Both of my kids just got through stomach bugs (hooray for projectile vomiting, I guess), and so I’ve been on the hunt for the best probiotics to help their gut go back to normal. This may sound a bit woo, but I’ve been looking into it for a few years — probably ever since I read The Four-Hour Body, where Tim Ferris said the best probiotic for your gut was about 2 oz. of sauerkraut daily. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are not likely to eat sauerkraut! They might eat yogurt with active cultures — but when I looked at the labels, most of their kid-yogurt didn’t boast active cultures.
So let’s discuss: What do you think are the best probiotics for kids (or yourself)? How much have you researched probiotics?
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Why Fermented Foods are the Best Probiotics
The New York Times just had a story about why fermented foods are the best probiotics, and they cited studies saying that five servings a day of fermented foods is optimal — that’s a tall order! But apparently that 2 oz. of sauerkraut I mentioned above contains something like 100x the amount of active cultures as a bunch of probiotic pills. (Here’s one possibly dubious source saying 2 oz. of sauerkraut = 100 probiotic pills.)
Furthermore, there are a ton of problems with “probiotic pills” — you can see from the labels that not many of them contain more than one or two strains of active cultures, whereas fermented foods contain many strains. The general thinking is that the more strains, the better for general gut health.
Now you may be hunting for a specific strain, which may help the search a bit — for example, there are a lot of experiments backing up the idea that the L. reuteri strain could make it easier for autistic people to be more comfortable in social interactions, or that the L. rhamnosus strain, taken while pregnant, significantly reduces the incidence of atopic dermatitis for baby. (This government page talks a lot about which probiotic strains are best for IBS and IBD symptoms.)
But this leads us to the next problem, of a) finding that strain, b) finding it in a form your kid will eat, ideally c) in a product you can trust, which likely means it d) lists information on which and how many live strains they are, with a best-by date and instructions on whether the product needs to be refrigerated. So… that bottle of pills you buy off the shelf, or have shipped to you from Amazon, is probably not it.
The Best Probiotics for Kids in Fermented Foods
My kids don’t eat the healthiest yogurts (lots of Yoplait Whips and candy-flavored yogurts like Starburst and Skittles), but I was surprised to see that of the probably eight types of yogurts in my fridge, very few contained active cultures. Stonyfield often does — if you look on the back of the container they note that they contain six active cultures. Activia and Chobani Probiotic does as well (but not necessarily regular Chobani!).
Kefir is a drinkable yogurt that usually contains active cultures — my eldest loves Lifeway, especially the strawberry version. (My youngest, well, not so much.) According to the product page, it has 12 active cultures and is 99% lactose-free and gluten-free. We haven’t tried them, but it looks like some KeVita products are made with “water kefir.” You can also add it to smoothies!
Along the lines of refrigerated sauerkraut (and kimchi!), other fermented foods contain probiotics — the trick is to make sure that they’re refrigerated, and in brine. Pickles are the big one I was surprised to see, especially since my kids love them — here’s a list of which brands to look for.
Another thing to consider (although I haven’t had luck with my own kids): kombucha and other fermented tea products. Chobani has a new one that seems to be similar to kombucha and is in a cute, kid-friendly bottle. (I’m a big fan of kombucha personally — two of my favorites to try include this Synergy one and this HealthAde one. The lemon-ginger Costco ones are also great!)
Stock photo via Deposit Photos / xxxPATRIK.