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Probiotics and Tricky Labels

Probiotics and Tricky Labels

While it can safe to say that a probiotic rich diet has a long list of benefits, it’s not safe to assume all products with a “probiotic rich” label are created equal. In part, probiotics are responsible for a yogurt-industry comeback. Those of us who grew up with Go-Gurt in the 90’s are now buying Siggis Kefir. It turns out the 90’s kids just want one thing… drinkable yogurt.   

Probiotic labels can be found on a variety of foods and drinks, but yogurt was an early adapter of the probiotic rich label. Today, yogurt is far from only food to push the benefits of probiotics, anything that has some fermentation (kombucha, kimchi, refrigerated supplements, and more) make use of the words “probiotic rich” on the label for marketing. A probiotic CFU count is variable, and the “probiotic rich” label is not an official or regulated label. 

What does Probiotic-Rich mean?“Probiotic-rich” or similar wording like “good for gut health” means that there are probiotic strands, or there were probiotic strands at some point in the product. After that, we have some follow up questions. 

Which probiotic strains is it rich in? Not only would consumers have to read the fine print nutrition facts to find out, but they would also have to know which strains carry which benefits. Typically a product will have several strains, which should be listed: “genus, species, strain” on the back. 

How many live probiotics are there? This is the CFU count, which should be somewhere in the fine print. The FDA requires an mg measurement too, but it’s the CFU count that matters. Once it’s established which strands the product has, the consumer would have to know how big of CFU count qualifies as “enough to make a difference”. 

What To Look For:The biggest red flag is if the CFU count is taken “at time of manufacture”. The benefit of probiotics is when consumed as an active or “live” strain. A lot can happen between measuring at the time of manufacture and when the product hits the grocery shelf. Probiotics are sensitive to temperature and their viability may differ according to the strain, food, and transportation. For a daily probiotic, 5-10 billion CFU is a good range.For assisting with something acute, look for 15-45 billion CFU.Anything labeled over 45 billion is probably just marketing. 

Are More Types of Strains Better? Depends.Diversity is generally good, but some products may list excessive strains or strains that aren’t really known to have a connection to gut health in order to look more prolific. If you have an idea of the types of strains you're looking for, you might not need to stock up too much on products that have the “broad spectrum” of variants. While not necessarily a bad thing, these types of products are a shotgun approach, knowing the marketability of probiotics.

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