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Best probiotic drinks 2021: Help your gut with ‘good’ bacteria

Flora Baker
18 May 2021

Our pick of the best probiotic drinks, from Yakult shots to kefir drinks

Feeling run down? Gurgly stomach? A mad bathroom rush after drinking your morning coffee?

The makers of probiotics drinks claim to be able to help by restoring the balance of natural bacteria in your gut.

Whether taken in the form of fermented drinks such as kefir and kombucha, or daily yoghurt shots with live cultures added, the idea is roughly the same: delivering specific ‘good’ bacteria cultures that are thought to have various health benefits.

There is some research to suggest that probiotics can be beneficial for those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or diarrhoea caused by antibiotics. However, it’s important to note that the wider benefits of probiotics are disputable.

The NHS, for example, points out that there is no evidence to suggest that probiotics can help treat eczema, as some manufacturer’s claim. Probiotics are also classed as food, not medicine, meaning they don’t go through the same rigorous testing or regulation. Although probiotics may help with various problems, they shouldn’t be treated as medicine.

The bacteria in your gut is known to play an important role in overall health, and probiotics are generally thought to be perfectly healthy to take for those with a normal immune system. So while the claims made by probiotic companies should always be treated critically, there’s little risk in trying them for yourself to see whether or not they help with your digestion.

With such a wide range now on the market, we’ve tested the best probiotics that could help improve your digestive health. Scroll on for our quick probiotic guide, or skip to our roundup of the best probiotic drinks available.

Best probiotics: At a glance

  • Best long-term probiotic drink: Symprove | Buy now
  • Best kefir probiotic drink: Biotiful | Buy now
  • Best probiotic drink on a budget: Actimel | Buy now
  • Best daily probiotic drink: Yakult | Buy now
  • Best dairy-free probiotic drink: Biomel | Buy now
  • Best on-the-go probiotic drink: Dare | Buy now

How to choose the best probiotic for you

How do probiotics work?

There are billions of good bacteria living naturally in your gut. Collectively known as your gut microbiome or gut flora, these bacteria are responsible for aiding digestion and metabolism, supporting your immune system, and absorbing nutrients. Basically, they help to regulate your overall health. A myriad of factors can weaken the gut biome, from alcohol and processed food to stress, medication, and a lack of sleep, all of which can hamper nutrient absorption and lead to an inflamed gut lining.

Probiotics use ‘good’ bacteria, similar to what is in your gut flora. Their makers claim that when this bacteria is delivered to your gut, it helps replenish and rebalance the microbiome, which reduces the amount of work your gut goes through and therefore makes you less prone to illness.

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What ingredients should I look for?

Probiotic drinks usually contain a combination of different strains. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces are all genus names of probiotic strains. If you see them – sometimes accompanied by a second word that indicates the strain’s “species” – then you know your product contains probiotics. Most live and active bacteria also need to be kept refrigerated to maintain their effectiveness, so it’s worth reading the labels of all probiotic drinks properly.

Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most common friendly bacteria in probiotics. It lives in your intestine and helps produce lactic acid by breaking down the lactose in your body. It might also appear on labels as L. acidophilus or acidophilus, and other strains include casei, plantarum and rhamnosus.

Bifidobacterium lives in your stomach and intestine, and helps with digestion and staving off harmful bacteria. You may see it written as Bifidobacterium bifidus or simply bifidus.

– Although considered a probiotic, Saccharomyces isn’t a type of bacteria – it’s actually a kind of yeast, and is most commonly known for treating and preventing diarrhea. Other names might be Saccharomyces boulardii or S. boulardii.

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The best probiotics to buy (in 2021)

1. Symprove Daily Food Supplement: Best long-term probiotic drink

Price: £79 for four 500ml bottles | Buy now from Symprove

If you suffer from IBS or significant digestive issues, you may have heard of Symprove. Because it’s a water-based supplement, Symprove won’t trigger digestion: instead, the brand claims it allows four strains of live bacteria to survive their journey through the stomach’s acidic environment where they can get to work on the gut. Symprove is designed as a 12-week programme to allow your body to adjust, and its makers claim that when a 70ml dose is taken daily, more than ten billion live bacteria will continually work to nourish the bacteria already present in your gut microbiome.

Symprove has a thin, easy-to-drink consistency, and it comes in two varieties of Original or Mango & Passionfruit. Unfortunately, the latter flavour won’t completely mask the supplement’s sour, acidic taste, which can take some getting used to first thing in the morning – especially as you’re told to wait ten minutes before eating or drinking. Luckily, the aftertaste fades pretty quickly, and we found that after a few days of taking Symprove it became much more bearable.

It’s not a cheap option – the recommended 12-week course is £158 – so some customers suggest trialing Symprove for a month (£79 for four bottles) to see what difference you feel. Symprove is also vegan friendly as it’s both dairy- and gluten-free.

Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus rhamnosus; Enterococcus faecium; Lactobacillus acidophilus; Lactobacillus plantarum; Type: water-based; Size: 500ml bottle

2. Bio-tiful Kefir Shot Original: Best kefir probiotic

Price: £3 for four 100ml bottles | Buy now from Amazon

Kefir is really popular at the moment, and Bio-tiful Dairy has nailed a delicious recipe for this fermented milk product that’s packed with probiotics. Kefir is made using live kefir grains, a type of gelatinous-looking organism which, when added to milk, break down the lactose sugars and ferment the milk (also imbuing it with billions of live cultures in the process). The low lactose content of kefir makes it a great option for those with mild lactose intolerances.

