Probiotics: Myth or miracle? What we should know about these friendly bacteria

There are a few things to note about probiotics, however, to get the most benefit.

An important factor is whether probiotics are still alive, and if so, how many microbes are present in the food, according to William Chen, director of the Nanyang Technological University’s Food Science and Technology program.

To be labeled “probiotic,” the professor noted, food must contain at least one billion CFUs, or colony-forming units, that represent the number of bacteria in each serving.

But a probiotic product can lose strength if it is not stored properly or is on the shelf for too long.

“Ideally, the lower the temperature, the better,” he said. “Bacteria grow more slowly at a lower temperature, but faster at a high temperature.”

The CFU number on the label is usually the number on the packaging date, he added. But the company will not monitor how long a product was on the shelf before it was purchased.

So “no one knows” how many microbes are taken in at the time of consumption, said Chen, who recommended paying attention to the expiration date. “Do not buy too much and then put (the food) in the fridge for too long.”

When it comes to the type of food to eat, fermented foods are generally good for gut health because they are easier to digest, according to Jeremy Lim, CEO of precision intestinal microbiome company Amili.

The fermentation process also allows probiotics to multiply.

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