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Is Eating Yogurt Better Than Taking a Probiotic Supplement?

“Let food be your medicine,” stated Hippocrates, the noted Greek physician. But modern humans need more than food to achieve health and well-being. Take yogurt for example: many people eat it to obtain their beneficial bacteria (probiotics) – and think that’s enough. It isn’t.

The gut is home to not billions, but trillions of tiny organisms collectively known as the “gut microbiome.” Friendly and beneficial to the body, these bacteria and yeast cells not only assist in the digestion of food, but also help in the absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients. Introducing probiotics to the gut can be an excellent way to bolster these microorganisms and provide them with the assistance they need in staving off harmful bacteria and viruses, but what’s the best way to get probiotics into your diet?

One of the most common questions people have about probiotics is whether it’s better to get them via supplement form or simply by eating yogurt. The short answer? Probiotics supplements will have a greater likelihood of being beneficial to the gut than yogurt or other fermented foods because of their high concentration of viable cells. Let’s take a closer look at each, as well as why combining a diet rich in probiotic-heavy foods with a well-made supplement is the most effective way to obtain microbiome-boosting probiotics.

Yogurt: A Probiotic Wonderfood?

Yogurt is well-known for being a good source of probiotics. Yogurt is a natural source of probiotics and contains plenty of additional nutrients such as protein and calcium. The dairy ingredients contained within yogurt may even assist in coating the stomach and protecting bacteria from its abrasive acidic environment as it moves toward the gut. These are attractive factors that make a case for incorporating yogurt into your diet.

There are millions of people who swear by yogurt as being the ultimate way in which to introduce probiotics to the gut, however, this ideology tends to be flawed. Much of the yogurt sold at supermarkets doesn’t actually contain any live bacteria at all, as it has undergone the process of heat sterilization or pasteurization. Though intended to be safer for human consumption than raw-milk varieties, heat-treated yogurt also lacks any viable amount of beneficial microorganisms and thus is more appropriate to supply protein and calcium.

While yogurts that list “live active cultures” on their labels are a better bet, estimating how many cultures are included within a single serving can be challenging. Even if present in large amounts, probiotics found within yogurt tend to be three different types — bifidobacterium, lactobacillus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Yet, this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface in terms of types of beneficial bacteria available in probiotic form.

From a nutrition perspective, many yogurts available on shelves may do more harm to the gut than good. Many of the newer yogurts contain high amounts of additives and sugar, as well as dairy fat. Yogurt that is best for you is the simple plain, non-fat, non-flavored kind.

Supplements: A Better Approach

While certain types of yogurt may help to add beneficial organisms to the gut and provide adequate amounts of protein and calcium without added sugars, these still don’t contain enough probiotics for the benefits you may be seeking. Instead, probiotics supplements are generally considered to be the more effective of the two options. 
Here are five reasons why probiotics supplement are preferred over yogurt to increase your microbiome health:

1. Strain Variety — As noted above, there are only three major strains of probiotics found naturally occurring in yogurt. While all are beneficial for you, there are countless additional strains that can be even more beneficial to the gut. They’re not going to be found in yogurt, but many are available in supplement form. This provides you the ability to pinpoint exactly which strains you want to utilize to support specific health concerns.

2. Bacteria Count — While it’s true that CFUs (colony forming units) tend to be overblown on the labels of many probiotics supplements, most still contain more CFUs than yogurt. With a better idea of how many CFUs a probiotic supplement contains, you’ll be able to more accurately dose than if you were to source probiotics from yogurt or fermented foods.

3. Manageability — One of the biggest hurdles that many people face when considering yogurt is that they just don’t like it; they find it unpalatable. Others have issues processing dairy in their GI systems. Probiotic supplements are much more manageable.

4. Convenience — No one wants to jump through hurdles just to get their daily dose of probiotics. It is often inconvenient for those who expressly aim to obtain their probiotics from food sources. Besides yogurt, fermented foods contain some probiotics, but many people don’t like sauerkraut or other fermented foods. Probiotics supplements, such as a Microshot, are quick and easy.

5. Longer Shelf-life — There are many probiotics supplements that require refrigeration from production to sale and to the shelf at home, which can present problems keeping the cultures alive.Yogurt, as a dairy food, has much more limited shelf life. The best option is a probiotic that is shelf-stable and thus does not require refrigeration, as these can last for much longer periods of time before expiring.

The Benefits of Taking a Daily Probiotic Supplement

Probiotics have enjoyed a big rise in interest during the past five years, which has caused the growth of the yogurt category, especially brands that purport to restore gut health. While incorporating yogurt and other fermented products into your diet can be a great way to bolster the immune system and support the gut, taking a probiotics supplement is a much more effective way to achieve immune and GI health. Many people don’t see the difference until they take probiotics.

Unsure if a probiotic supplement is right for you? Here are four key benefits associated with taking one:

1. Probiotics Balance the Digestive System — Did you know that billions of bacteria live within your gut? When your microbiome is in balance, approximately 85% of these bacteria are friendly and beneficial — the other 15% are harmful pathogens that are kept at bay by the good bacteria that overwhelm them. Balance can get thrown off due to poor diet, antibiotic usage and other factors, allowing harmful bacteria to proliferate. By introducing probiotics to your digestive system via supplementation, you may be able to effectively restore balance in your gut microbiome.

2. Probiotics Help Support Immune Function — The immune system protects you from even the most harmful of invaders. Many people don’t realize that a great deal of the immune system is located within the gut. If gut health is poor, immune function can be affected. When you regularly consume a probiotics supplement, you’ll be improving digestive system functionality, thus also helping to support immune function. For those who get sick a lot, incorporating probiotics supplements may provide improvement.

3. Probiotics May Even Improve Mental Health — One of the more interesting facts about the digestive system is the “gut-brain axis,” which is the connection between the brain and the gut – the connection is made through the body’s Vagus nerve. The gut is unique in its ability to make independent “decisions” without relying on the brain, and many believe that poor gut health may also influence one’s emotional state.

4. Probiotics Help Aid Nutrition — Obtaining adequate nutrition can be a challenge in some cases — especially for those who have digestive issues. The beneficial bacteria that live within the gut are crucial for absorbing key vitamins, minerals and nutrients -- and if they’re not present in large enough numbers, issues caused by imbalance can arise. Probiotics supplements can help your body process the nutrients it needs to maintain health and well-being.

You can certainly enjoy yogurt – choose it wisely and have fun with it by adding fresh fruits and seeds. But you can and should take probiotic supplements to benefit your microbiome.
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