By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
We all want to aim for eating food that's as close to "alive" as possible. And for good reason: Eating a ripe, just-picked apple, for example, is nutritionally superior to eating an apple that was picked last week.
Enter kefir. It's about as alive-and-kicking as food comes. This tangy, tart, yogurt-like drink is teeming with good bacteria and yeast -- it contains more friendly probiotics than regular yogurt. Kefir is made by adding kefir culture (aka grain) to milk from a cow, sheep or goat, then letting the mixture ferment for about 24 hours. Once it's strained, it's good to go.
The Dirty Deets
A cup of lowfat plain kefir has 110 calories and contains a whopping 11 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates and just two grams of fat. How's that for rich nutrition?
- Those friendly bacteria reduce flatulence, promote motility of the bowels (ahh, regularity!) and offer relief to upset stomachs. And the benefits continue well after you've polished off a serving. The bacteria and yeast in kefir -- unlike those in yogurt -- can actually colonize your gastrointestinal tract and stay there for a long period of time.
- Research has found that kefir contains kefiran, a polysaccharide associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol in animal studies. It's also loaded with B vitamins and tryptophan, which fend off stress and produce a calming effect. Who doesn't need that?
- If you're one of the 30 to 50 million Americans who struggle with lactose intolerance, kefir may be a good option for you. The fermentation process removes most of the irritating lactose from the milk.
How To Chow Down
I recommend kefir to many of my clients, including vegetarians, breakfast avoiders, picky kids, frequent travelers and those who battle stomach sensitivity. Most supermarkets offer both single-serve and 32-ounce bottles (look in the yogurt section), so adding kefir to your diet doesn't take much effort.
- To offset the drink's natural tang, many manufacturers pack prepared kefir with added sugar. To avoid the excess calories, buy plain or original kefir and add your own flavorings: cocoa powder, vanilla extract, cinnamon, a little orange juice, a small spoonful of honey. When making smoothies, use kefir in place of your usual liquid.
- Water kefir is a dark horse, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. This delicously bubbly alternative to soda is made by fermenting kefir grains in water. It offers all of the probiotic benefits of milk-based kefir, minus the protein.
In The Know
Ever notice that when you're on the road, bodily urges strike like clockwork when you finally near home? Your body is conditioned to work best in familiar surroundings. In a similar way, kefir can condition and regulate your system when you're traveling. It can also help prevent the "traveler's stomach" that's associated with unfamiliar food and water. Rather than relying on the antidiarrheal drug or stool softener in your travel repertoire, try kefir. It works!