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How to Compare One Product to Another?

The dairy case in most grocery stores now has a wide variety of fermented milk products which contain live bacteria. Yogurts followed by kefir, have the longest tradition as probiotics. But other food products, including fruit drinks and even cereals, now can be found which loudly proclaim that they contain probiotic bacteria.


In the world of advertising, bigger is better and more is preferred over less. So, for this reason, most producers of probiotic products are adding more bacteria and more kinds of bacteria to their products. Unfortunately for the consumer, companies are often adding different bacteria, and so comparisons are difficult to make. Individual bacteria have different effects on health, and even closely related bacteria can have different properties.

Bacteria are named in a systematic way that makes sense to microbiologists, but is very confusing to the every day shopper. It doesn’t help that the name of a bacteria can be part Latin or Greek, can include words that refer to who first discovered it or where it is commonly found, and may have words that describe something about the shape, colour or properties of the bacteria. Sometimes the name of a bacteria will have a code (letters and numbers) that were used by the laboratory which originally isolated and identified the bacteria. Some companies have deviated from this traditional system of naming bacteria and have given their bacteria names that are easier to understand and remember and which give the consumer an idea of how the bacteria is supposed to help the consumer

The most commonly found bacteria in probiotic products belong to the Lactobacillus, Streptococcus and the Bifidobacteria families or genus. Each genus contains many members called species. Thus, for example, probiotic products may contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus lactis, Lactobacillus casei or Lactobacillus rhamnosus. As the science of identification of bacteria becomes more precise, it has been found that even species can be further subdivided into subspecies. On some labels L. is used instead of Lactobacillus, B. is used instead of Bifidobacteria and S. is used instead of Streptococcus.

Consumers need to be careful that they read the label carefully to ensure that they are get buying a product which contains the exact bacteria they are looking for.

The Definition of a Probiotic
The World Health Organization has defined a probiotic as: live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host.

Further Reading

Probiotics Pros and Cons
Berkely University Wellness site

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