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What is Kefir? A Dietitian Answers Top 10 Questions

Researched and Written by:
Richelle Godwin, RDN Richelle Godwin, RDN

Kefir is the talk of the probiotic world at the minute. But there is just so much confusion out there about this little yogurt looking drink. And as a registered dietitian I get a lot of questions about it. Thankfully here at Essential Stacks, we’ve done all the research into kefir for you. So in this article, I’m going to answer your 10 most popular questions about kefir, so you can decide whether it’s right for you.

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    Now, just before we jump into question number one, let’s talk briefly about what kefir is.

    So this is a glass of kefir.  And I know it looks like a simple glass of milk, but it is actually a type of fermented drink.  Which means it has an entire universe of live bacteria & yeast living inside it that are beneficial for our health. 

    And so unsurprisingly the word “kefir” actually translates to ‘Living well’ or ‘Feeling good’ in several languages.  

    Now, as a fermented drink rich in probiotics, many people think of kefir as being quite similar to kombucha.  

    But the big difference is the type of liquid and starter culture used to make kefir.  You see, while kombucha is made by combining black tea with a SCOBY culture as you can see here, most Kefir is made by combining cow, goat, or sheep's milk with kefir grains as you can see here. 

    Okay, let’s get into question number one.

    What does kefir taste like?

    Companies selling milk kefir like to call it “the champagne of dairy”.  Now, I’ll just have a taste here for a second... 

    ...well, I hate to break it to them, but that might be a bit of a stretch! 

    You see, although it has an interesting bubbly texture and a nice creamy taste, thanks to the milk, it also has quite a tart and tangy flavor due to the beneficial lactic acids in it.  And this can take some getting used to.  

    But here’s a quick pro tip - if you don’t love the flavor, try adding some natural sweetener to it.  For example, a teaspoon of honey can work wonders.  

    What other types of kefir are there?

    If you find dairy kefir is not your style, you’re in luck because there are many dairy-free options.  Water kefir is my favorite one of them, and I have a glass of that here - it’s very refreshing and bubbly, and when flavored with fruit as I’ve done with this, it tastes like a healthy soda!  

    Of course, there is also kefir which uses either coconut water or coconut milk.  And if you’re game, you can even try all kinds of other weird & wonderful kefirs, such as soy milk kefir, oat milk kefir, and even walnut kefir.  

    And if you’re interested to know how these types of kefir stack up against milk kefir, as well as which one is best for you, check out the link.

    How is kefir made?

    To make kefir, you simply need to add some kefir grains to your liquid of choice.  For example here I’m putting 1 teaspoon of kefir grains in a glass of cow’s milk.

    Then all you need to do is cover it, pop on the Barry White music and let it ferment away at room temperature for 24 hours.  Once that time is up, simply strain away the grains, and your kefir milk is ready to drink.  How easy is that!

    Although I’ve demonstrated this simple process using a glass, I actually like to do this in a FIDO jar, which looks like this, as it produces more consistent kefir.

    In fact, if you want my foolproof recipe for making world class kefir at home, checkout this link. 

    How many calories are in kefir?

    In a typical cup of homemade whole milk kefir - we’re talking about 8 fl oz or 240 mils - there’s roughly only 110 calories in it!  Making it a fantastic low calorie drink.

    What nutrients are inside kefir?

    Our research team here at Essential Stacks has done a detailed nutrient breakdown of both homemade and store bought kefir, which you can see in the link above.  Suffice to say it's packed with Healthy nutrients such as Vitamin B12, and so unsurprisingly many people look at it as a kind of food multivitamin.

    What good bacteria are inside kefir?

    Now this is where kefir shines!  

    Although the nutrients are great, what makes kefir so special is that it is loaded with good bacteria & yeast.  In fact, in a single cup of homemade kefir, you can typically find 100-300 billion CFUs of good bacteria & yeast, which can come from 30 to 100 different probiotic species!  Compare that to say yogurt - which typically has only 1-2 billion CFUs per serving and usually from only a handful of different species.  

    What are the benefits of kefir?

    With so many goodies inside every glass, it is not surprising that companies selling kefir have been quick to claim that it can help with everything from weight loss to acne!  But here at Essential Stacks, we always look to real studies and the actual science to see what is true and what is not.  And on that front, kefir has been shown to help with digestion and bowel movements, as well as allergies and inflammation, along with several other issues.  

    Even more interesting - I’ve worked in several nursing facilities where the Medical Director and I have had patients whose gut bacteria was compromised due to antibiotics.  And in order to restore their microbiome, we realized a terrific way to do that was through giving them kefir.  And it worked so well, that it became a protocol.  What a difference it makes!  

    If you want to learn more about all the science-backed benefits of kefir, check out this article.

    How much kefir should you drink?

    Well, since a single cup of kefir can contain 100s of billions of good bacteria, it can be wise to start slowly.  So if you have a sensitive gut, starting with just 2 tablespoons a day can be a good idea.  And for the rest of us, starting with 1/2 cup a day is usually fine.  Then as the body gets used to enjoying these large servings of probiotics, you can look at moving to 1 - 2 cups a day. 

    How can you get more kefir into your diet?

    If you don’t like drinking kefir, I recommend using it like you would normal plain yogurt.  So you can add it into smoothies, or dips, or even in salad dressings.  

    And here’s another Pro Tip for you - whichever way you decide to use it, just make sure you don’t add it to hot recipes like soups or cooked meals, as this can destroy many of the little probiotic heroes inside kefir.

    What if you are lactose intolerant?

    Well, I’ve got some good news for you!  Luckily, milk kefir contains Much less lactose than normal milk.  And that’s because both the lactic acid bacteria and the beneficial yeasts found in kefir grains consume a lot of the lactose sugar during fermentation.  Plus, kefir milk contains enzymes that further help with the breakdown of lactose.  So for those of you with mild lactose intolerance, milk kefir can be worth trying.  But if you find it still causes an upset tummy, try taking a Lactase enzyme supplement with it or simply opting for a Dairy-free version like water kefir.

    Our Conclusion

    So as we’ve seen, kefir is a probiotic-rich drink that is absolutely packed with nutrients and good bacteria that your gut will love.  And while it may taste a bit weird initially, most people get used to it quickly, especially if you decide to make it yourself.   Just remember to go slow - anywhere from 2 Tbsp - ½ Cup per day is perfect for week 1.


    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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