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Fermentation Friday: Probiotic Pills vs Fermented Food

Probiotic Pills vs Fermented Food

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A question I hear frequently is “What is the best probiotic out there?”  The person asking is always referring to a pill.  But is a pill really the best option?  Aside from costing a small fortune every month, especially for a family of 6, are pills any better than eating a good fermented food?

Lactic Acid Bacteria Content

How many LAB’s in a pill is easy to find, just look on the label.  But it’s difficult to find good information on exactly how many LAB’s are in a fermented food since it’s such a subjective topic. What vegetable are we talking about, how fresh was it when it was fermented, was a starter culture used, what was the temp, was an anaerobic vessel used?  I’d love to send my ferments in to see how they stack up but the costs behind that are prohibitive for just a curious blogger.

I’ve seen numbers as low as 1-1.5 billion per 25 gms (.9 oz) serving of sauerkraut [1] to vegetables started with a probiotic starter culture having 10 trillion [2].  Trillion.  Yup, I said trillion.  Dr. Mercola had some of his fermented veggies tested and the results were astounding.

Pills on the other hand typically contain between 50 million-10 billion bacteria units per pill.  10 trillion would be more than a whole bottle of probiotic pills.

Diversity of LAB’s in Fermented Food

Most pills contain just a few strains of LAB’s.  Some of the more expensive brands contain multiple strains but I have yet to see a pill have as many strains as milk kefir.  Fermented foods contain a much more diverse population of LAB’s.  Most people are familiar with acidophilus and bifidobacterium but there are so many other strains that are important for gut health.  Milk kefir can have up to 27 or more different strains of bacteria and many different strains of beneficial yeasts.  A list of commonly found bacteria and yeast in milk kefir can be found here

Kombucha contains different bacteria and yeast as well.  Each SCOBY is different because kombucha is a truly wild ferment since it is open air but a list of commonly found yeast and bacteria can be found here:

Fermented vegetables contain soil based bacteria not found in cultured dairy products so mixing things up is always good.  Eat yogurt for breakfast, have sauerkraut with lunch and drink kombucha with dinner.  Just an example of some of the bacteria involved in fermenting vegetables include (from The Liberated Kitchen[3]).

  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Lb. plantarum
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides
  • Pediococcus acidilactici
  • Ped. pentosaceus

Nutritional Content

Not only do fermented foods contain more LAB’s and different strains but they also are full of nutrients.  The fermentation process actually predigests the foods making the food more digestible and the nutrients in the food more bioavailable.  Some vitamins are actually created in the fermentation process like B vitamins.  The vitamin C in sauerkraut is 20 times higher than in fresh cabbage:

“This is because in the fresh cabbage, vitamin C is bound in the cellulose structure and various other molecules, and our digestive system is just not able to cleave it off and absorb it. Lots of it goes undigested and come out right out of you. So despite the fact that cabbage may be very rich in vitamin C, a lot of it you will not be able to absorb. But if you fermented that cabbage and made sauerkraut, all the vitamin C becomes bioavailable,” she  (Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride) explains. [2]

Does bacteria make it through the stomach to the intestines anyway?

This is one argument I’ve heard in favor of a pill.  They claim the pill’s casing should make it to the intestine protecting the bacteria through the stomach.  But is that really necessary.  Lactic acid bacteria thrive in acidic environments.  Also when eaten with a food or in a beverage, the food or liquid itself protects the LAB’s considerably.  While not each and every little bit of bacteria make it to the intestines, most do just fine.


So my conclusion?  Save your money and get fermenting.  Not only is it cheaper but you get more probiotics and more nutrition.  If you are unsure where to start, I highly suggest purchasing Lisa Herndon’s book “Lisa’s Counter Culture” or for some great in depth instruction, check out this lactofermentation e-course from KerryAnn of with many videos and more videos added frequently.

I’m not sure if Dr. Mercola uses an anaerobic system for his ferments but we do know that a good anaerobic envirnoment is better for lactic acid bacteria and should create more of these wonderful buggies.  Kind of makes me excited about how awesome my ferments probably are.




This Week in Fermentation

This recipe for Pineapple Chutney from Lisa of Lisa’s Counter Culture looks amazing!  I bet it would taste great on pork chops.  Ooh, now I’m salivating.  Pretend you are in Hawaii Pineapple Chutney.

