brain health, habits, healthy lifestyle, microbiome, nutrition, probiotics, research, weight loss

Probiotic Supplement or Fermented Foods for Weight Loss?

Weight Loss Supplements

pixabay free photosWeight loss using vitamin supplements has gained tremendous speed, especially with the use of beneficial technology, to target three things: reduce appetite, reduce absorption of certain nutrients, and increase the body’s ability to burn more calories.  Can you lose weight using vitamin supplements? Absolutely!

Common, effective supplements are most often those that are derived from food sources like plants and taken from food cultures.  A quick search yields a few of the top rated and effective supplements as Garcinia Cambodia, which is a small fruit, caffeine from coffee and green tea, and Forskolin from a plant in the mint family.

A Forbes article sites that the weight loss supplement HCA is a salt from the rind of dried fruit, Chitosan is a fiber from insects, whey protein from cultured milk, and Beta Glucan is a soluable fiber from yeasts, mushroom, and algae.

Sustainable Weight Loss Source: The Gut

While it is certainly easy to pop a supplement pill to lose weight, there are more factors at play than just the upfront and continued cost of that luxury.  A four year study reveals a very interesting and unique key to sustainable weight loss and the associated obesity that doesn’t require that constant supplementation and pay out: gut health.

Did you know that there is even a scientific term called obese-type gut microbiota that is “revealing a complicated network of contributory factors including genetics, age, diet, and nutritional environment”?

“These studies are shedding new light on the complex interaction between nutrient intake (both quantity and quality), the gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism in regulating susceptibility to metabolic disease and excess body weight gain.”

Can a supplement tackle all of that? Nope, but a cultured, or fermented, food absolutely can because the live, active beneficial bacteria interacts and responds to an individual’s own gut microbiota and its food source as it moves through the digestive system.

Quality Sources

The Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons states in a published study,

“To qualify as a probiotic, certain criteria need to be met: a bacterial strain must be fully identified, be safe for ingestion, adhere to the luminal mucosa, colonize the gut, and possess documented health benefits.

A probiotic should be delivered in a formulation that is stable when stored. The colony number of bacteria and viability need to be reliable and they must survive the acid and bilious environment in the upper GI tract before they reach the small intestine and colon.”

The ancient food preparation and storage method of fermentation has been documented for centuries to meet these qualifications.  Numerous articles cite USDA’s leading microbiologist, Fred Breidt, Jr., saying that fermentation is “‘almost bulletproof,’” when done properly.  “It’s hard to mess it up. Things can go wrong, but it’s rare.”  He goes on to stress that “Just normal fermentation will kill the organisms.”

More dangerous are the articles detailing the safety risks from weight loss supplements not being regulated properly in today’s market-a market that is over $2 billion in revenue.  Both Redbook and Prevention magazines ran press about how there is little being done to make sure they are actually safe for the market.


Why pay an exorbitant amount each month for a lesser quantity that may not even be a live active culture (if it’s not refrigerated, it is not “live”) when there is a plethora of tasty foods that have billions of live active culture plus even more beneficial, weight loss boosting attributes?

fermented foods, probiotics, raw, healthy eatingTake this confirmed and widely published test on a qualified probiotic food: fermented sauerkraut. Nourishing Plot wrote a very informative article on these findings, stating that “sauerkraut topped the charts of probiotics, surpassing that of over-the -counter probiotics purchased.”  Want the numbers?

A “4-6 ounce serving of the fermented vegetables there were literally ten trillion bacteria.” That means 2 ounces of home fermented sauerkraut had more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules. Translated this means one 16 ounce of sauerkraut is equal to 8 bottles of probiotics.”

Unfortunately, while fermented sauerkraut is commercially available, “the probiotic count of store-bought, shelf stable sauerkraut does not compare to home-brewed sauerkraut.”  Nourishing Plot also points out that in addition to the probiotics in sauerkraut, your body will absorb other nutrients from the food source, like:

  • Vitamin A and C, which are anti-inflammatory
  • The process of fermentation changes the cellular structure of the cabbage, releasing more vitamins

There are plenty more studies available confirming the quality and quantity of nutrients in fermented foods.  Nourishing Plot cites other sources in their article that confirm scientific research into the quality and quantity of probiotics and nutrient content of milk kefir, such as:

