FAQ: Probiotic Vs. Live Culture

You may recall that probiotics are defined as living bacteria that when conferred in sufficient quantity confer a health benefit. That means that in order to be technically defined as a probiotic, a substance must meet those three criteria:

  • living
  • in sufficient quantity
  • confer health benefit

Following, if we were to extrapolate – if you take miso and you make miso soup from it, the heat is likely to kill much of the bacteria that is present in the miso (which is a fermented bacteria-containing product). Now it doesn’t mean that miso soup isn’t good for you. In fact there is some evidence that heated bacteria can have immune benefits, but in a technical sense if you put miso into boiling water, the bacteria are not going to survive. So if the bacteria is not living, its not probiotic. 

If a product, and you are likely to find this on yogurt, claims to contain live cultures, that means that is contains live bacteria (which is good, even though it may sound a bit creepy). But it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the type of bacteria and what it may do to benefit from you. If there is no specific health benefit, than it is technically not probiotic. A caveat here is that this term is loosely and widely used, and frankly you just don't know without looking very carefully at labels. If a product says it is probiotic, check to see if the quantity and bacterial species are listed by name. 

Products that may contain live bacteria, but remember to check labels: 

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Quark
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Pickles