What is a probiotic?

Probiotics are really having a moment right now, and for good reason: Research shows some of the best probiotics for kids can lead to major health benefits. By definition, a probiotic is a a substance which stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as in the intestinal flora).  Probiotics have been shown to have a vast array of health effects, the least of which is improving the bacteria in the microbiome. This improvement has been touted to decrease health issues such as diarrhea caused by infections, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.  The National Institute of Health also claims probiotics can decrease allergic disorders such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and allergic rhinitis (hay fever), colic in infants, liver disease and the common cold. These, and other benefits, are found in the best probiotics for kids – both food and supplements! 

  • What is the microbiome?
  • Why is gut health important in kids?
  • What foods are high in probiotics for kids?
  • What probiotic supplement is best for kids?
  • What is the best probiotic for kids?
  • Is there a best probiotic for toddlers?

What is the microbiome?

Did you know that the gut houses trillions of bacteria? Commonly referred to as the “second brain,” the gut houses microbiota that are one of the most crucial parts of our body.   The gut + bacteria has been termed the “microbiome” and is currently the subject of much investigation and a crucial area of clinical research. These bacteria are linked to our immune system, our body weight, and our mental health.  According to the American Psychology Association (APA),about 95% of serotonin (the feel good chemical)  is made in our gut. In fact, chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorders (IBS, Crohns, Colitis) that are commonly accompanied by anxiety and depression, also appear to involve abnormal gut microbiota.  It’s fascinating stuff, y’all, and I’m only touching the surface of the information here.

Why is gut health important in kids?

The gut microbiota development is essential for newborn health and immunity, and really starts to diversify when solid foods are added.  The microbiome plays a role in children’s health and can have effects on their mood, behavior, sleep and energy. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly take a dose of probiotics for the possibility of a happier, more well-behaved child!  Researchers from UNC Chapel Hill recently found several advantages for kids that drank a probiotic yogurt drink every day for 3 months. First, they found the kids had reduced number of sick days. Second, they found that they were more attentive in class and had improvment in school functioning. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, the children got along better with other kids! The best part: a happy gut microbiome is directly related to the types of food we eat.

What foods are high in probiotic for kids?

Let’s do a deeper dive into more gut friendly and kid friendly foods high in probiotics.  

1.  Yogurt.  Yogurt is by far the most “popular” gut friendly food.  Yogurt, is a fermented food and naturally contains cultures that improve the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.  Yogurt contains two major probiotics called lactobacillus acidophilus and lactobacillus casei. The best part about yogurt– kids love it!  I am often asked: Why is greek yogurt healthier? It typically contains more protein than regular yogurt and a lesser amount of sugar. However, if your little one is insistent on the “traditional” version – it still contains a good amount of probiotic!  My favorite picks for my kids are lower in sugar and higher in protein – but still taste great.  My kids (and I) have fallen in LOVE with Calia Farms: I use their creamer, and the kiddos love this drinkable yogurt product (this is an affiliate link to amazon).

 2.  Cheese (Gouda, Feta, Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan)  Admittedly, some varieties are better than others at carrying probiotics.  However, the most common “kid friendly” strand you probably already have in your refrigerator:  Cheddar! Any raw cheese will contain probiotics, one of my favorite being unpasteurized goats milk.  If your kids aren’t up for goat’s milk quite yet, a good old fashioned grilled cheddar cheese sandwich can give them a serving of gut building probiotic.  Pro tip: pasteurized cheese “product” is not cheddar cheese. You’ll want to go to the deli counter and avoid the pre-packaged slices.

3.  Green Peas.  Studies have found green peas to be an excellent source of probiotic.  It is widely known peas contain fiber, protein and vitamins A, B, C, and K; who know they also were a probiotic!  And the best part, my kids LOVE them. This is one of the tried and true vegetables at my house.

4.  Sourdough Bread.  Have you had a piece of sourdough bread toasted with butter lately?  Truly, it is delicious. And… sourdough bread is made with a fermentation process that uses lactic acid bacteria that’s naturally present, making it a good source of probiotics.  My kids were not a fan of sourdough at first, but I found that serving it with butter and honey is a treat they can not resist!

