What the Science Says
Recently a team of medical scientists from UNC Chapel Hill found several benefits for kids who consumed a yogurt drink containing several key prebiotics and probiotics, including Inulin, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium lactis (BB12).
For 3 months, 76 kids drink the yogurt drink every day, and 73 other kids drank a placebo drink. Kids who drank yogurt drink showed several advantages. First, they showed reduced days of sickness and reported fever. Second, they showed improved social functioning: they got along better with other kids, were less likely to be teased, were more confident in their abilities, and were better able to keep up with other kids. Finally, they also showed improved school functioning: it was easier to pay attention in class, keep up with school work, and they were less likely to forget things and miss school. This is in addition to all the benefits that have been reported in previous studies, like reduced obesity, gut health, reduced eczema, reduced colic, etc. The authors did find one little possible drawback of probiotic consumption: the kids tended to poop more often, and the poop was sometimes loose (is 'poop' the technical term?).
Overall, the authors found improved health, social functioning, and school quality of life for kids who consumed the yogurt drink. The one side effect seemed to be more frequent pooping. This paper was published in the highly ranked Journal of Pediatrics.
Getting your Kids to Consume Probiotics
As parents, we can deal with our kids pooping more than once every couple days, and we've never actually noted any increased frequency of bowel movements with probiotic consumption (but that's just our experience).
Sometimes getting kids to consume probiotics regularly is difficult. Of course, not all kids like yogurt, some kids have allergies to dairy products, and not all parents want to bother with refrigerating and ice-packing yogurts for lunch.
Fortunately there are other more convenient options that offer excellent probiotic content. Outside of simply eating yogurt, there are two primary ways to get probiotics into your kid's diet: supplements and yogurt drinks (scroll down to see the yogurt drinks section).
Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplements. There are several excellent supplements available online, in several different forms. There are the traditional capsules (pills) that kids can swallow or you can pull open and empty the powder into a drink. Even better are the tiny pearls made by Hyperbiotics in their PRO-Kids supplement, or the gummies made by Rainbow Light in their Probiolicious supplement. You can also buy the powder itself so you don't need to mess with the capsules. The powder is nearly flavorless and odorless, so you can readily mix it into anything you'd like. We've put it into drinks (smoothies, juices, milk), desserts (homemade popsicles), and even foods (mac 'n cheese, oatmeal). We tested 7 different probiotic supplements, and here are our best 2 options:
1. Hyperbiotics PRO-Kids Supplement, Time-release Pearls. These are an awesome, great-tasting, all-natural, tiny pill-based supplement that kids can bite and swallow. The pills themselves (called "pearls") are about the size of a green pea. Hyperbiotics has developed a patented preparation technique that time-releases the prebiotics and probiotics to prevent stomach acid from destroying them before reaching lower areas of the GI tract. They claim that this technique increases the body's absorption by about 15 times what you get with a traditional capsule. These are all natural, no GMOs, vegetarian, lactose free, no nuts, no soy, no sugar, and nothing artificial. They also do not need to be refrigerated, but should be used within 1-2 months of opening. Each pearl contains 25mg of prebiotic FOS, and 3 billion CFU (colony forming units) of probiotics (including L plantarum, L acidophilus, B infantis, and B lactis). In our tests with a 4 and 6 year old, the 4 year old seemed to bite it once then swallow, and the 6 year old ended up swallowing it without biting. Neither complained about taste, and the 4 year old said it tasted sweet. These are awesome little pearls that pack a probiotic punch, highly recommended! The only con is that they are a bit pricey. A bottle contains 60 pearls, and the best price we could find was about 33 cents per pearl online.
