Learn the gut health benefits of kefir and some tasty ways to use this probiotic-rich drink

  • 2 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Fermented foods and drinks like kefir seem to fill more shelf space and tout more gut health benefits than ever. Read on to learn how kefir may improve gut health and discover creative ways to use it in your kitchen.

Kefir gut health

Kefir has always supported gut health, but it originated as a milk preservation technique

Kefir has been around for a long time, likely originating in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia. Fresh milk had a short shelf life before refrigeration. So, the best way to preserve milk was to ferment it. Kefir “grains” (live yeast and bacteria) were mixed with goat, sheep, or cow's milk, and the yeast and bacteria resulted in what we know today as fermented milk or kefir.

While kefir may look like runny yogurt, the probiotic profile is distinctly different. The kefir starter culture, or "grains," contains bacteria and yeasts, while yogurt features all bacteria. The grains ferment milk and break down almost all the lactose, so kefir is virtually lactose-free.

You can make kefir from other "milks," such as soy, coconut, goat, or nut. However, these plant milks may produce inconsistent results.

How does it taste?

Although the tangy and acidic taste of plain kefir is very similar to yogurt, the resulting drink from the fermentation of yeast and grains is more bubbly or fizzy because the process produces lactic acid, carbon dioxide gas, and some alcohol. Many commercial brands are available with fruit flavors and sweeteners to mask the plain version's sour taste.

Nutritional profile of kefir

The overall nutritional profile of kefir is similar to that of the milk used to make it. Thus, cow's milk kefir is rich in calcium and vitamin D and offers a complete source of protein, essential for strong bones.

Nutrition stats for one cup (240 mL) of low-fat kefir made from cow’s milk

Probiotics found in kefir may include: Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus casei, and Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens.

Ways regular consumption of kefir may enhance your gut microbiome

How to use kefir

Some of our favorite kefir recipes

Orange Mango Smoothie
This creamy smoothie provides a healthy dose of potassium and vitamin C. Swap kefir in place of yogurt for additional probiotics.

Healthy Banana Bread
A small amount of vegetable oil replaces butter, while kefir swaps for buttermilk. While many probiotic bacteria won’t survive cooking, kefir is a great way to add flavor and texture to this healthy, quick bread.

Vegan Lemon Blueberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
This tahini-based recipe uses oat kefir for a twist on a traditionally creamy dressing.

Whether you are curious about how kefir may improve your gut health or simply looking for a low-lactose dairy product to use in everyday recipes, try kefir. You can find it in the dairy section of your local market near the yogurt.

Related content

Prebiotics and probiotics. What are they, where are they found, and what are the benefits?

Tummy troubles? Consider a low-FODMAP diet for IBS

Original contributions by Donna Feldman, MS, RDN.

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Alcohol & Other Beverages->Kefir
Aug 14, 2023

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