What are Probiotics?
The word probiotic is derived from the Greek meaning “for life.” Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined the term probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
You may not need probiotics to be healthy since the body has its own load of beneficial bacteria. However, under certain circumstances (i.e. stressful times) probiotics may help in replenishing lost bacterial load and assist with different bodily functions, such as food digestion. Probiotics are seen as an aid in maintaining good health.
The Mayo Clinic website says that there is evidence that probiotics may help, among other things, to treat diarrhea following treatment with certain antibiotics, prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), shorten the duration of intestinal infections, and prevent eczema in children.
Foods that Contain Probiotics
You could probably find probiotics, that is, helpful live bacteria, in dietary supplements in the form of a pill, in health food stores and supermarkets. However, it is always a good idea to take helpful bioactive compounds with food since it is thought to be more effective.
You should look for products that claim to have Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium since these are the bacteria that have been subjected to experimentation. Although research is not conclusive, results of different studies are pointing to these bacteria as extremely helpful in regard to your health.
Yogurt is probably the most available source of probiotics in food. The production of yogurt requires the addition of a “fermentation culture,” that is, a live bacterium that will take up food and nutrients from milk and ferment it. This fermentation procedure will cause the milk to lower its pH levels, which is responsible for the sour flavour of yoghurt and also helps the product to keep for longer times (microorganisms can not grow easily at lower pHs). The yogurt should be fresh, not frozen. Frozen yogurts do not have live bacteria in them.
Other fermented products such as kefir, and fermented soybean or beans pastes also qualify as probiotics since they have live bacteria on them. Sauerkraut, different soy sauces, and other oriental fermented food may also qualify as probiotics.
What are not Probiotics?
Be aware of unproved health claims that some food companies make on probiotics packages. None of these have been proved scientifically so they should not be used as health claims. Examples of those claims include that: probiotics are antioxidants or anti-carcinogenic, cure different diseases, headaches, restore energy, and may regulate mood for those with depression.