All About Probiotics

According to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Traditionally, these “friendly bacteria” were found in fermented foods such as yogurt and cultured milk, but can now be found as an added ingredient in milk and cheese as well. Some strains of probiotics have been associated with digestive health, while others may benefit the immune system.

Scientists are learning about the health benefits associated with consuming the right type and levels of probiotic microbes. Research has suggested that probiotic bacteria can:

  • Improve digestive function
  • Help with side effects of antibiotic therapy
  • Help reduce the risk of certain acute common infectious diseases
  • Improve tolerance to lactose
  • Enhance immune function

Some studies also report that certain probiotics can play a role in reducing the development of allergies in children, decrease Helicobacter pylori colonization of the stomach and manage relapse of some inflammatory bowel conditions.

Here are some dairy foods that probiotics are found in:

Yogurt is the most common source of probiotics, which can keep a healthy balance in your gut. Yogurt can help ease lactose intolerance; this is due in part because some of the lactose is removed through the straining process and because the active cultures combine with your stomach acid to help digest lactose.

Soft cheeses might be good for your digestion, however, not all probiotics can survive the journey through your stomach and intestines. Research has found that certain strains in some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, are hardy enough to make it. Other cheese may also act as a carrier for probiotics.

Another easy way to get probiotics into your diet is by adding acidophilus milk. It's milk that's been fermented with bacteria. Sometimes it's labeled sweet acidophilus milk. Buttermilk - usually milk that's cultured with lactic acid bacteria - is also rich in probiotics.

So, what is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics? While probiotic-foods have live bacteria, prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria already living in your gut. You can find prebiotics in items such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes. Try prebiotic foods on their own or with probiotic foods to perhaps give the probiotics a boost.

By Jenna Allen, MS, RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

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