Probiotics have been a hot topic for a while. You might be wondering if your kid needs probiotics and how to even get probiotic foods into your kids.
Getting kids to consume enough probiotic foods can be tough, especially with a picky eater. If you struggle with a picky eater at home, be sure to download my free picky eating workbook to help increase variety and lessen mealtime stress.
In this post, I’ll be covering everything you need to know about probiotic foods for kids, the research that supports the use of probiotics in children, and when they might benefit from them.
*Some links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click a link and make a purchase I earn a small commission at no cost to you.
Table of Contents
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms found in supplements or food that maintain or improve the “good” bacteria in the microbiome (the gut). The microbiome is made up of “good” and “bad” bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites.
Each person’s microbiome is individualized to them depending on their diet, lifestyle, and environment. A healthy microbiome has a diverse range of organisms.
Probiotics are the “good guys.” They help limit the bad bacteria and help with digestion and our immune system.
When there is an imbalance or reduced bacterial diversity in the gut, issues may arise. Common issues are colic, IBS, constipation and diarrhea, and other diseases such as allergies in children.
What Are The Best Types Of Probiotics For Kids?
There are many types of probiotics, however, not all have been thoroughly researched. The two most commonly studied probiotics are bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, these are the ones typically recommended for kids.
Bifidobacteria and lactobacillus are the most common probiotics in food and supplements targeted to support the immune system. It has been studied for its ability to reduce gastrointestinal infections, and improve diarrhea and constipation.
Lactobacillus is naturally found in the mouth and digestive tract. It helps break down food, absorb nutrients, and fight off “bad” organisms that may cause diseases.
They are often abbreviated with B. or L. and then combined with the species name, which is how it will appear on food labels or in supplements.
The most common species of probiotics that you’ll find on foods and supplement labels are:
- B. animalis
- B. breve
- B. lactis
- B. longum
- L. acidophilus
- L. reuteri
Best Probiotic Foods For Kids
Probiotics are typically found in fermented foods, but there is not a ton that most kids are willing to eat.
The best probiotic foods for kids are:
- Some types of cheese
While there are more foods that contain probiotics, in my (over 12 years) experience working with kids in my private practice, those are the ones they are most likely to consume. I’ll dive into each one below.
Kids Probiotic Yogurt
Many types of yogurts contain probiotics. Make sure it states on the packaging that it has “live cultures”. When the package states “live cultures” it means that there are active probiotic strains in the yogurt.
For most kids I’ve worked with (my own included) yogurt (as well as cheese and kefir) is the best probiotic food because it is the most likely to be consumed.
I love the idea of sauerkraut and kimchi for my kids, but those are not familiar foods to them. It’s a great goal, but not going to be a good probiotic source for them right now.
My kids are huge fans of yogurt, as are many of the clients I’ve worked with, so I know that I can get some probiotics in them from yogurt.
When I’m looking for a good probiotic yogurt for kids, I look for active cultures on the label, as well as the total added sugar content. If I’m buying flavored yogurt, I aim for 6-7g of added sugar or less per cup/tube/drinkable.
I also prefer full-fat sources over low-fat yogurts when possible because they are more satiating (they keep kids full longer.)
My Top 5 Favorite Probiotic Yogurts For Kids:
- Siggi’s Brand*: they carry a variety of yogurt types including lower sugar versions, low fat, full fat, triple cream, and plant-based yogurts. They all have live active cultures. They also carry yogurt in cups, pouch form, and drinkable form.
- Fage: they also carry a variety of yogurt types including a lactose-free version, low fat, full fat, and many different flavors. Be mindful of which you pick for added sugar.
- Stonyfield Organic: they make a specific “probiotic” yogurt which you can get plain without added sugar or a few other flavors. However, their other products contain active cultures as well. The kids’ drinkable yogurts have 6g of added sugar per drink and is a favorite of my daughter.
- Chobani Less Sugar: I like the less sugar version because it comes in flavors kids still love (without artificial sweeteners). There is about 5g of added sugar per cup and they contain live active cultures. If you want no added sugar, you can get the plain version.
- Forager Project*: this is a plant-based cashew milk yogurt with live active cultures, perfect if you are dairy-free, vegan, or just prefer nondairy. The plain is unsweetened and they have a lightly sweetened version with 7g of added sugar per serving. Unfortunately, many of the plant-based yogurts seem to contain more added sugar in flavored versions.
*Plant-based yogurts with live active cultures
Kefir For Kids
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk. This is often accepted by kids who like yogurt.
