How Diversifying Probiotic Sources Can Optimize Gut Health

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
How Diversifying Probiotic Sources Can Optimize Gut Health

Live strains of healthy bacteria, or probiotics, help support immune functioning, mood, digestion, and gut health.* Given all they do for us, it's only fair that these gut-friendly bugs are a bit high maintenance. While a serving of pickled veggies and bubbly kombucha can be good for you, just getting your probiotics from one or two sources won't quite do the trick for long-term gut health.

To find out the best ways to nurture the microbiome through diet, mbg spoke with registered dietitians and gut health experts. Here are a few of the probiotic sources they recommend and why diversity matters. 

The best sources of probiotics: 

Probiotic supplements

When other lifestyle factors, like diet and stress levels, are not managed properly, or someone is in need of specific probiotic strains, registered dietitian Ella Davar, R.D., CDN, recommends taking a probiotic supplement. 

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Four targeted strains to beat bloating and help reduce abdominal fat.*

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Supplements can be especially helpful after recent changes in dietary habits, travel, or use of antibiotics, she says. Since these changes in lifestyle and routine can often lead to dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria), probiotic supplements can help even it back out.*

"The probiotics are like good cops," Robert Rountree, M.D., renowned integrative physician, previously told mbg. "We're putting in the good cops, and the good cops can keep watch over the bad guys."

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Fermented Foods

Eating fermented or other probiotic-rich foods is a good way to reap both nutritional and probiotic benefits, integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D., previously told mbg. 

"I generally like to recommend foods like fermented vegetables, such as Japanese miso, olives, beets, carrots, pickles (made without sugar), sauerkraut, kimchi, and tofu," Davar says. Other foods like apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, and plain yogurt with live cultures can also benefit the gut. 

"For general wellness and microbiome maintenance I recommend consuming an abundance of these foods daily, including sourdough bread, chocolate, and aged cheese," she says. Yes, you definitely read that correctly: bread, chocolate, and cheese can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.  

"A lack of balance in the gut microbiome could lead to a variety of symptoms and can result in the development of GI discomfort and autoimmune conditions," Davar explains. 

What about prebiotics?

Prebiotics are nondigestible dietary fibers that help provide nourishment for probiotics. In fact, gut health expert Vincent Pedre, M.D., calls prebiotics just as important as probiotics for gut health.  

Prebiotics help the probiotics flourish by feeding them, and the two work together synergistically, Davar explains. "In other words, prebiotics are breakfast, lunch, and dinner for probiotics, which restores them, and can improve GI health.*" 

Prebiotic foods include bananas, berries, onions, garlic, leeks, celery, asparagus, artichokes, beans, inulin, and whole-grain foods, to name a few. 

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Why is it important to get a wide variety of probiotics?

Specific probiotic strains can serve different functions, which is why it’s important to diversify probiotic sources through nutrition and multistrain probiotic supplements to see the greatest effects.* 

While a healthy and diverse diet is important for gut health, other factors like psychological stress, an excess of antibiotics, food poisoning, parasites, or other underlying gastrointestinal issues can mess with the balance of the microbiome. To further support the gut in these instances, Davar says, "Most of us benefit from a reasonably dosed probiotic product (1 to 30 billion CFU) consisting of a mixture of well-studied probiotic strains."*

Bottom line.

The microbiome is a high-maintenance system. Because gut bacteria serves so many functions for human health, it requires a lot of support to function properly.

Lifestyle factors, like managing stress, exercising, eating a nutrient-dense diet of pre- and probiotics, and incorporating supplements are just some of the ways to optimize gut health for the long term.

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