Patty from Loving Our Guts shares how she makes sauerkraut: Crispy Crunchy Sauerkraut.  This is how I make my sauerkraut now.  She is also doing this interesting yogurt experiment: The Great Yogurt Experiment.  I’ve noticed when I do my milk kefir in a fido without an airlock, it has a less than desirable taste similar to what Patty experiences with yogurt.

Kefir Rolls Ups from Divine Health

And Lydia from Divine Health From the Inside Out has a recipe for Kefir Fruit Leather.  I think this would be an awesome way to get some probiotic goodness in some of my more ferment resistant kids.  She is also launching an online course that sounds amazing!  Why is Your Gut Making You Sick and What To Do About It?  It runs from November 7th through December 12th.  You’ll not want to miss this!

Part of GAPS Friendly Friday, Fight Back Friday

Lacto-Fermentation Class

**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

16 comments to Fermentation Friday: Probiotic Pills vs Fermented Food

  • Michèle Power

    What are anaerobic vessels? I am in UK and just make water kefir at the moment in Kilner Jars. I have had two bottles of kefir explode during second fermentation so my husband is getting rather nervous. I love getting the fizz though. I use ikea flip top bottles for that. I am keen to start fermenting veg but not sure what I should be using.

    • Melanie

      Hi Michele! I use Pickl-it jars myself and find them to be the best by far. I know shipping to the UK is spendy so they do sell just the lid kits overseas. The lids are interchangeable with Fido jars that I believe you should be able to find over there.
      I understand your husband’s hesitation with the second ferment. I’ve had my fair share of bottles explode (and the multi-colored ceiling to prove it). I try to keep mine in a cardboard box or cupboard to contain any explosions now.

  • I have been thinking how this article is needed! Thank you for providing it. Lovely to meet you. Blessings and support, Amy

  • Mercola’s fermented vegetables are an outgrowth of the work of Caroline Barringer and Jennifer Petcot at

    That 10 trillion CFU count came from Caroline and Jennifer’s ferments.

  • Kristen

    Nice, I’ve been thinking about that too, so glad that you posted this Melanie! :oD

  • wendy

    Can I use a probiotic capsule, containing multiple strains of bacteria as a veg/kefir starter?

  • Gina Love 17

    I have been taking the Lady Soma Probiotics for about 1 year now and I can’t belive the difference it makes in my digestive health! My OB/GYM reccomended Lady Soma. I have had stomach/instestinal problems my whole life and I have diagnosed with IBS. since taking the probiotics I have seen alot of improvement.

  • […] PickleMeToo… A blogger’s view […]

  • Hi-

    Your site is extremely helpful to us. We are producers of raw fermented krauts and other foods, but were not aware of the necessity of fermenting the kraut for 4 weeks instead of 2. We plan to go forward with the longer ferment.

    However, I am seeing an opposite view on the benefits of the probiotics in kraut versus probiotic pills. I have seen in at least one site that many of the pills do NOT survive the small intestine and subsequently do not populate the large intestine. One reference can be found at from the Body Ecology site. And the naturally fermented foods DO survive the small intestine and are present in the large intestine. I would be interested if you have any further insight on this.

    Thanks so much for your research.


  • […] the preliminary reading I have been doing though: An Interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride Fermentation Friday: Probiotic Pills vs Fermented Food – Pickle Me Too 4 Reasons Why Fermented Foods Are Better Than Taking Supplements | Extreme Health Radio – Your […]

  • can I open a capsule of probiotics and add it to fermenting veggies?

  • […] why I recommend actual fermented foods over probiotic supps: Fermentation Friday: Probiotic Pills vs Fermented Food – Pickle Me Too An Interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride […]

  • Max Stam

    A few weeks ago I pickled Jerusalem Artichokes because they contain, inulin a prebiotic. My idea was to combine probiotic and prebiotic in the same food. Just sliced as thin as I could with salt and a little water.

    I love the result. They taste different to cooked or raw Artichokes and they did not produce the huge flatulence that they normally do. (My kids call em “Fartichokes”)

  • It’s a wonderful and also beneficial little bit of info. Now i’m fulfilled that you simply distributed this convenient information around. Make sure you continue being us all up-to-date like that. Appreciation for expressing.

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