Thinking about adding kefir to you diet? Here are a few reasons why you should!
It has made its way onto Canada’s Food Guide as an alternative milk choice, and it’s being talked up as a great source of probiotics and improved digestive health, but what exactly is kefir and what are the benefits of adding it into your diet? I admit, I too was skeptical about this “new” food product, but after some reluctance, I decided to give it a shot. Its consistency is similar to that of milk and its tart flavour is similar to plain yogurt. Soon, I found myself getting pretty creative with this new item in my fridge.
Despite all the recent hype, kefir is nowhere near a new product. Originating centuries ago in the Caucasus mountains, kefir is a cultured milk product made by adding kefir grains – which look more like squishy cauliflower florets than actual grains – to milk. As the kefir grains multiply, they ferment the sugars in the milk, breaking them down into lactic acid and giving the final product its sour flavour. This unique process sets kefir apart from other probiotic food products such as yogurt, which most of us associate with helping to improve gut health thanks to some creative marketing and Jamie Lee Curtis. Kefir, however, has three times the amount of probiotics compared to yogurt, putting it a little higher on the “gut health” scale. Probiotics, essentially meaning “for life” (pro = for; biotic = life), are naturally found in our digestive tract and are believed to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, improving the body’s overall immune response. Consuming foods naturally higher in probiotics can help to increase the population of these desirable bacteria in the gut, which have been linked to improved digestion.
As an alternative dairy product, kefir offers an opportunity for those with lactose intolerance to add some more calcium into their diet. The live cultures that are used to make kefir actually help to break down some of the milk sugar (lactose), showing minimal side effects compared to other lactose-containing products (for those suffering with lactose intolerance). Though many studies also link a higher probiotic count to decreased inflammation, improved bowel health, and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, these studies are too low in sample population and duration to make concrete, evidence-based conclusions.
However, in addition to its large amounts of probiotics, one cup of plain, organic kefir provides about eight grams of protein and a healthy dose of calcium and B-vitamins. You can start off with a flavoured kefir product, but if you ultimately want to keep your sugar consumption low, transition to plain over time. Add kefir to cereal or granola, drink it as is, mix it into a smoothie, or get creative by adding it to a dinner stir-fry sauce, such as a curry.
When something has this many benefits, I say why not see if it can make its way into your daily nutrition choices.
Andrea Falcone is a private practice dietitian working within Peel, Halton, and the Greater Toronto Area.
If you’re looking to add more foods to your diet to help your gut, we’ve some for you here!