Nutritionists use the term “health halo” to describe a particular food that has garnered a reputation for promoting good health. Foods like kale fly out of the produce bins when they are so christened. Many times the moniker is erroneous. When researchers at William Patterson University analyzed 47 types of produce for 17 vital nutrients, kale ranked only 12th best, behind watercress and run-of-the-mill romaine lettuce.
The prognosticators at Consumer Reports predict that fermented foods like kefir will be one of the healthy food trends of 2017. The basis for their forecast is the blizzard of research hitting the press about “gut bacteria” — so-called good bacteria that seems to play a critical role in maintaining good health. When foods are fermented, live bacteria known as probiotics and prebiotics flourish. Research shows that these healthy bacteria destroy “bad” bacteria, while protecting our immune system and facilitating digestion.
As we age, we experience changes to our gut health. While these changes are not necessarily due to aging itself, they can be attributed to increased needs for medicines like antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs can disrupt the composition and presence of healthy gut bacteria. Consuming probiotics can counteract some of these effects and is an effective intervention to prevent and treat conditions like antibiotic-associated diarrhea and constipation.
Kefir is one food that deserves its health halo. It’s similar in taste to yogurt, but has a milk-like consistency. It is superior from a nutrition standpoint because it contains many more different strains of live bacteria, compared to the one or two found in yogurt. Kefir is made by adding a live culture of yeast and bacteria to milk and allowing it to ferment. It harbors 12 distinct types of live bacteria. If you make your own kefir you can increase the probiotic count fourfold. More is better in the world of microflora.
The most obvious way to add kefir to your diet is to substitute it for your daily yogurt and enjoy its super-sized probiotic effects. But, there are many other ways to reap its healthful benefits.
Use kefir to make salad dressings, as the base for a dipping sauce, or as a marinade to tenderize and flavor meat. Bakers use it instead of milk or buttermilk to make extra fluffy muffins. Kefir can also be substituted for milk in homemade frozen desserts like ice cream and popsicles. If you’re a fan of smoothies, sub in kefir in place of almond or coconut milk.
Kefir Benefits and Nutrition Facts
1. Kefir promotes diabetes control.
A recent study of 60 adults suffering from type 2 diabetes showed significantly improved fasting glucose results in participants that consumed 2 1/2 cups a day of probiotic fermented milk (kefir). Researchers concluded that kefir can be useful as a complementary or adjuvant therapy in the treatment of diabetes.
2. Kefir helps with lactose intolerance.
Many people become lactose intolerant as they age. A randomized study reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics demonstrated that kefir improved lactose digestion and tolerance by over 50% compared to plain milk.
3. Kefir is low calorie.
One cup of plain low fat Lifeway Kefir has only 110 calories, while supplying 11 grams of protein, a healthy dose of vitamin A, and more than 1/4 of our daily protein and calcium needs.
4. Kefir lowers cholesterol levels.
Elevated serum cholesterol levels double your risk of heart disease. A comprehensive review by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigating the effect of fermented dairy products reached the conclusion that fermented foods like kefir “have the potential of being classified as useful cholesterol-lowering agents.”
5. Kefir helps treat gastrointestinal disorders.
We’ve all taken antibiotics from time to time and typically experienced gastrointestinal distress, often in the form of diarrhea, as a side effect. There is strong evidence that probiotic foods like kefir are effective in treating this drug-induced condition. Kefir also shows promise in treating the symptoms of irritable bowel diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
6. Kefir is an effective weapon against breast cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Many studies show that diet plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Epidemiological studies demonstrate that consuming probiotic foods like kefir is associated with a decreased incidence of breast cancer development.