For the best probiotic foods for kids, there are several things to take into consideration. While we use one name – probiotics – to describe these friendly gut bacteria, there are many different kinds. Probiotics come in various strains, and different strains have different benefits.
We have less concrete research on the benefits of probiotic foods for kids than for supplements, but there’s no harm in serving them! I’m sharing my favorite probiotic foods for kids below, including the best picky eater choices.
What’s in this post:
Probiotics for kids
- What are probiotics?
- Benefits of probiotics for kids?
- What you need to know about probiotics for kids
- How much probiotics to see a benefit?
Probiotic foods for kids
- What are probiotic foods?
- How much probiotics are in foods?
- What are the best probiotic foods for picky eaters?
- What is the best probiotic yogurt?
- Is there a benefit from probiotic foods?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually from bacteria, that can provide health benefits when consumed.
We have hundreds of TRILLIONS of bacteria, made up of over 500 species, living inside our digestive tract. Lots of these trillions of bacteria have no real effect on us, positive or negative.
But many of them do have a positive effect. These helpful bacteria are called probiotics. They are sometimes referred to as the good bacteria. They help limit the growth of bad bacteria, help us digest food, and they can improve immune function.
To qualify as a probiotic by law, a product must contain live microorganisms that research shows to be beneficial, in adequate amounts to confer a health benefit.
You’ll often see the term “live and active cultures” instead of probiotics listed on foods, like yogurt. Most companies with foods containing these live and active cultures do not measure the amount or type of bacteria in the product. So they can’t claim it as a probiotic without the ability to prove that it contains enough live microorganisms that research shows to be beneficial.
What are the benefits of probiotics for kids?
Potential benefits have been seen in many areas. Continued research gives us more data on treating and preventing health problems with different probiotics.
Probiotic supplements, including probiotic powders and chewable tablets, may play a role in treatment or prevention of:
- Regurgitation in infants
- Upper respiratory infection
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Eczema in children
In order to get the best probiotics to treat some of these conditions and foster a healthy immune system, click here.
What you need to know about probiotics for kids
There is a wide variety of species and strains, all with different potential benefits.
You wouldn’t give your child Benadryl to treat diarrhea, and you wouldn’t give them Miralax to treat a fever. Different medicines work for different problems. And the same is true for probiotics.
Therefore, it’s necessary to look at the research for the problem you want to solve and match up the results with the correct probiotic.
To learn about the right probiotic supplements to use to help treat any of the problems below, get my free probiotics guide for kids here.
- Upper Respiratory Infections
- Runny Nose
- Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea
- Diarrhea/Stomach Flu
If you’re just looking to supplement gut health or overall health, aim for a diet with a variety of probiotic-rich foods and prebiotic fiber. There’s a list of food sources below!
How much to see a benefit?
For children, most of the research evaluates doses of at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) to see a health benefit. But it usually takes several doses over time to see a benefit.
This is because the microbiome is enormous when you think about both the amount and types of bacteria living in the digestive tract. When you think about how many trillions of live bacteria are in the gut, 1 billion isn’t that big of an amount compared to what’s in there. It’s like putting a drop of water in a pool.
Not all of the 1 billion units in that dose will even make it to the intestines, where it needs to go to be helpful. Some units will no longer be active or alive in the supplement by the time your child takes it. And some won’t survive the acidic stomach environment.
So you not only want to make sure you have a dose of at least 1 billion, but you also need to use it consistently to see a benefit.
Does that mean doses lower than that won’t work?
Not necessarily, but it appears that doses in the 1 billion to 5 billion range are most effective.
What are probiotic foods for kids?
Some foods naturally contain probiotics, or have had probiotics added to them.
The most common fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics, or have probiotics added to them, include:
- Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
- Fermented pickles
- some cheeses
While fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or kimchi, contain live microbes, they are currently not classified as probiotics. These products have not been sufficiently studied for their health benefits as stipulated by the definition of probiotics.
You’ll often see that a package says live cultures or active cultures instead of the word “probiotics” for this reason.
How much probiotics are in foods?
A variety of probiotic strains are found in foods. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are common species found in foods. Bifidobacterium lactis (B. lactis), B. animalis, B. breve, Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri), and L. acidophilus are some that you may find in food. But oftentimes, you won’t see this information on the product’s label.
