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Probiotics are everywhere—from juice and granola bars to infant formula and skin-care masques.

And we’re here to tell that it’s more than just a craze. To put it simply—probiotics replenish your body’s good bacteria.

“Bacteria in our gut impacts our whole body,” says Gabriela Gardner, RD-AP, LD, CNSC, Clinical Dietitian at the Ertan Digestive Disease Center at Memorial Hermann Hospital—Texas Medical Center.

Read on for the five ‘biotic basics you need to know.

Probiotics Have Possible Health Perks

“Research is in its early stages,” says Gardner. “But we do know that when you have more negative bacteria versus positive, you’ll see more inflammation and health problems.”

A poor diet or a course of antibiotics can create an unbalance by slaying the good-guy germs which guard our gut, leaving it defenseless against invaders like salmonella, E. coli and C. difficile.

Without helpful microbiota we are more vulnerable to many diseases. These include inflammatory conditions, diabetes, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression, skin irritations and possibly obesity and weak bones. A lack of certain bacteria also may contribute to colic in infants.

Different Health Problems Require Different Strains

Our gut’s good bacteria and the probiotics taken to restore it have a relationship. And, like many, it’s complicated.

“Each of us has different bacteria impacted by what we eat, where we live, our medications, stressors and how we were delivered at birth,” Gardner says.

Thus, there is no universal, one-strain-treats-all solution.

When In Doubt, Go the Food Route

You’re better off seeking probiotics in foods versus supplements since the latter are not FDA-ruled, Gardner says. “Quality control could be an issue.”

Culinary saviors include sauerkraut, pickles or yogurt, as well as fermented foods you may not know: kefir (a fermented milk product that tastes like a drinkable yogurt), kombucha (a fermented black tea), miso (a soybean paste or soup), tempeh (an Indonesian soy meat alternative that may be used in patties or sausage) and kimchi (a Korean mix of fermented cabbage, vegetables and spices).

You also can fuel healthy bacteria via a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal protein and sugar. “That can naturally balance your digestive tract,” Gardner says.

Probiotics + Sugar = Little to No Benefit

Some fruit juices, cereals, granola bars, chocolate and infant formulas also tout probiotics. But avoid products with loads of sugar, which have a not-so-sweet result. “A diet high in animal protein and sugar and low in fruits, vegetables and other fiber decreases the diversity in microbiota,” Gardner says.

Supplements Need to be Stored Properly for Full Potency

Handle probiotics with care—and heed expiration dates.

“Probiotics are live microorganisms sensitive to light, heat and time—especially in capsules and other supplements,” Gardner says.

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