Kefir is a yogurt-like product made through milk fermentation. This process produces helpful enzymes, chemicals and bacteria that can positively influence the digestion process.
Some people eat kefir in hopes to relieve diarrhea, ease an upset stomach, minimize lactose intolerance side effects and even lower their cholesterol. Although the research is sparse in scientifically guaranteeing results, studies have shown some positive takeaways for those who have incorporated kefir into their regular eating regimens.
Here’s a look at some of the potential health benefits associated with the fermented product.
Kefir is a great source of probiotics
Like yogurt, kefir is a source of probiotics, or healthy bacteria, similar to what is found naturally in the digestive tract. Probiotics work with your body to boost the immune system and keep harmful bacteria in check.
Although yogurt is more commonly recognized as a go-to source of probiotics, kefir is actually thought to have up to three times the number of probiotics as yogurt because of the way kefir is fermented.
Even though more research is still needed, the way probiotics function has been observed in studies, suggesting their positive influence concerning treating irritable bowel syndrome, preventing urinary tract infections, minimizing diarrhea and even reducing the recurrence of cancer in the bladder. Overall, probiotics may also reduce the severity and frequency of having common conditions like a cold or the flu.
Because the bacteria in kefir actually aids lactose digestion, many people with lactose intolerances are still able to consume the dairy drink without the typical symptoms of bloating, diarrhea and gas.
When introducing new foods and drinks into your diet, don’t be afraid to talk with a healthcare professional about your particular circumstances and start out the trial process by consuming small portions to carefully see how your body responds.
The milk product also provides calcium, vitamin D and protein
As a dairy product, kefir contains a good dose of calcium to help keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy. Lifeway Lowfat Kefir, for example, offers 30% of your daily recommended calcium intake in just a one-cup, 110-calorie serving. That same size of serving also offers 25% of your recommended vitamin D intake as well as 11 grams of protein.
The kefiran- and tryptophan-containing product might also help with cardiovascular health and depression
Kefiran, which is produced by kefir grains that are used to ferment the milk, may help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Such cardiovascular associations have been seen in animal studies, but may not necessarily affect humans in the same ways. Hence, eating kefir is by no means a recommended, stand-alone treatment for those with serious medical conditions.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in kefir and other crowd favorites like turkey and chocolate. Although the element is sometimes erroneously overstated as an end-all, be-all solution to treating depression and offering a relaxed sensation, tryptophan may still be able to provide some benefits at the margin. If you need a quick pick me up, a glass of kefir might help.
The healthy drink can help offer some diversity even when following a strict diet
If you’re stuck in a rut and tired of your usual go-to products that are low in calories yet high in nutrition, a health benefit of kefir may simply be that you have another option that keeps your eating habits on track. Kefir innately has a sweet and tangy flavor with a touch of natural carbonation. You can drink the fermented milk product by itself or use it as the liquid base for a fruit or veggie smoothie.
Kefir may not be for everyone, though, so use some judgment
Most healthy adults won’t see a negative reaction by drinking a glass of kefir a few times a week or even everyday, but some people may experience unwanted side effects from ingesting the substance. If you’re not used to the product at all, the probiotic-based liquid may cause you to experience stomach cramping or constipation at first.
Because the drink affects your body’s bacteria count, those who are on medications that decrease the immune system may not be able to effectively process the bacteria- and yeast-containing kefir, which–in turn–can actually end up making those individuals more likely to get sick.
If you have any existing immune problems, are on medications or are pregnant or breastfeeding, an increase in kefir is probably not for you. When in doubt, talk with your physician or pharmacist about your specific circumstances.
Types of products you can find to get your desired dose of kefir
If you want to drink a plain glass of kefir like you would consume a cup of milk, you can certainly stick to purchasing bottles of kefir that often come in 8-ounce or 32-ounce containers. If you’re looking for health benefits, make sure to stick to no-fat or low-fat options that don’t come with added sugars.
If you’re interested in kefir-based fruit smoothies, you can obviously make your own using plain kefir or you can conveniently pick up a pre-packaged alternative like an Organic Low-Fat Pomegranate and Acai Kefir Smoothie or a Strawberries and Cream version, which are also offered by the brand Lifeway. At 140 calories per 8 ounces, the tasty drink isn’t unreasonable but such a pick does have organic cane sugar added so you’ll likely want to be careful with how often you let yourself splurge on such a treat.
Enhanced Probiotic Activity
If you’re serious about the number of probiotics you want to consume on a regular basis, you may be interested in options that come with a concentrated probiotic count such as BioKefir, which contains twice the number of probiotics than regular kefir. Such options are often marketed for specific aims such as immunity, heart health or digestion.
If you’re in the market for a frozen treat that will deliver the health benefits of kefir, you may be inclined to introduce into your diet a carton of frozen kefir every now and then, which comes in all sorts of fruity flavors like mango, pomegranate and strawberry. Like any good dessert, you can also find chocolate-flavored frozen kefir to satisfy your cravings.
Soy-Based or Water-Based Options
Although kefir is traditionally derived from dairy, some variations are soy based or water based so do your research if you’re on the hunt for an alternative source that will suit your preferences better. You may not be able to conveniently pick up such an option at your local healthfood store, but you may find an online carrier that will ship to you your goods of choice.