The past issue focused on fermented foods and drink. To complete this two-part series, we now examine food and beverage products with added probiotic bacteria.

Probiotics are added to a variety of drinks now – including those marketed for young children.  Do these products offer any benefits?

Probiotic products can offer benefits such as improved gut health, immune support, reduced allergy symptoms, and better lactose digestion1. For example, strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are often cited for their health benefits3. Some studies suggest they may also reduce the incidence and duration of upper respiratory infections in young children1. However, their effectiveness varies with different strains, doses, and individual needs, and more isn’t always better1.  Because of this complexity, a determination of benefits requires a case-by-case analysis2.

Currently the expansion of probiotic products is outpacing related research, and the marketing of these products can be misleading. This resource may be useful as it provides guidance on strain selection, dosage forms, colony-forming units (CFU), and recommended daily doses for functional foods and drinks with added probiotics.

Are there any risks associated with consuming drinks with added probiotics?

Probiotics added to food and drinks are generally safe3. However, there may be concerns for vulnerable populations, such as those who are immunocompromised or hospitalized4. Additionally, there is a risk of product contamination4.

What advice can I pass along to parents of young children about the role of nutrition and gut health?

While research on gut health is expansive, there are still many unanswered questions.  Rather than relying on probiotic fortified products that are expensive and may or may not be of benefit, here are some tips for improving gut health through nutrition:

  1. Eat a variety of foods5: A diverse diet, rich in different food sources, promotes a varied microbiota, which is beneficial for gut health and protection against harmful pathogens.
  2. Incorporate fermented foods6:  Foods like yogurt, supports both gastrointestinal and systemic health by introducing beneficial bacteria into the gut.
  3. Emphasize whole, plant-based foods7: Emphasize whole, plant-based foods over processed options. Refer to our previous blog, “Are Ultra-Processed Foods to Blame for Children’s Poor Health.” Foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes provide essential nutrients and fiber necessary for a healthy gut.
  4. Stay hydrated8: Drinking plenty of water is crucial for supporting digestion and preventing constipation, thereby maintaining overall gut health.

This issue was written by Justine Habibian, Ph.D., R.D.N.


  1. Sanders ME, Merenstein D, Merrifield CA, Hutkins R. Probiotics for human use. Nutr Bull. 2018;43(3):212-225. doi:10.1111/NBU.12334
  2. Your guide to the difference between fermented foods and probiotics – Gut Microbiota for Health. Accessed May 21, 2024.
  3. Koirala S, Anal AK. Probiotics-based foods and beverages as future foods and their overall safety and regulatory claims. Futur Foods. 2021;3:100013. doi:10.1016/J.FUFO.2021.100013
  4. Sanders ME, Merenstein DJ, Ouwehand AC, et al. Probiotic use in at-risk populations. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2016;56(6):680-686. doi:10.1016/J.JAPH.2016.07.001
  5. Spragge F, Bakkeren E, Jahn MT, et al. Microbiome diversity protects against pathogens by nutrient blocking. Science (80- ). 2023;382(6676). doi:10.1126/SCIENCE.ADJ3502/SUPPL_FILE/SCIENCE.ADJ3502_MDAR_REPRODUCIBILITY_CHECKLIST.PDF
  6. Marco ML, Heeney D, Binda S, et al. Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2017;44:94-102. doi:10.1016/j.copbio.2016.11.010
  7. MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed January 16, 2024.
  8. Vanhaecke T, Bretin O, Poirel M, Tap J. Drinking Water Source and Intake Are Associated with Distinct Gut Microbiota Signatures in US and UK Populations. J Nutr. 2022;152(1):171-182. doi:10.1093/JN/NXAB312

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