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We know how important gut health is for long-term vitality and that it influences our immune system, our metabolism, and even how we think and feel. And we know how important probiotics — the beneficial bacteria within the gut — are to that equation but you may be wondering how to approach reaping the benefits of their use.

First, let’s look at why we need probiotics in the first place. Our bodies are made up of all kinds of bacteria that have different jobs and most of them are probiotics that serve a beneficial purpose — they can help your body produce vitamins, absorb nutrients from food, and even help regulate our moods. Probiotic bacteria also colonize within the digestive tract so that other bacteria can’t settle in, multiply, and create chaos for in our system.

The problem is in our modern, often stressful lifestyles, many of us tend to eat mostly highly processed foods. We are only beginning to understand the long-term impact that these habits have on our health. The good news is that you can improve your gut health with a few simple changes in your daily routine to boost your probiotic consumption.

Plain yogurt often contains probiotics, but make sure you get a brand that is marked “live and active cultures.” This phrase specifically distinguishes yogurts claiming to contain probiotics from those with actual cultures benefiting your gut. At the same time, be mindful of yogurts with hidden additives and sugars, usually from fruit — which aren’t so good for you.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and strong, aged cheese can also provide plenty of probiotics.

These are just a few examples of probiotic-rich foods that will give you the maximum benefits from the beneficial bacteria where you need them most.

But it can be difficult to obtain a healthy amount of probiotics from your diet alone because many of the probiotic bacteria you ingest via food are destroyed when they reach stomach acids and never make it through the intestinal tract to colonize and replenish.

So a great option to get a potent dose of probiotics is taking them in supplement form.

Here are some basic guidelines that can help you make your choice:

Research shows that bacteria prefer to colonize in different parts of your digestive tract, where there are various ecological niches. The more probiotic strains you ingest, the more coverage you’ll provide for each of these niches. Choose a formula with many different strains for more benefits.

Make sure that the probiotic bacteria will be protected from your stomach acid on their way to your gut. Choose a formula with a delivery system that makes it possible for the probiotics to bypass being effected.

Look for strains that are resident to the human gut like those from the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus families.

Choose a shelf-stable formula that can withstand temperature changes to help ensure you get a viable dose of probiotics into your system.