You can get it flavored or unflavored. If possible when buying kefir, I recommend the plain version, since it doesn’t contain any added sugar. But, most kids I’ve worked with prefer the flavored types (the plain is pretty tart.)
You can jazz up plain kefir by making a kefir smoothie. I love banana strawberry kefir smoothies (bananas add a lot of sweetness). You can make it by adding frozen strawberries and bananas to plain kefir and blending. Super quick and easy.
If you are looking for a kid-friendly flavored kefir my favorite is Lifeway Probugs. They make kid-friendly kefir pouches in several flavors and they contain 6 g of added sugar per pouch.
Kefir For Babies
Once you start your baby on solids, around 6 months, you can introduce dairy, which is a top allergen. Kefir can be given just like you would give yogurt, but it should never replace breastmilk or formula as a drink.
Yakult For Kids
Yakult is a probiotic drink (not yogurt or kefir, but a similar concept.) It is not specifically marketed toward kids, however, over the years in my private practice it has come up a lot. I noticed a lot of my Hispanic clients drinking this frequently.
I am not a big fan of Yakult for kids. It’s not that it is “bad” or dangerous, but there are better options to try. Here are a few reasons why I don’t recommend Yakult for kids.
- It’s high in sugar
- There is no fat
- Low in calories
- Only 1 g protein
None of the above are ideal for kids.
The bottle is only 80 ml (just under 3 oz) and there are 9 grams of added sugar (sugar is the second ingredient), there are zero grams of fat, and only 1 gram of protein. This isn’t going to be very filling for your child so they are going to be hungry pretty quickly.
When giving a dairy/dairy alternative snack like yogurt to kids I like to aim for low in added sugar (under 6-7 g) and at least a few grams each of fat and protein for satiety.
While most cheeses are fermented, not all contain live cultures. The following cheeses are the most common types that may contain live cultures (you should check the package for “contains live active cultures.”)
- Cottage cheese
Some pickles are fermented in salt and water which provide live active cultures. Not all pickles contain active cultures so be sure to read the label.
A few brands that sell probiotic pickles:
Other Probiotic Foods For Kids
Yogurt, kefir, cheese, and pickles are the more commonly consumed probiotic foods for kids, but there are a few other great probiotic-rich foods.
If these are foods you often make for your family, are part of your cultural dishes or foods you would like to start introducing, that is awesome!
Probiotics in Breast Milk
We cant talk about probiotic foods for kids without addressing breastmilk. Breastmilk is OG of probiotic sources. Not only does it provide the nutrients your baby needs to thrive it also contains a mixture of both probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (the food the good bacteria need.)
Breastfeeding your baby is one key way you can strengthen their gut from the start. There is also emerging evidence that the probiotic strain B. infantis given to breastfed infants may protect their gut for up to a year after.
If breastfeeding your baby isn’t an option, some infant formulas are fortified with probiotics and prebiotics. You can discuss formula options with your doctor or a pediatric dietitian if you need extra help.
When Do Kids Need A Probiotic?
While I always encourage parents to focus on probiotic foods for kids first, there are times when a probiotic supplement may be a good idea.
Probiotics are part of ongoing research in many areas. They are generally considered safe for all kids, but there are some conditions when taking a probiotic supplement has additional benefits.
If your child has one of the following, they may benefit from taking a probiotic:
- Infant colic
- Functional abdominal pain and IBS
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Respiratory tract infections
I am going to get a little sciencey now and review some of the research on each of the above conditions.
Strain to look for: L. reuteri
An estimated 20% of infants (1) experience colic and growing evidence has shown that these infants have a differing microbiome (gut) than infants who do not have colic.
Research (2,3) shows that using a probiotic that contains L. reuteri is associated with significantly decreased crying time and perceived colic severity. There is an overall positive effect on alleviating the symptoms of colic.
Functional Abdominal Pain and IBS
Strains to look for: L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus GG
In a meta-analysis (4)of published randomized controlled trials, L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus GG had a positive effect in decreasing the duration and pain intensity for IBS and abdominal pain in children.
Strains to look for: lactobacilli and bifidobacteria
According to the National Institute of Health (5), approximately one in every 20 visits a child makes to the doctor is due to constipation. Additionally, more than 90% of kids who suffer from constipation have no underlying cause found.
Emerging research (6) is showing that probiotics may have a beneficial effect in increasing stool frequency. Both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria promote colonic peristalsis (movement) which helps kids poop.
If your child struggles with constipation in addition to a probiotic, you might find this blog post on natural remedies for constipation in kids helpful.
