Dear Melissa,
I have been reading a lot about probiotics and how we need them for our healthy digestion. What do you suggest for probiotics since milk/yogurt are not on the Whole30 plan? – Melissa L., Ft. Worth, TX

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Dear Melissa,
First, some background. Our gut flora (bacteria) helps us properly digest our food, protects us from pathogens, detoxifies harmful compounds, produces vitamins and other nutrients, and balances our immune systems. Probiotics are a culture of “good” bacteria. Probiotics can refer to a supplement (a pill or powder) of beneficial bacteria, but probiotics also come from the environment (dirt) and fermented (non-pasteurized) foods.

First, it’s important to get your doctor’s approval before starting any new health regimen, including dietary changes or supplements. I’m not a doctor and can’t give medical advice, so I’m just sharing the general recommendations from functional medicine practitioner and Healthy Gut, Healthy You author Dr. Michael Ruscio.

Fermented foods

A serving* of fermented foods (sauerkraut, Gut Shots, kombucha, or an unsweetened coconut milk yogurt) can provide a variety of natural probiotics. Whole30-friendly coconut milk yogurt is hard to find, but you can make your own using a good probiotic as a starter culture.

*If you have gut symptoms already (gas, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, etc.) you may want to start adding these in slowly and cautiously, as too many probiotics at once can further skew an already skewed system.

A good probiotic supplement

Probiotics can be confusing because there are hundreds of products. However, Dr. Ruscio simplifies them into roughly three categories of probiotics.

  1. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium predominated blends. These contain various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics.
  2. Saccharomyces Boulardii. Contains solely S. bouldardii, a healthy fungus probiotic.
  3. Soil based probiotics. Contains various strains of Bacillus species probiotics.

You can see Dr. Ruscio’s recommendations in his online store here.  He recommends using a low dose of each of these to cover most of your probiotic bases.

Gut testing with a functional medicine doctor

Finally, if you are really struggling with symptoms (or just prefer a more targeted approach), the best way to know what’s going on in your gut and which probiotics would be the most helpful for you is to do some basic testing with a funtional medicine doctor. You can find one through the Re-Find Health network or the IFM.

For more on gut health, I highly recommend Dr. Ruscio’s new book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You. It gets technical at times, but I don’t know anyone more invested in the current research, or with more practical experience successfully treating patients than Michael.

Best in health,

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it here.

Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.

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Melissa Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 5-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food; The Whole30; Food Freedom Forever; The Whole30 Cookbook; The Whole30 Day by Day; and The Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography

Published by Melissa Urban

Melissa Urban is a 7x New York Times bestselling author (including the #1 bestselling The Whole30) who specializes in helping people establish healthy boundaries and successfully navigate habit change. She has been featured by the New York Times, People, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, and is a prominent keynote speaker on boundaries, building community, health trends, and entrepreneurship. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, son, and a poodle named Henry.