The amount of live and active cultures varies by product and by brand. Here are some amounts that I was able to find:
- Milk Kefir- Lifeway kefir has 12 live and active cultures with 25-30 billion CFUs
- Yogurt- Nancy’s yogurt has 4 strains of probiotics and lists “billions of live cultures per serving” for both their dairy and non-dairy yogurts; most brands do not list an amount
- Sauerkraut – 1 gram of sauerkraut may contain 1,000–100 million CFUs. I couldn’t find any brand websites that listed an amount.
- Kombucha – GTs kombucha has 2 billion live cultures per bottle. Most brands do not list an amount.
- Pickles – Olive My Pickle lists 1.2 to 1.4 billion live cultures per serving. Pickles must be fermented with a salt brine to have probiotics. If they are made with vinegar, they will not have any. The kind with vinegar is what you typically see on grocery store shelves.
- Sourdough bread – doesn’t actually contain probiotics after the baking process. I listed it here because you’ll see some websites list it as a probiotic food. However, the cultures do not survive the heat of baking.
What are the best probiotic foods for picky eaters?
Yogurt is my top choice for picky eaters, since the flavor is milder than other fermented foods, like sauerkraut or tempeh. And if they like cream cheese, try Nancy’s cream cheese which is high in probiotics.
Dairy products aren’t the only option! Non-dairy yogurts can contain beneficial bacteria too. Silk non-dairy yogurt (almond, oat, and soy based versions) all contain live and active cultures, though they don’t list which ones or the amount. The Forager Project brand and Stonyfield also has probiotics in all of their non-dairy yogurt products. I’m sure other brands do too. Just check the label for live and active cultures.
Some little ones love pickles, too! Just make sure they are fermented, not vinegar-based for the probiotic benefits.
What is the best probiotic yogurt?
Does your little one love yogurt? The actual probiotic content of yogurt varies by product and brand.
Look for the words “live and active cultures” on the container to easily add probiotics to your child’s diet. You’ll find this in some non-dairy yogurts, too.
Most brands do not list amounts of live and active cultures. So, it’s impossible to know which has the highest amount of healthy bacteria.
But since yogurt is healthy for many other reasons than the probiotics, I wouldn’t worry about trying to find the one with the most probiotics.
I prefer yogurt for kids with low added sugar, or no added sugar. Read this post for my favorite yogurt for toddlers and kids.
Is there a benefit from probiotic foods?
We don’t really know if the amount of probiotics in foods or the type will beneficially impact your child’s health. And if it does have an impact, we don’t know how long the effect lasts.
But most probiotic foods are healthy for other reasons, in addition to the possible benefit from probiotics, so I still recommend serving them to your child.
Can prebiotic foods help too?
Foods with prebiotic fibers can help feed the friendly bacteria in your child’s gut, which is a great way to support a healthy gut!
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that we can’t digest, but it feeds the beneficial gut bacteria (the probiotics living in the digestive tract).
Prebiotics are found in:
- Jerusalem artichokes
These are all foods that are beneficial in your child’s diet.
I’ve heard some myths about how because we can’t digest these fibers, they get stored in our body. This is absolutely not true. The fiber will pass through the digestive system without being digested or absorbed into the body. And they do help produce healthy bowel movements!
Are there probiotics in breast milk?
Yes there are probiotics in breast milk. Research estimates that breastfed infants receive between 100,000 to 1 million bacteria per day. This is based on an average daily consumption of about 27 ounces of human milk. Most are from the genera Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium.
Are there probiotics in infant formula?
There are very few baby formulas currently on the market in the US that add probiotics to their formula.
Your pediatrician can help you determine which product is right for your baby’s symptoms. It’s not necessary for the formula itself to contain probiotics. You can add them with a supplement. For more info on which probiotics help different symptoms, get my free guide here.
What if your baby does not have GI issues, colic, or another condition that might improve with probiotics? You can still ask about adding a probiotic to help foster a healthy microbiome. However, we don’t have good research at this time to understand how much it would benefit an already healthy infant.
Caution on dietary supplements:
In the U.S., most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements or added to food products. Supplements do not undergo the same testing and approval process as drugs. Therefore, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring safety and that any claims made on the label are true.
Health benefits are strain specific and not all strains are necessarily useful. Discuss with the pediatrician any questions or concerns before giving your child probiotic supplements.