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You probably didn’t even know what probiotics were a year ago. All of a sudden, you can find “good bacteria” in everything from toothpaste to chocolate. Probiotics have their place, but adding them to foods that lack natural beneficial bacteria may not make the foods any healthier or even worth consuming. When it comes to probiotics, there are certain guidelines that will help you separate hype from help. Here’s what Dr. Patricia Hibberd, a professor of pediatrics and chief of global health at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston advised in a recent Huffington Post article.

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Dairy products, including kefir, usually have the most probiotics. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

1. Unlike Drugs, Probiotics Are Not Regulated

While probiotic supplements are generally considered safe, they don’t require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval or pass the same rigorous safety and effectiveness tests as drugs. When buying probiotics, be wary of vague claims, like “promotes digestive health.” Know, too, that there are no standardized levels of microbes or minimum levels required in foods or supplements.

2. Know Your Probiotic-Rich Foods

Dairy products usually have the most probiotics. Look for products containing “live and active cultures.” These include kefir, fermented milk drinks and aged cheeses such as cheddar, Gouda or Parmesan. You can also get probiotics from pickles packed in brine, sauerkraut, tempeh (a soy-based meat substitute) and kimchi (a spicy Korean condiment). Mild side effects may include gas and bloating, at least for the first few days.

3. Read Labels & Expiration Dates

Follow instructions on the package for proper dosage, frequency, storage and expiration dates—live organisms can have a limited shelf life. Some supplements must be refrigerated, or at least kept at room temperature in a cool, dark place.

4. Probiotics Are Not Safe for Everyone

If you have a weakened immune system, are undergoing an organ transplant, or had much of your gastrointestinal tract removed, you should avoid probiotics in foods or supplements. The same holds true if you’re being hospitalized and have central IV lines. If you have abnormal heart valves or need heart valve surgery, probiotics can pose the risk of infection. To help prevent or treat a specific health concern with probiotics, first consult your doctor.