promote your health.
That is, if everything is going right. Helpful bacteria - part of a “healthy microbiome” - are responsible for health-promoting effects, but sometimes you have different types of bacteria that aren’t so helpful for you. Unhealthy bacteria are linked with chronic diseases, and can cause medical issues related to gut pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation, and nasty opportunistic infections.
Shifting the balance of negative bacteria and positive bacteria is a reason why people have been fermenting foods and getting natural probiotics for millennia. Yeast, in fact, are considered the first organism to be domesticated by humans.
Besides a single letter, the main difference is that prebiotics are the plant fibers that probiotics eat. You can have a probiotic drink that gives you the good bacteria, but you’ll need some source of prebiotic fiber to help feed those bacteria and keep them happy and healthy.
On the other hand, prebiotics can be used as an indirect way to give your microbiome a boost. When you make your gut bacteria happy by eating a fiber-rich, plant-based diet, you get two benefits in one: more fiber, which is great for your health, and healthier gut bugs, which can indirectly improve your health too!
It’s always best to get your probiotics in their natural form, which is why we’ve put together this list of best probiotic drinks. Natural sources like yogurt, kimchi, and liver fermented foods have more variety of synergistic prebiotic fibers and greater diversity of beneficial bacteria. Supplemental probiotics offer the advantage of standardization, so you know exactly what you’re getting, but if you’re not buying the good stuff you may be throwing your money down the drain.
There are plenty of reasons to increase your probiotic intake, even with supplements if necessary, here are a few found in research:
Whether you’re directly increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in your system with a probiotic, or if you’re promoting a healthy gut indirectly by eating prebiotics, enhancing the health of your gut microbiome is associated with better health across the board.
Your microbiome is different depending on your sex, but that doesn’t mean you should seek out a specific supplement for men or for women. The truth is the difference in gut bugs between a healthy man and a healthy woman are far smaller than the differences between any person with an unhealthy diet, regardless of sex. Work on eating a healthy plant-based diet, supplementing with high-quality probiotics as necessary, to support healthy gut bacteria and let your body take care of the rest.
Probiotics can have an effect in as little as 2 weeks of supplementation, according to one study. But the effects are short-lived: once you stop taking a probiotic, your microbiome starts going back to it’s unhealthy version.
If you want the beneficial effects to last, you’ll have to change the way you eat too. Eating a healthy plant-based diet is a solution that works with your probiotic to ensure you get the benefits of a healthy microbiome for years to come.
Taking a probiotic and prebiotic together is called a synbiotic. There is some reason to think that they may be helpful taken together, especially if you want benefits that last.
If you think you have a gut bacteria imbalance, the first thing a dietitian nutritionist would recommend is to gradually increase fiber and prebiotic from foods, and to add a quality certified probiotic on top of that. With the average worldwide intake of fiber around 20 grams per day - about 50% - 65% of official recommendations - it’s no stretch to think that rates of bacteria imbalance could be just as high. Getting two-in-one with a synbiotic sounds like a pretty effective option!
Probiotic supplements are usually suggested by manufacturers to be taken on an empty stomach. This supposedly makes sure they get to the end of your digestive tract without breaking down in the digestion process.
One bacteria common in probiotics is Saccharomyces boulardii, they don’t seem to care whether you take them with a meal or not, according to one study. Whereas a different bacteria, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genus seem to be best taken right before a meal.
You might also consider taking your probiotics with prebiotic fiber, for example with a high-fiber meal, to make sure that those positive gut bugs have plenty of food to eat on their way down.
Don’t take your probiotics together with an antibiotic - it’s a waste of money with potential for negative effects. In order to possibly prevent GI upset and diarrhea, talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking a probiotic a few hours after your antibiotic, so it has had time to work it’s magic. This is an active area of research, so stay up to date for new information!
We’ve searched high and low to give you the complete list of probiotic drinks and beverages. Some are available at the store, but some others have to be made at home. This list takes into account sugar content, probiotic diversity, and the presence of other healthful or potentially unhealthy ingredients.
Only recently hitting the mass beverage market, but a long favored traditional drink of Mexico, tepache is a refreshing fermented pineapple drink. It’s slightly alcoholic, and on the sugary side, but as a special treat might be a good option if you’re looking for a low-alcohol probiotic alternative to your favorite happy-hour beverage.
Unfortunately for the super popular beverage that put probiotics into the public vocabulary, kombucha is also one of the probiotic drinks with the highest sugar content. Many complain of the vinegary flavor too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Coke®, but there is a whole list of better fermented drinks you might consider trying.
Kefir is a traditionally fermented drinkable milk product, often flavored with fruit. The bacteria in kefir - similar to the bacteria in most yogurts but more diverse - make the lactose more digestible for people with a lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome. Watch out for added sugars in the flavored versions, Siggi’s® offers one of the lowest sugar options.
A little lower in sugar and lighter in flavor than kombucha is the water kefir product Kevita®. The lighter flavor is preferred by many who are looking to cut down on sugar. Easily homebrewed with less sugar (if you can find a starter culture!), water kefir is dairy free, rich in probiotics, and a very refreshing experience.
Some dairy-free kefir is naturally fermented, while others are fortified with billions of CFUs (that’s “Colony-Forming Units”, the measure of strength for probiotic supplements). Natural fermentation gives you more variety, but probiotic fortification gives you a standardized dose of a specific bacteria strain. Dairy free yogurt drinks offer all the benefits of “plant-based” and “yogurt” in one easy to drink beverage, but as always, watch out for added sugar content in these!
Traditionally brewed raw apple cider vinegar is a probiotic that probably created the health food scene in the mid-20th century, if not earlier in ancient Rome and Greece. It is quite intense, so you shouldn’t drink too much ACV at one time, but you might consider adding a sip or two to get your probiotic fix.
The vegetal flavor of fermented vegetables pressed straight into a can might take some getting used to, but your gut will be eating it up from day one. These convenient, health-promoting drinks are a great choice if you’re looking to get your maximum probiotic kick in a natural easy to drink form.
The best probiotic on our list is one that you’ll probably only find in a home-brewer’s pantry. Kvass, or fermented beet juice, offers many unique benefits. Low in sugar, light and refreshing, and filled with wild probiotics, this drink checks all the boxes for a healthy probiotic drink you can have day after day. The natural nitrates and betalains in beets are also great for enhancing recovery, boosting your immune system, promoting heart health, among other benefits.
If we missed a probiotic drink on this list, let us know we’d love to review it! Remember, get your probiotics in foods first, and only take high quality, standardized, certified supplements when necessary after talking with your healthcare provider. Cheers, to a long life with a healthy gut!
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Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 3/29/2021.
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