Probiotics seem to be the nutritional buzzword du jour. These “friendly bacteria” are being added to everyday items like fruit drinks and pizza crust with claims of boosting the naturally occurring essential flora that inhabit the intestinal tract.
“Probiotic literally means ‘for life,’” says registered dietitian Linda Antinoro, who is the senior nutritionist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There’s good reason to be concerned about whether we have enough friendly bacteria. “They are under attack from bacterial and viral infection, and use of antibiotics,” she says, “and people with a lousy diet may need to take a probiotic to restore them.”
Health claims for probiotics include boosting the immune system, preventing illnesses like Candida and intestinal cancer and even aiding in weight loss. “The only proven thing is the action on gastric disorders such as diarrhea and bloating,” says Antinoro. “It might well help the immune system, it might benefit disorders such as Crohn’s and colitis, or prevent cancer. Probiotics for weight management seems tenuous, though.”
Products with probiotics
Boosting intestinal flora is best achieved by a healthy diet. We checked out some probiotic sources to see if they made the grade.
Yogurt and kefir: Packed with live cultures, “they are ideal and add calcium and vitamin D, too,” says Antinoro.
Probiotic pizza dough from Naked Pizza: “It might be healthier, but there’s no real way of knowing how much you’re getting,” she says.
PRE Probiotic Enhancer fruit drinks: Some contain su-gar, which isn’t good for gut health.
“Sugar may be counterproductive, but if that’s the only way to get people to take in probiotics then it serves a purpose,” says Antinoro.
Probiotic pills and powders: “There are possible benefits, but the potency is not regulated so you’re never quite sure what’s in there,” she says.