  • Milk kefir was studied at the U of Florida and found that there are actually “10 billion colony forming units per milliliter is equal to 10 billion CFU per 0.03381 ounces. Since there are roughly 5 milliliters in one measured teaspoon that makes 50 billion colony forming units per teaspoon, 150 billion colony forming units per tablespoon.”
  • “The Huffington Post says, “Kefir is made by fermenting milk with 10 to 20 different types of bacteria and yeasts, where yogurt is usually just fermented with a handful of types; this leads to a higher probiotic count in the final product. Each 175 gram serving of kefir provides about 20 per cent of the daily RDA for calcium”
  • Science Direct says, kefir contains the enzyme that digests lactose. They add, “Kefir is a good source of calcium, potassium and protein. But kefir also contains a wider array of microorganisms than yogurt does.”
  • “The Journal of American Dietetic Association reported a study done at Ohio State University showing kefir may be a viable tool in overcoming lactose intolerance. Their study showed kefir improves lactose digestion as well as lactose tolerance specifically in the 15 tested adults with lactose maldigestion.
  • “Enhancement of the immune system and improved digestive health, particularly with regard to lactose digestion. Breath hydrogen levels were reduced after drinking kefir. Hydrogen in the breath represents gas in the digestive track from pathogenic bacteria.

Nourishing Plot wrote another article discusses the effectiveness of supplements and “food form:”

“A nutritional expert says you can ramp up your cells, encouraging them to detoxify the body and produce enzymes for days upon days at a time. Some show results for 96 plus hours. 

The difference between taking antioxidants in supplement form and food form is remarkable. “Huge difference, absolutely huge!” says Tom Malterre, MS, CN.” 

 She quotes the author again, stating that “One single consumption of a quarter cup of broccoli sprouts is going to ramp up your enzyme capacity for days, not just hours.”  A supplement pill will not provide additional nutrition like a food source will.

Food Based Probiotics 

“Previous studies using traditional biochemical identification methods to study the ecology of commercial sauerkraut fermentations revealed that four species of lactic acid bacteria, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus plantarum, Pediococcus pentosaceus, and Lactobacillus brevis, were the primary microorganisms in these fermentations. In this study, 686 isolates were collected from four commercial fermentations.”

Food based probiotics are often stronger and survive in the intestines longer than commercial strains. Stella Metsovas, a globally recognized clinical nutritionist and media health expert, uses the fermented dish of kimchi as an example:

“Within this one side dish there are 12 strains of Lactobacillus acquired through the fermentation process- and all 12 were “able to survive gastrointestinal conditions simulating stomach and duodenum passage”. Furthermore, these strains had a higher adherence to the gut than a Lactobacillus strain (rhamnosus GG) that’s already being used commercially as a probiotic.

“Kimchi related strains have also been found to combat obesity and improve allergic dermatitis induced by chemicals in mice. It’s basically a super food- and there’s no guarantee a supplemental equivalent would be able to provide as many benefits as one serving of this Korean staple.”

“Survival of probiotic bacteria is dependent on quite a few variables and that includes the “food matrix” that brings it into your stomach in the 1st place.  A tablet form may be less effective, and it’s doubtful that a pill can guarantee the extra benefits that cultured foods bring to the table.”  [1]

In some cases, a probiotic supplement or the food based probiotic are equivalent for weight loss purposes.  A study conducted on subjects who ate probiotic yogurt or low fat yogurt determined “no significant weight loss differences.” However, the probiotic yogurt positively impacted “lipid profiles and insulin sensitivity during a weight loss program.”  These two things are key players in overall health and weight loss!

  • Lipid profiles = need healthy fats, increase dietary fiber, low sugar
  • Insulin sensitivity is how effective the body is as using insulin to reduce elevated blood glucose levels, with a greater efficacy being more ‘sensitivity’ and poorer efficacy being more ‘resistant’. When the body becomes too poor at using insulin to reduce blood glucose levels, type II diabetes ensues.”

In Summary

In the end, the choice is your as to whether you obtain probiotics in supplement form or through a raw, food form that undergoes the traditional preservation process of fermentation.  While there are costs associated with both, the monetary cost and repetitive use required of supplements are greater than the food based source.

Fermented foods provide a greater amount of live active beneficial bacteria as well as additional nutritional benefits that are not available in one source; you’d have to take even more pills.

What are your experiences with weight loss and probiotics in a food-based form or supplements?

Further Reading

Fearless Eating is a great resource; learn more about this topic in his post, Three Reasons You Should Stop Taking Probiotics

Have a question? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!