Bio-tiful’s kefir shots have a light, creamy taste and thick consistency that’s smooth to drink, but it can be a little sour if you’ve never tried kefir before. Bio-tiful Dairy has a massive range of flavours, not to mention formats: yoghurt pots, daily shots, ice cream and slurpy packets that are perfect for kids’ lunchboxes. We particularly like the honey and ginger kefir yoghurt, which has a lovely hint of spice, but the raspberry and pomegranate yoghurt is delicious too.

An added bonus of Bio-tiful Dairy products is their versatility: you can use them in tons of recipes as a cream or yoghurt alternative, and they’re particularly good in soups, smoothies and desserts.

Key features – Active ingredients: live kefir cultures; Type: pasteurised & fermented cow’s milk; Size: 100ml bottle

3. Actimel Yoghurt Drink: Best probiotic drink on a budget

Price: £3 for eight 100ml bottles | Buy now from Tesco

Actimel is a fridge staple around the country, and is well known for providing you with a tasty daily shot of yoghurty goodness. These little plastic bottles of cultured yoghurt come in a variety of flavours – everything from vanilla and coconut to a mix of mango, goji berry and turmeric – and each shot contains more than ten billion Lactobacillus casei cultures along with vitamin B6 and vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth.

We love the classic strawberry flavour, which tastes creamy and sweet, and also makes an appearance in Actimel’s 0% fat range. There’s a dairy-free range too, with a whole host of alternative flavours in plant-based form: choose from Almond Blueberry and Almond Mango & Passionfruit (as you may have guessed, this range uses almond milk instead of dairy).

Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus casei; Type: yoghurt drink; Size: 100g bottle

Buy now from Tesco

4. Yakult Fermented Milk Drink: Best daily probiotic drink

Price: £3 for seven 65ml bottles | Buy now from Tesco

Many of us may not know the difference between Yakult and Actimel, but it’s down to the specific “friendly bacteria” they contain. Yakult, which hails from Japan, is a fermented milk drink developed in the 1930s by Minoru Shirota, who then gave his name to the specific bacteria strain found in Yakult: L. casei Shirota. As well as the promised health benefits, this bacteria helps to give the drink its sweet, tangy, somewhat fruity flavour.

We’ve found Yakult to be something of an acquired taste, but it’s undoubtedly a hit for those with a sweet tooth. The sugar-free version, Yakult Light, has 67% less sugar than Yakult Original and is easily identifiable by its blue foil label instead of red. Rather wonderfully, Yakult refuses to change the size of its bottles from the tiny 65ml variety, so you always know what you’re getting.

Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus casei Shirota; Type: fermented skimmed milk drink; Size: 65ml bottle

Buy now from Tesco

5. Biomel Probiotic Belgian Dark Chocolate Shot: Best dairy-free probiotic drink

Price: £2 per bottle | Buy now from Planet Organic

If dairy gives you digestive problems, or you avoid it as a vegan, Biomel’s plant-based probiotic drinks are an absolute dream. Made with coconut milk, Biomel has four flavours that taste as decadent as they sound: we love the Belgian Dark Chocolate, which is like drinking a slightly nutty chocolate milkshake, but the Pure Vanilla, Natural Coconut, and the Almond Salted Caramel, made with almond milk, are equally creamy too. The consistency is quite thin, as you might expect from a coconut-milk-based product (not to be confused with coconut cream from a can).

Each of the chunky little shot bottles counts as one 125ml serving and contains billions of Lactobacillus cultures, as well as B6 and D vitamins and added calcium too. The lack of stomach irritants such as lactose and gluten makes them a great choice for allergy sufferers.

Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus plantarum; Bifidobacterium bifidum; Type: coconut milk drink; Size: 125ml bottle

Buy now from Planet Organic

6. Dare Motivational Shake: Best on-the-go probiotic

Price: £27 per pack | Buy now from Dare

If drinking a probiotic first thing in the morning isn’t your style, an on-the-go shake might be the perfect alternative to getting your daily probiotics. Dare is a plant-based protein powder invented by Ben Hamida, an A&E doctor who needed a meal alternative while on busy hospital shifts.

As it’s a powder, Dare doesn’t have to be kept refrigerated: simply add two scoops to 300ml water or milk and shake or blend to get the desired creamy consistency. Dare has three dessert-like flavours: Cocoa Vanilla Frosting, Cocoa & Peanut Butter, and Cocoa & Jaffa Orange. As you’d imagine, the taste is pretty chocolatey across the board – in fact, we found Dare to be quite sweet with the recommended two scoops, so give it a taste test until you find a balance that works for you.

Each 50g serving of Dare contains all the micronutrients you need for the day, including 20g of plant-based proteins along with tons of slow-burning complex carbs from pumpkin, sunflower, flaxseeds and nuts. Perhaps crucially for a shake, the texture isn’t at all gritty or chalky but smooth and easy to drink, due to its plant proteins instead of proteins from rice or pea. There are 15 servings in one pack, making it just £1.80 a serving.

Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus acidophilus; Type: powder added to water or milk; Size: 750g pack

Buy now from Dare

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