18/03/2016 12:21 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Beyond Yoghurt: Everything You Need to Know About Probiotics

If you, like many readers of us, are working on improving your gut health or just want to give your immune system a helping hand in this cold weather then it's likely that probiotics are already on your radar. Hugely beneficial to our health, we often read about probiotics for all sorts of gut problems. And with more brands on the market than ever before, probiotics are no longer confined to health food stores: you can buy it in the form of tablets, yoghurt drinks, chocolate and even chewing gum! Yet while more of us than ever are buying them, we're not as clued up on them as we think, meaning we're often wasting our money on pointless products or even worse- damaging our fragile bacterial balance. Read up on my guide to everything you need to know about probiotics.........

1. Ditch the yoghurt drinks now! Actimel. Activia. Call them what you want but these yoghurt drinks are act-ually pointless since they do zero for your gut health and a lot for your sugar intake. Rammed with added sugar, these drinks have been proven not to contain any beneficial probiotics. Not to mention many of us with gut problems, find that dairy exacerbates the problem. If you are ok with dairy, switch to natural organic yoghurt or better yet check out non-dairy food based products (see below)

2. Eat natural based food sources of probiotics before considering supplements. These are easily digested, pack nutritional benefits and can be consumed all the time as part of your diet and thus can be topped up daily. Think miso when going for sushi, coconut or water kefir and homemade sauerkraut.

3. Probiotics are not a fix-all supplement. Did you know we have 1000 different species of bacteria in our gut? They're influenced by a range of things: age, gender, whether we were breast-fed, different diseases, hormones and of course diet. Therefore, adding a general probiotic supplement to your diet and continuing with poor food and lifestyle choices won't even make a tiny dent in your bacteria. Consider them an addition to a diet of natural foods, avoidance (if possible) of antibiotics and exercise (yes, this can change your bacteria too!)

4. Start Slowly With all of these probiotic foods, it is really important to start slow and introduce the bacteria slowly. If you suffer from IBS/IBD, be warned that your balance of bacteria in the gut may be prone to disturbance. Therefore don't try more than one type of probiotic at the same time and consider beginning at half doses to avoid bloating and cramping.

5. Not all probiotics are the same. In fact, most of your average high street supplements will have all but disolved by the time they reach your gut. The only supplements that have had some proven benefit are Symprove, VSL3 and Biokult (the most purse friendly option avaliable at boots)

6.Prebiotics are just as important. Prebiotics feed probiotics and therefore help them grow. There's no need to supplement since they're readily available in foods like seafood and banana but make sure you given the probiotics the best chance possible by munching on artichoke, leek, asparagus and garlic

7. One size doesn't fit all. For example Lactobacillus Salivarius is particularly beneficial for bloating and gas with IBS. Steptococcus Thermophilus helps ua break down lactose and Bifidobacterium lactis can protect cells from damage caused by gluten. Do your research before buying to check the strains are beneficial to you.

Jenna Farmer is a Nutritional Therapist who blogs about gut issues over at: