By now you’ve probably heard of probiotics—the good bacteria that plays an essential role in everything from mood to weight maintenance. And how could you not?! It seems they’re everywhere lately—and not just in the Greek yogurt aisle and fermented foods. Lab-grown strains of probiotics are popping up in things like super-sweet ice cream and juice with added sugar. These products are perfect examples of science gone wrong, and frankly, it’s a bit ironic.
Multiple studies have found that diets rich in sugary products are associated with a high ratio of bad bacteria to good bacteria in the gut. This can result in health issues like weight gain and even premature mental decline. Experts believe the problem stems from sugar being the primary source of fuel for the fungi and yeast that can conquer and kill beneficial probiotics.
That said, it’s important to choose your sources of probiotics carefully to ensure you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to fermented foods. To help you fill your grocery cart with the right selections, we’ve identified the best and the worst of the lot; consider this your official Eat This, Not That! guide to probiotic products.
Protein Powder with Probiotics
Nope, you’re not even in the clear with plant-based protein powders! The makers behind the brown rice and hemp blend pictured above added tons of brown rice syrup solids to their product, which ups the sugar count to a whopping 20 grams per standard serving. If you’re looking for a vegan protein powder with probiotics—but only 1 gram of sugar
Think of kefir—popular in Eastern Europe but growing in prominence stateside—as a tart, more liquid yogurt. What makes kefir so great for your gut is that it usually contains at least 10 live and active strains of bacteria, compared to most yogurts, which usually have three. And Lifeways Veggie Kefir, which serves up a full serving of veggies in each container, is no exception. “The product contains 12 different probiotic strains, and a high dosage, too—more than 10 billion,” says Koszyk. Bonus: “Since kefir has fewer milk sugars than regular milk, many people who don’t tolerate milk well can sip kefir without an issue.” Each one has 110 calories and 15 grams of sugar, which is a bit on the high side, so you shouldn’t drink them every day.
Greek or Icelandic Yogurt
The most popular probiotic, yogurt, is made by adding two strains of bacteria, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, into pasteurized milk. The milk thickens up from the lactic acid that’s produced by the bacteria, becoming the creamy product that you trust to build muscle. But although most Icelandic and Greek yogurt can be a trusted source of protein, not all will provide probiotics. Some products are heat-treated after fermentation, which typically kills most of the beneficial active cultures, so be sure to check the label for the phrase “live active cultures.” And be sure to stay away from the ones with added sugars, which will do more for the bad bacteria than they will for the good.
Brewskis shouldn’t be your go-to source of probiotics, but fermented fermented foods and alcoholic beverages like beer do actually provide some benefits when consumed in moderation. The vitamins from the barley grain that beer is made out of surviving the fermentation and filtering process and can lead to good cholesterol and decrease blood-clot formation. We’re fans of Amstel Light because it has just 95 calories.
Certain Cottage Cheeses
To be clear: Not all cottage cheeses contain probiotics or the benefits that other fermented foods offer. But Good Culture’s tubs are packed with live and active cultures, and they come in a variety of sweet and savory flavors like tomato, olive, and blueberry açaí chia. Though dairy products are packed with slow-digesting protein and have been shown to enhance probiotic absorption, that doesn’t make this product a clear-cut winner or loser. “Cottage cheese is generally high in sodium—and this line is no different—so people with elevated blood pressure may want to skip it. People who bloat easily and those with lactose intolerance should also pass on it,” advises Koszyk. The Bottom Line: This is definitely healthy enough to be an Eat This! but don’t make it your go-to source of probiotics unless the rest of your diet is relatively low in salt.