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What are propbiotics? Are shelf-stable probiotics useful?

Achieving a “healthy gut” has been the new wellness bar to reach ever since kombucha started making an appearance (on tap no less) at coffee houses across America. The thinking goes by gut experts (yes, they exist!) that nailing your microbiome is the key to achieving healthier digestion, a stronger immune system, and clearer skin. This is accomplished by incorporating probiotics into your diet, which can come in probiotic-packed foods—kombucha, kimchi, yogurt—and supplements.

Probiotic-PackedFoods with the Most Probiotics and How to Make ThemFor the most part, probiotics, the living microorganisms of bacteria, and sometimes yeast, that help your body maintain that healthy balance of “good” (non-disease-causing) bacteria and flora in your gut, are commonly used in the natural fermentation process of turning carbohydrates or sugars into acids and alcohol (think kimchi or yogurt). The word “living” simply means that the bacteria is kept at its optimal state in order to integrate seamlessly into the gut and provide the highest degree of benefit. (For example, to maintain the gut-healthy benefits in yogurt, it should be kept refrigerated since the bacteria will start to die at 115 degrees.)

But all that refrigeration fuss may be a thing of the past with shelf-stable probiotics, as new strains of the bacteria are being added to room-temperature pantry essentials like nut butter, cereal, and even snacks. Peruse the aisles at Whole Foods or grocery shop online and you’ll find Earnest Eats Protein and Probiotic Oatmeal Cups, Purely Elizabeth’s Gluten-Free Probiotic Granola, and Vegan Rob’s Probiotic Cauliflower Puffs.

Naturally More Almond Butter with Probiotics and Flax, $9.99 on Amazon

Yet another shelf-stable probiotic snack!
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According to Probiotics.org, shelf-stable probiotics can maintain 80 percent potency over two years. These new products are meant to eliminate the worry over refrigerating probiotic food or supplements or fretting over expiration dates. Also, they’re an incredibly easy-bordering-on-mindless way to get an extra dose of gut-healthy bacteria.

Shelf-stable probiotics aren’t just popping up in crackers or your breakfast cereal, but in cleaning and beauty products as well. Probiotic cleaning sprays and beauty topical creams (sunscreens and face lotions) contribute to that good bacteria on the outer layer of the skin to help protect it, or on your kitchen counter, in the same way eating probiotics does for our digestive system.

While convenience is definitely a selling point for those of us who have left whole bottles of probiotics on the shelf near the refrigerator to spoil (and let’s face it; we’ll probably never really change), you should do your homework before assuming your gut health has been solved by downing a probiotic granola bar every day. Always read the instructions on the shelf-stable probiotic items, as some labels recommend refrigerating them to “extend the shelf life.” This affirms that the product would be best kept in the refrigerator, but can stay at room temperature. And if a product is considered shelf-stable—say, a probiotic nut butter—depending on the retailer, it may be treated and transported as a non-perishable good, which can mean the product might be exposed to unregulated temperatures. If these shelf-stable products come in contact with something higher than room temperature on their journey to the shelves, this may result in the killing of the good bacteria.

Also, do a little digging on the brand before buying. You want to be certain the company is testing the efficacy of the probiotic to ensure the strains they use are actually useful. Think of probiotics the way you would outdoor gear. Patagonia is a brand you know tests its puffy coats before they hit the sales floor. Outdoorgear4cheap—probably not.

After digesting all of this information (see what we did there?), you are probably wondering, can shelf-stable probiotics replace my refrigerated supplement? The reality is, if you need a certain amount of probiotic to get you on the right digestive tract (again!) it’s probably best to stick with a supplement to know you’re getting the right quantity and strain. But eating delicious foods and using probiotic-stacked cleaning products can’t hurt, and if you follow the manufacturer’s directions on how to store the product, the strain should offer all the benefits it promises.

Related Video: 3 Ways to Boost Your Gut Health—Without Eating Probiotic Foods

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