By Curves

Quick refresher course: probiotics are live organisms—you’re probably most familiar with the active cultures in yogurt—that, when you consume them, may offer health benefits. We’ve long known the value of probiotic foods in maintaining a healthy digestive system, but ongoing research is avidly exploring associations between probiotics and weight loss, diabetes prevention, lower blood pressure, improved immunity, even treatment for depression. You’ll definitely want to stay tuned for news as more studies are conducted, but in the meantime, here are the best dietary ways to tap into probiotics and nurture these beneficial bacteria.

1. Eat yogurt and drink kefir
Probiotics are found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi, but yogurt and kefir (a fermented milk drink, similar to yogurt in flavor) are the richest sources say experts, with kefir offering a greater diversity of probiotics than yogurt. Be sure to check product labels for “Live and Active Cultures.” You may also find a list of the specific strains in that product.

2. Skip probiotic snack bars
Remember, probiotics are living organisms and many of them may not survive being baked in an oven. Be skeptical about snack bars that lure you with their probiotic claims, and snack on a cup of yogurt (or a Curves snack bar) instead.

3. Don’t be fooled by frozen yogurt
Look for the words “Live and Active Cultures” on the container when you are purchasing a pint of frozen yogurt, but know that freezing may significantly reduce the quantity. The National Yogurt Association, which offers a labeling program for regular and frozen yogurts, sets standards of 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture for yogurt and only 10 million for frozen yogurt.

4. Pay attention to expiration dates
The longer yogurt and kefir sit in your refrigerator, the weaker the probiotic cultures become. Enjoy these foods shortly after purchasing and definitely before the expiration date.

5. Feed prebiotics to your probiotics
Prebiotics is simply the scientific term for the stuff that the probiotics in your gut thrive on. By eating foods high in probiotics— fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, beans, asparagus, and artichokes–you help the good bacteria in your gut to flourish. These foods are packed with vitamins and minerals too, so you’ll definitely want to include them in your healthy diet.

By tapping into the power of probiotics now, you just might be ahead of the game as researchers continue to learn how the good bacteria in your gut can benefit your health. At the very least, you’ll enjoy plenty of tasty, good-for-you foods.