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Probiotic Capsules or Fermented Foods: Which is Better for Gut Health? - Part 2

Probiotics in Probiotic Supplement Capsules

Welcome to Part 2 of the series on Fermented Foods and Probiotics!

In Part 1 (read the blog post here), we learned about:

  • The benefits of fermented foods

  • How to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck when purchasing fermented foods

  • How to supercharge fermented foods even more by making them yourself.

In Part 2, let’s discuss how the bacterial counts compare in fermented foods and supplemental probiotics, and whether it’s worth supplementing with a high-quality probiotic.

Wondering if it’s worth supplementing with a probiotic? Keep reading to find out!

Fermented Foods & Probiotics in Traditional Diets

Why were fermented foods such a major part of traditional diets, but now are considered a “health food”?

The theory is that once refrigeration became available to consumers in 1927, fermented foods were demonized because they were “riddled with microbes”. Because we started eating much less fermented foods, our intake of friendly bacterial and fungal species dropped to nearly nothing.

The lack of fermented foods in our diet combined with other modern factors that disrupt gut flora is what I believe has led to the epidemic of gut issues!

Do probiotics stay in the gut?

A common question I get is this: do the bacteria we consume through fermented foods or probiotics stay in the gut?

The answer is… nope.

The bacteria in fermented foods or in probiotic capsules do not take up permanent residence in our gut. But, they are still helpful for so many things:

  • They encourage proliferation of healthy species, and discourage unhealthy species

  • Increase intestinal mucus production (a good thing!)

  • Improve constipation

  • Reduce leaky gut

  • Improve skin conditions like acne

  • Reduce risk for type 2 diabetes

  • Reduce inflammatory markers

  • Have a modest effect on preventing weight gain

To continue to get the benefits of probiotics, you do have to continue eating high-probiotic foods or taking a probiotic supplement.

Probiotic Capsules vs Fermented Foods: What’s Better?

So the hot question is: are fermented foods and probiotics equally good for supporting the gut microbiome?

It depends. It depends on the type of probiotic, and the type of fermented foods.

But in general, if you are looking for a clinical dose (i.e. a dose that has been shown in research to improve gut issues), it appears that you need much higher levels than what is obtainable from fermented foods.

In other words, if you are struggling with constipation, abnormal bowel movements, acid reflux, or something like an overgrowth of bacteria or fungus, you want to be taking high-quality practitioner-grade probiotics.

You can find probiotic brands that I recommend to my clients by opening a free Fullscript account. Fullscript is an online supplement dispensary where you can order high-quality practitioner-grade supplements (plus I offer a 10% discount!).

Fermented Foods vs. Probiotic Supplements: Comparison

To give you an idea of how the amount of good bacteria in fermented foods compares to a capsule of high-quality probiotics, listen to this:

1 cup of fermented foods contains what is in about 1/20 to 1/2 of a probiotic capsule. In other words, you would have to eat 20 cups of lacto-fermented pickles, or 8 cups or sauerkraut, or 2 cups of kimchi to get the equivalent of ONE capsule. And often, a therapeutic dose of probiotics requires multiple capsules!

If you are a purist and wanted to get enough probiotics through food, there are ways to ferment yogurt at home that supercharge the bacterial counts into the hundreds of billions (if you’re interested, the book ​Super Gut​ has recipes and more info).

And if you’re not willing to eat ~10 cups of fermented foods daily or to make super-yogurt, I would recommend taking a probiotic to counteract all the modern day factors that are consistently disrupting our delicate gut microbiome.

And some might argue - “our grandparents or ancestors never took probiotic capsules and they were fine”! The truth is modern day factors are consistently disrupting our delicate gut microbiome. Taking a probiotic capsule can be a way to support the gut to make sure our health is optimal.

What if probiotics make me feel worse?

Some people don’t feel well eating fermented foods or taking probiotics. Common symptoms could be excessive bloating or abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, mind fog, or anxiety. This is frustrating if you keep hearing how good probiotics are for us, yet you get symptoms whenever you consume them!

Here’s the thing: getting symptoms from consuming probiotics is a sign that there is likely a bacterial or fungal overgrowth in the gut that needs to be addressed. My recommendation would be to run a stool test to see exactly what is going on with your good and bad bacteria, and fungus in the large intestine. If this is you, ​let’s talk about working 1:1 together​ to run functional testing and rebalance your gut!

Summary & Key Takeaways

If you have gut issues, you are more likely to see benefit from probiotic supplements due to the high dose of probiotics they contain. If you want to consume probiotics with the goal of supporting general health, getting probiotics from foods might be enough, as long as you are minimizing all the other factors that disrupt microbiome health (alcohol, pesticides, toxins, sugar, antibiotics, birth control, stress, etc.).

If you’re interested to improve your gut health, make sure to download my eBook “Supporting Your Gut Health” which includes gut-healthy recipes and a list of foods to focus on for better gut health (spoiler alert: fermented foods are on this list!).



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