2. Rainbow Light Probiolicious Gummies, Natural Berry Flavor. Here is another awesome option for kids who won't swallow large capsules or parents who don't want to spend time mixing powders into drinks and foods. These little gummy chews are great tasting and kids love them; we tested them on our 4 and 6 year olds and they were always asking for more. Great tasting and less than 1 gram of sugar to get that flavor. All natural just like the PRO-Kids, with nothing artificial and no common allergens (nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, fish, shellfish). Each gummy chew contains 500 million CFU of probiotics (L sporogenes) along with prebiotics inulin and FOS to aid in absorption. As you've probably noticed, that CFU level is much lower than what you get from the PRO-Kids pearls. Another con is that these need to be stored at room temperature or colder; if you're getting them shipped to a hot area of the country (Arizona, Florida, etc), you may arrive with a melted glob of gummy mess. That's rare, but it happens. We live in Massachusetts so our shipment was just fine. These are also a bit less expensive than the PRO-Kids pearls, coming in at about 25 cents per gummy chew.
3. Garden of Life RAW Organic Kids Probiotic. If you're interested in a powder instead of the pearls or gummies, in our opinion this is the best powder on the market. It really packs a punch, delivering over 5 billion CFU of probiotic in a day's serving (3/4 teaspoon), along with prebiotic inulin to aid absorption. It is all organic, and contains a great blend of organic fruits and veggies as an added bonus. Each serving is 1.6 grams, so this tops our price list at about 35 cents per serving. In our testing, we found that this powder did a great job of mixing in with a variety of drinks (juice, milk), and didn't leave as much residue on the bottom of the cup as some other powdered options. As a con, however, it of course requires more work on behalf of parents since it's a powder you need to mix into something on a daily basis. It also contains a lot of fruit and veggies and inulin, rather than prioritizing the probiotics themselves; in other words, the serving could have been much smaller if they removed these other ingredients. Overall, this is a great powder that we believe is a bit better (in terms of content and dissolving action) than the other two powders we tried (Culturelle packets and Nature's Way).
Yogurt Drinks not Requiring Refrigeration. You can't beat the probiotic content of a cup of yogurt, which can contain hundreds of billions CFU in a single serving. There are several delicious and all-natural (some organic as well) yogurt drinks available on the market. Unlike the pearls or gummy supplements, most yogurt drinks do not disclose the actual quantities of prebiotics or probiotics, so there is some guesswork involved. But if you're worried that your kid won't like the supplements, or need something a bit less time consuming (especially versus the powders) as a parent, then the yogurt drinks are certainly a great option.
1. Kabrita Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit Pouches. These are delicious and come in three different flavors: mixed berry, banana & vanilla bean, and mango peach. They are non-GMO, all natural, and contain no preservatives. You do not need to refrigerate for storage. Once you open a pouch, you need to refrigerate and consume within 24 hours. Goat milk yogurt is a great source of probiotics, and these pouches taste delicious. We tried out a 12 pack from Amazon and our kids devoured them within a week. That can get a little costly, especially relative to typical yogurt form the grocery store. But needless to say the kids loved them. We were a little nervous to try something made with goat milk, but honestly did not taste any difference between these and cow's milk yogurt drinks. We thought the pouches were very easy to use (our kids could open them on their own without issue), and they contained enough drink (4 oz each) to serve as a healthy little snack. Speaking of healthy, they only contain 12 grams of sugar, and pack some protein, fiber, and vitamins. We found these online for about $1.20 per pouch when you buy in quantity.
2. Earth's Best Organic Fruit Yogurt Smoothies. Here is another, more conventional, yogurt smoothie option. It is delicious and sweet, and comes in 7 different flavor options to spice up your life a bit and satisfy those picky eaters. It has less of the tanginess of yogurt, likely because yogurt is the third ingredient, after fruit and water as primary ingredients. So likely not as many probiotics hiding in this one as in the Kabrita. Like the Kabrita pouches, it is about 4 oz of healthy snack (with an easy to open cap), but it also has a bit more sugar and a bit less protein. It also doesn't need to be refrigerated unless opened, and must be consumed within 24 hours of opening. Unlike the Kabrita, this option uses cow's milk instead of goat's milk for the yogurt. It is fully organic and contains nothing artificial and no preservatives. It is a great option, and a bit cheaper than the Kabrita option - we found it online for about $1.50 per pouch.