5.  Pickles.  Since we are talking about probiotics for kids, I have to throw in a favorite childhood treat – the green pickle!  SInce pickles are fermented, they are an excellent source of live and active cultures. They are, of course, actually cucumbers so are also high in vitamins K and C.  Pro tip: Only the refrigerated pickles are high in probiotics – so head to the chilled section for these.

What probiotic supplements are best for kids?

As a registered dietitian, and a mother of three, I deeply understand the need for supplementation.  While my goal for both my family and my clients is to maximize nutrition from food, I am completely realistic, and supportive, of the use of supplements for key nutrition elements.  For this reason, probiotic supplements for kids are probably number one on my list for my patients and family. So, what probiotic supplements are best for kids? The truth is, there are so many option on the market I can’t give you an “absolute” best, but I can certainly share my favorites and those I have used with my clients.  One criteria we need to look at when finding a probiotic supplement is the strand of bacteria. Here is a short list of good strands to look for and why.

1.  Bacillus coagulans.  This specific strain of bacteria consistently ranks as a contender for the best probiotic for constipation and healthy digestion.  As far as kids go, this is of utmost importance! Even when my kids are eating “healthy” I’m certain their guts could use a little digestive aid.

2.  Lactobacillus plantarum.  This strain has been shown to improve symptoms of IBS and increase immunity!  During cold and flu season I’m definitely interested in an immunity boost!

3.  Lactobacillus acidophilus.  Studies on have shown that this strain of probiotic can help reduce diarrhea, increase immunity and increase iron bioavailability to reduce the risk of conditions like iron-deficiency anemia.

4. Lactobacillus rhamnosus. A study on lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic for kids was conducted by The University of Bari and found that this strain of probiotic significantly reduces the frequency and severity of abdominal pain in children with IBS. It has also been widely studied for it’s immunity aid. In fact, a study out of Wisconsin in 2017 showed that a daily dietary probiotic supplementation for 6 months was a safe effective way to reduce fever, rhinorrhea, cough incidence and duration and antibiotic prescription incidence, as well as the number of missed school days attributable to illness, for children 3 to 5 years of age. Pretty outstanding!

Finally, the short list of my recommendations for the best probiotic for kids and best probiotic for toddlers!

1. Nordic Naturals Probiotic Pixies.

This is hands down my favorite! Why? My kids think it is candy. It comes in a little “pixie” package just like the pixie stick candy. And as far as a good probiotic for toddlers, my two year old can do it by herself- which makes it easier for momma! My older kids (5 and 8) think it is a treat. In terms of evidence based research, it contains 3 billion “CFU’s” (Colony Forming Units), contains lactobacillus rhamnosus, and is free of any artificial colors, dyes, or sweeteners.

2.  Culturelle for Kids.

Culturelle is widely known as a very well reputed company of probiotics. Culturelle probiotics are high in CFU’s and come in both the packets and a chewable. Culurelle also has different probiotics for babies, probiotics for toddlers and probiotics for kids.

3.  FLoratummys for Kids.

Floratummys for kids is also high in CFU’s and contains l. acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis. They come in a packet as well as a chewable. These are non-dairy, gluten free and sugar free.

4.  Florajen for Kids.

Florajen contains a large variety of probiotic strains. The product comes in a capsule form so if you are giving this probiotic for kids to toddlers, it probably won’t work. My older kids can swallow the capsule, so if you have an older child this may be a good one!

5.  Floraboost for Kids

Floraboost also contains a large variety of probiotic strains. What makes it different is it is in powder form and can be added to water or juice. I also am a big fan of the orthomolecular products- however they are more expensive. They are considered “medical grade” and so you’ll need to find a provider if you want to get them at a wholesale price (and yes I am a provider). Contact me if you’d like to try them!

I hope this helps you navigate the wild world of the best probiotics for kids!  I’m certainly glad I’ve done my research and have started to see the benefits of probiotics for both my kiddos and clients.  As usual, please send any feedback, suggestions, updates to contact@thedietitiandiet.com – and thank you so much for reading!