If you think bacteria are synonymous with “germs,” think again. Probiotics, or the live “good” bacteria that hang out in your gut, are the buzziest new word on the block. 

But what exactly are probiotics, anyway? While it’s true that certain types of microorganisms can wreak havoc on your immune system, probiotics can actually help strengthen it. When you take in beneficial bugs, they can help your body fight disease-causing bacteria and prevent infections like yeast overgrowth, explains dietitian Tara Gidus Collingwood. In fact, a 2018 review of research in the journal BMJ found that diversifying the bacteria in your gut with probiotics can help prevent diarrhoea and upper respiratory infections (or the common cold). Other research suggests that the benefits might extend beyond the gut: A 2018 study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity concluded that probiotics might help alleviate the symptoms of depression, possibly by lowering inflammation levels in the body.

Probiotics can be found in supplement form, but they’re also naturally present in fermented foods and dairy products. (One note: Because heat can kill probiotics-they are live, after all-some store-bought, canned foods might not have these beneficial bugs in them, says Gidus Collingwood.)

Want to give them a try? Here are eight healthy sources of probiotics, along with how to enjoy them.

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