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How to Compare Probiotics

By Jessica Bruso

Eating probiotic foods or taking probiotic supplements may help lower your risk for certain cancers, improve your cholesterol levels and help reduce symptoms of diarrhea, allergies and irritable bowel syndrome, according to the University of Kentucky Extension. To get these benefits, however, you need to get the right amount and type of probiotics.

Check for Live Active Cultures

When purchasing foods containing probiotics, such as yogurt, look for a statement on the label that says the food contains live active cultures. For probiotics to be effective, they have to contain live probiotic bacteria, so don't count on yogurts without this statement to provide the same benefits. Other foods that can provide probiotics include fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi and nato; cultured dairy products, including cottage cheese, kefir, buttermilk and sour cream; wine; microbrew beer and kombucha. These products may or may not contain a statement about probiotics on their labels.

Amount of Bacteria

Just because a food or supplement contains some probiotics doesn't mean it will have enough of these beneficial bacteria to improve your health. Although the exact dose of probiotics necessary for health benefits hasn't been determined, you should look for a probiotic containing at least 1 billion colony forming units, according to the University of Kentucky Extension. "Consumer Reports" notes that a dose of at least 10 billion colony forming units may give better results than lower doses. Although supplements often contain this information, not all foods will provide it on the label. Yogurts with the National Yogurt Association's live and active cultures seal must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram, so a 100-gram serving, or about 3.5 ounces, should have the recommended 10 billion CFUs.

Type of Bacteria

Different probiotics have different effects on the body, so the type of probiotic is as important as the amount. Healthy people can safely take probiotics from the families Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacterium, according to the University of Kentucky Extension. notes that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 and S. cerevisiae boulardii are among the more effective probiotics for reducing the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and L. reuteri RC-14 and L. rhamnosus GR-1 may help lower your risk for urinary tract infections. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, you may want to try Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 and L. plantarum DSM9843, and S. cerevisiae boulardii may be one of the better types of probiotics to try if you're trying to prevent traveler's diarrhea.

Other Considerations

"Consumer Reports" recommends choosing probiotic supplements only from reputable manufacturers that list expiration dates and storage instructions. Otherwise, you may end up with a product that doesn't contain the amount or type of probiotic listed on the label. Foods may be better than supplements for increasing your probiotic intake in general because they tend to contain a mix of probiotic bacteria as well as other essential nutrients, notes the University of Kentucky Extension. Yogurt, for example, often contains more probiotics per serving than many supplements.

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