kefir healthy

Is Kefir Good For You?

Kefir, like most fermented foods, has been around for thousands of years. In modern times, it has been a standard in European countries, but only recently has it surged in popularity in the United States because of the many health benefits it offers.

Kefir is a drink made from fermented milk. One cup of plain kefir has 168 calories, 10 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat. It contains many probiotics that improve gut health and help lower cholesterol.

Not sure if you want to try kefir? Keep reading. We will discuss everything you need to know about kefir, its nutrition information, and its health benefits.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a tart and tangy drink made from milk that has undergone a fermentation process using kefir grains. It is a bit thicker than milk, but not anywhere as thick as yogurt. Some describe the texture to be similar to buttermilk.

Is Kefir the Same as Yogurt?

While it is often compared to yogurt, kefir and yogurt are not the same. Yogurt is fermented using bacteria, and kefir is fermented using both bacteria and yeast. Because of this, kefir has more probiotics and is better for your health than yogurt.

So no, kefir and yogurt are not the same. Although if you like yogurt, you will likely enjoy kefir as they have a similar tangy flavor.

Is Kefir the same as Kombucha?

Kefir and Kombucha also share some common properties such as the rich probiotic blend. However, they are made from entirely different ingredients. If you’d like to read more about the differences click here for the full article.

Types of Kefir

Kefir comes in several different varieties depending on the type of milk used, and the kinds of flavorings added. Let’s take a look at the different options available:

  • Cow milk kefir: This is kefir made from cow’s milk, and it is the easiest to find in the United States.
  • Goat milk kefir: Kefir can also be made with goat’s milk. Many find goat milk kefir to be creamier in texture.
  • Plain kefir: The ingredients list on plain kefir should basically say milk and active cultures. They may list the cultures, but true, plain kefir will not have any additives.
  • Whole milk kefir: Whole milk kefir is made with whole milk and can be plain or flavored. This is the creamiest kefir.
  • Reduced-fat kefir: Reduced-fat kefirs use reduced-fat milk like 2% or fat-free. These do not produce the creamiest of kefir, but they do not have as much fat. 
  • Nut milk kefir: Dairy-free kefir does exist, but it can be hard to find. It is usually made with coconut milk because it provides the most fat content and creamiest texture. You can also make it on your own.
  • Flavored kefir: Just like yogurt, kefir is often made with added flavor and sugar to help offset some of the tanginess. If reducing sugar is important to you, make sure to always check the ingredients label or stick to plain kefir.
  • Kefir water: No milk used! Kefir grains are added water to create a carbonated beverage similar to kombucha. Sometimes fruit is added.

If you’re new to kefir, we recommend starting with plain whole milk kefir because it has a pleasant creamy texture and doesn’t add extra sugar to your diet. If it isn’t for you, try a flavored or sweetened kefir.

Nutrition Facts & Calories

No two kefirs are quite alike. So, if you’re picking up one at the supermarket, you have to be sure to check the nutrition information and ingredients list on the bottle that you buy—the fewer additives, the better in most cases.

According to the USDA, here is the nutrition information for 1 cup of plain kefir:

NutritionAmount
Calories168 kcal
Protein10 g
Total Fat10 g
Carbohydrates11 g
Dietary Fiber0 g
Sugars7.01 g
Calcium410 mg
Iron1.8 mg
Sodium127 mg
Vitamin A250 IU
Cholesterol33.6 mg

According to the USDA, here is the nutrition information for 1 cup of nonfat kefir:

NutritionAmount
Calories91.2 kcal
Protein9 g
Total Fat0 g
Carbohydrates12 g
Dietary Fiber0 g
Sugars12 g
Calcium259 mg
Iron0 mg
Sodium120 mg
Vitamin A300 IU
Cholesterol4.8 mg

Kefir Ingredients

Homemade and store-bought kefir often include many different ingredients. Homemade kefir generally includes kefir grains and milk. That’s about it.

Not all added ingredients are a problem. Added sugar isn’t really an issue if you aren’t trying to avoid sugar. Here are some ingredients you might find in store-bought kefir:

  • Cane sugar or sugar: Cane sugar is less processed than white sugar, and is generally considered a more health-conscious and eco-friendly choice. 
  • Pectin: This is a naturally occurring starch often used in jellies. It is sometimes added to low fat kefir to produce a thicker consistency.
  • Extracts, juices, and flavors: Fruit extract and natural flavors are added to kefir to help offset the tangy flavor. This is how flavored kefirs get their flavor.
  • Vitamins A and D: Some kefirs are fortified with vitamins A and D, as is most milk. You might see palmitate on the ingredients list. This is basically just a source of vitamin A. 
  • Additives for Coloring: You aren’t likely to find food dyes in kefir, but you will find some foods added just for the purpose of coloring. These are things like grape juice and beet juice.
  • Stabilizers: These are things like guar gum and maltodextrin. They add thickness to low-fat kefir, and they are safe additives. If you lean towards a whole foods diet, then you might want to avoid kefirs that contain these.

What Are the Health Benefits of Kefir?

Kefir is definitely considered a health food to consume, at least when it is doesn’t contain added a ton of added sugar. But why is kefir so good for you? Let’s take a look at what kefir can do for you.

  • Kefir promotes good gut health. Kefir contains a ton of probiotics, more even than yogurt. Probiotics are more and more becoming connected to good health and digestion. According to Harvard Health Publishing, they help with several digestive conditions like IBS and Crohns and may help prevent eczema in children. In addition, probiotics are also beneficial to women’s health.
  • Kefir may aid in the fight against depression. Promising studies like this one have linked our gut health to our mental health. Of course, kefir is only one part of gut health, and you should also seek the help of a mental health expert on these matters.
  • Kefir is a good source of calcium. : Calcium has long been known to promote overall health and the health of our bones.
  • Kefir is a good course of protein: There’s no denying that protein is important to your health. Protein also contributes to a feeling of a fullness that can lead to maintaining an optimal weight.

What Can You Do With Kefir?

Kefir can definitely be consumed as a beverage, but it can also be used in some surprising ways. Let’s take a look at all the ways you could add kefir to your diet:

Kefir is pretty versatile when you think about it. If you’d put yogurt in it, you can probably put kefir in it, at least from a flavor standpoint. However, remember that kefir is not as solid as yogurt, so it might not work as well in some applications without thickening it up first.

Is Kefir Really Healthy?

It’s true! Kefir is really healthy for you! It contains many important nutrients, but more importantly, it promotes gut health.

The problem comes in when you start drinking kefir with a lot of added sugar, which definitely isn’t the best for your health.

If you want to make kefir a part of your daily diet, choose one that doesn’t contain added sugar. If you want to add a hint of sweetness, you can blend whole fruit into kefir for a smoothie-like beverage.

“Kefir” by Ibán is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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