Acute Gastroenteritis and Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (ADD)
Strains to look for: L. rhamnosus GG and L. boulardii
In a Review (7) of 11 randomized controlled trials, L. rhamnosus GG reduced the duration of diarrhea by an average of 27 hours in children suffering from acute gastroenteritis (temporary inflammation of the intestines).
L. rhamnosus GG also decreased the risk of ADD from 23% to 9.6%. Another strain, L. boulardii also significantly reduced the duration of diarrhea from 20.9% to 8.8%.
Respiratory Tract Infections
L. rhamnosus GG
Respiratory infections are common in children. Kids in daycare have 2-3 times more infections than children who stay at home. Probiotics are being researched as a way to reduce respiratory infections/duration.
Research (8) has shown that L. rhamnosus GG reduces the incidence of respiratory tract infections in children.
Best Probiotic Supplement For Kids & Babies
In general, it is always best for kids to get probiotics from food sources. However, sometimes taking an additional supplement may be beneficial. Here are a few that are easy to find and safe:
Probiotics for Babies:
- Biogaia (drops)
- L. reuteri
- Culturelle Baby Grow & Thrive (drops)
- L. rhamnosus GG
- Gerber Good Start Soothe (drops)-baby
- L. reuteri
- Evivo (powder) For breastfed infants
- B. infantis
Probiotics for toddlers & kids
- Culturelle Kids (powder & chewable)
- L. rhamnosus GG
- Florastor Kids (powder)
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
- Renew Life Kids (chewable)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus plantarum.
- Now Foods BerryDophilus Kids (chewable)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, plantarum, rhamnosus, paracasei, salivarius, casei. Bifidobacterium lactis, longum, breve. Streptococcus thermophilus.
- Digestive Advantage Kids (gummy)
- Bacillus coagulans
- Pedia-Lax Probiotic Yums (chewable)
- L. reuteri
- Garden of Life Raw Probiotics kids (chewable)
- 9 Lactobacillus strains (including L. rhamnosus) & 5 Bifidobacterium strains
Probiotic Side Effects In Kids
Overall, taking probiotics won’t cause any dangerous side effects. However, your child could experience some minor discomforts with high volumes including abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gas.
Can A Child Overdose On Probiotics?
It is unlikely that a child would overdose on probiotic-rich foods, though they could experience side effects like gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort.
If providing your child a probiotic supplement, be sure to keep the bottle out of reach so they can’t take more than the recommended dose.
When Should A Child Not Take Probiotics?
Probiotics are considered safe for most kids, however, if a child has a compromised immune system or cancer, probiotics may cause harm. Additionally, premature infants should not take probiotic supplements.
It is always best to talk with your child’s pediatrician before starting any supplement, including a probiotic.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics For Kids
Many people confuse probiotics and prebiotics, but they are actually two separate things with different (important) roles.
Probiotics and prebiotics work together to keep your gut healthy.
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates/fibers (your body doesn’t break them down). They are the food for the probiotics (good bacteria) in your gut.
Probiotics are live microorganisms and they need prebiotics to survive so they can reproduce.
More probiotics in the gut is a good thing, it keeps your gut healthy. The more probiotics you have, the easier it is for them to get rid of the bad bacteria that might enter your gut.
You can think of probiotics as the seed you plant and prebiotics as the water that helps them grow.
Prebiotic Foods For Kids
While there are not a ton of probiotic-rich foods kids naturally like, there are more prebiotic-rich foods kids typically eat. Here are a few:
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in the gut and are important for a healthy body. When the good bacteria get low, it can lead to an increase in bad bacteria, which can cause problems.
There are several probiotic foods for kids that can help maintain a healthy gut. Some of the most common include yogurt, kefir, some cheeses, and some types of pickles. It’s important to look at the food label and make sure it notes that the product contains “live active cultures.”
Sometimes, a probiotic supplement may be beneficial. Particularly in babies who have colic, kids with constipation, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, functional abdominal pain or IBS, and upper respiratory infections. Be sure to look for the best strain for the condition your child has.
Probiotic supplements are generally safe for kids but always talk with your child’s pediatrician first. Additionally, seeking help from a pediatric dietitian may be beneficial to improving your child’s overall diet intake and finding the best supplement for your child.
Having an overall healthy balanced diet and lifestyle is important for a healthy gut and body.
Prebiotics are the food that probiotics eat. You can provide foods like apples, bananas, watermelon, oats, asparagus, and flaxseeds to your kids because these contain prebiotics.
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