What are vegan probiotics? And do supplements help with gut health?

Your body has a symbiotic relationship with trillions of microscopic bacterial organisms, most of which live in your gut. It provides communities of bacteria and yeast, called probiotics, an ideal environment to feed on nutrients. In turn, friendly gut bacteria spend their lives fighting off the influx of bad bacteria and doing other good things for your body, like improving your gut health. Probiotics are found in foods that humans have been making for millennia, such as yogurt and kimchi. But what good are they? Do vegan probiotic supplements work?

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What are vegan probiotics?

Just like with dairy probiotics, consuming vegan probiotics helps your body maintain a healthy amount of good bacteria in your gut. Vegan probiotics are free from animal products and yes, technically, bacteria and yeast are living microorganisms. But, they are vegan. Unlike chickens or cows, these microorganisms are not sentient and do not have a nervous system. So don’t worry, vegans can enjoy the best foods in life, like sourdough bread and pickles.

This community of microorganisms is called the intestinal microbiome, intestinal microbiota or intestinal flora. The ones we usually find in food are called Lactobacillus Y bifidobacteria. You’ve probably seen new vegan products in the supermarket that say “made with live cultures” on the packaging. Probiotics are everywhere, and for good reason: They help keep your body in good working order. These are just some of its health benefits.

1 Better gut health

Probiotics can be good for the gut in a number of ways. There is evidence that they might help prevent constipation in adults, according to several studies. On the opposite side of the spectrum, multiple trials show that Lactobacillus can shorten diarrhea in infants and children. They might even benefit irritable bowel syndrome, according to a 2014 meta-analysis, but more research is needed to understand to what extent.

two enhanced immune system

Probiotics can help your immune system fight off harmful bacteria by contributing to the balance between good and disease-causing microorganisms in your gut. A 2014 review published in the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology concluded that probiotics can enhance the immune response and protection against viral infection. Probiotics have been shown to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in people with a vagina.

3 Reduction of allergies and eczema.

Probiotics may also help reduce the severity of allergies to milk and milk products in some people. (Or you can also opt for non-dairy, plant-based products.) Studies also suggest that they may reduce eczema in children and babies, although more research is needed.

4 Improved mental health and cognitive function.

Your gut is uncannily similar to your brain, in some ways, and has even been called a “second brain.” For starters, it also produces mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid. According to Harvard Health, many recent studies have linked gut health to overall mental health and cognitive function. But like other potential benefits of probiotics on this list, more research is needed to better understand the connection between gut health and mental health.

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vegan sources of probiotics

Probiotics are found in foods made with one of the oldest tricks in culinary history: bacterial fermentation. These foods are staples in various cuisines, including kimchi in Korea, tempeh in Indonesia, miso in Japan, and sauerkraut, a German staple since the 17th century that actually originated in China from the time the construction of the Great Wall, almost 2000 years ago.

Some gut-healthy fermented foods are made with dairy. Yogurt and kefir are two examples, but there are fermented milk products found in cuisines around the world, including lassi, a fermented yogurt drink from Punjab, India; Indonesian fermented buffalo milk called dadih; and the strained yogurt-like fermented milk food from Iceland, skyr. (And Yakult, a probiotic dairy drink from Japan.) But, thanks to our recent collective obsession with gut health, you can find vegan probiotics in most grocery stores.

Vegan sources of probiotics include:

  • Certain dairy-free yogurts: Look for dairy-free yogurts made with live cultures, such as Forager Project Unsweetened Plain Yogurt, Cocojune Organic Cultured Coconut Yogurt, and Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Cashew Cultured Yogurt Alternative
  • Certain pickles: Look for “naturally fermented” on the label
  • kimchi: Check the ingredients for shrimp and fish
  • Kombucha: Use it to make the Watermelon Wonder Maria mocktail on this list
  • miso: Turning off the heat before adding miso to the broth preserves the good bacteria
  • Sauerkraut: A German staple since the 1600s that actually originated in ancient China, almost 2,000 years ago when the Great Wall was being built.
  • Sourdough: This mass is fermented using foods that are healthy for the intestine. Lactobacillus cultures
  • Supplements: Look for “vegan” on the label
  • tempeh: Try this Meaty Tempeh and Broccoli Recipe

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Do vegan probiotic supplements work?

Probiotic supplements can provide the same benefits as probiotics obtained through food. Keyword: May. At the moment, researchers are still not sure how effective they are. Additionally, in the United States, probiotics are sold as “dietary supplements,” a notoriously unregulated market overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under FDA law, companies have a green light to make vague health claims that may not be true. This, unfortunately, means that there is no guarantee that you will get what you pay for when you purchase a supplement. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure their products are safe, but experts generally recommend that you get your probiotics from food.

In conclusion …

Although experts say more research is needed, the number of studies that have concluded that probiotics are good for our overall health is promising. Gut health is a functional food trend that isn’t going away anytime soon, so expect to see more vegan products hitting shelves in the near future. Dairy-free yogurt made with precision fermentation, anyone?

No need to splurge on fancy dairy-free yogurt to add vegan probiotics when there are affordable foods like Trader Joe’s sauerkraut and tempeh (seriously, it’s $1.99). But if you get the fancy vegan yogurt, make a parfait.

For more information on vegan nutrition, read:

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