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Probiotic Pitfalls To Avoid

Gut health is a hot topic right now and rightly so! Incredible research has been done in this space and we now know how important keeping a balanced microbiome is for our mood, immune system, skin and energy. Stop in any health store and you’ll see probiotic infused products and supplements galore claiming to support a healthy gut. While probiotics can be extremely beneficial to our health, they’re not for everyone and there are some things you should know before spending money on these products.

What are probiotics?

Inside your gut there are trillions of microorganisms. Many of these microorganisms are “good bacteria” and help support your immune system and overall health. They are there to enhance the absorption of nutrients and aid in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. The role of probiotics is to feed these healthy bacteria.

Probiotics are naturally present in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh and apple cider vinegar. You can also get them through supplements and other food products. In this article I’ll be sharing three common pitfalls when it comes to incorporating probiotics in your diet so you can avoid them.

Pitfall #1 The Wrong Strain & Balance

When it comes to consuming probiotics, the right balance and strain matters. Too much of a good thing can lead to more issues. If you’re consuming probiotics and notice unpleasant side effects like gas, nausea, bloating, mood changes, inflammation and lowered immunity, listen to your body and scale back or stop entirely.

If you are suffering with a specific health issue and seeking out probiotics to alleviate your symptoms, do your research and test don’t guess! Grabbing any random probiotic supplement off the shelf or piling on loads of fermented veggies to your meals, likely won’t help. Work with a professional who can make sure you're supporting your gut, not making things worse.

Pitfall #2 Histamine Intolerance

Some microbes found in fermented foods produce histamines. Histamines are neurotransmitters that play an important role in your immune system. In an allergic response, your body releases histamines to quickly trigger inflammation and increase blood flow to let immune cells know there is an intruder. This leads to unpleasant symptoms like rashes, watery eyes, puffiness and headaches.

If your body has a histamine intolerance it can’t metabolize these toxins. When you consume fermented foods or certain probiotic supplements, histamines can start to accumulate in your bloodstream putting your body on high alert. Most people don't have to worry about this, but just remember probiotics affect everyone differently. If they’re making you feel worse, it’s possible you are reacting to them!

Pitfall #3 Added Sugars in Products

Probiotics are usually found in fermented foods, although it’s now possible to add them to other, non-fermented items. Today with all of the hype around gut health, we see them in products like ice cream, protein bars, baked goods, gummies, and coffee. Believe it or not, there’s actually probiotic infused sugar!

The problem with these products is that people see the marketing labels on the front of the package “infused with probiotics!” and automatically think they are healthy. Always read the labels on the back of the packages and check the ingredients and nutrition facts (especially the sugar content). Consuming high amounts of sugar, even in the presence of probiotics, will make your gut health worse and completely negate any of the health benefits.

Below are some common “gut-healthy” products to look out for.

Kombucha. Kombucha is usually loaded with sugar, and can contain up to 28 grams per bottle! Because kombucha is unpasteurized and contains a mix of different types of bacteria and yeasts, it can also promote the growth of opportunistic bacteria that can lead to infections in certain people. It also contains alcohol and caffeine. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a weakened immune system air on the side of caution before consuming this drink.

(My favorite low sugar brand is Humm)

Probiotic Infused Cake and Muffin Mixes. Probiotic rich cake sounds good right? Unfortunately, probiotics have a very poor resistance to heat, so most of the bacteria in these packaged products will die off in the oven leaving you with few gut health benefits. These mixes can also be loaded with sugar!

Probiotic Fruit Juices. Don't let all those vitamins in the fruit and veggie juices fool you. Some of these probiotic infused juices contain 30+ grams of sugar in just a small 8-ounce serving.

Probiotic Gummies. Some of these supplements are labeled all-organic, but that doesn’t mean much. Check the nutrition facts. If you’re popping these daily a lot of them contain high amounts of sugar and aren’t worth it.

Probiotic Rich Yogurts & Cottage Cheeses. These foods can be full of healthy probiotics, but dairy can also be inflammatory for some individuals. Make sure your body tolerates dairy well before adding these items to your daily diet.

The Bottom Line

Probiotic rich foods and supplements can be helpful, but not for everyone. Remember balance is key and always read your labels. You don’t want to overwhelm your gut’s ability to function normally, spend countless dollars on the wrong probiotic supplement to try and cure a condition or add harmful amounts of sugar to your diet.

If you’re wanting to try them out, start small with real foods. You can add about 1 tbsp of fermented foods to your meals a day or ¼ cup liquid and work your way up depending on how your body responds.

You can also make your own fermented vegetables at home! You only need a jar with some salt and water. 

  1. Use a regular wide-mouth mason jar.

  2. Prepare the vegetables for fermenting by grating, shredding, chopping, slicing or leaving them whole.

  3. Once the vegetables have been prepared and placed in the jar, cover them with water and weigh them down so they don’t float up.

  4. Thoroughly sprinkle the salt onto the veggies and massage them a bit.

  5. Make sure the lid is on tightly while the veggies ferment.

  6. Let sit for two to seven days.

  7. Once the vegetables are finished, move them to cold storage and enjoy!

Fancy probiotic products and fermented foods can help you heal your gut, but don't neglect the basics! Stress reduction, daily movement, eating whole foods, limiting medications and eliminating environmental toxins can go a long way!

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