What Are the Benefits of Kefir?

Kefir is a thick drink made by fermenting milk with kefir grains composed of lactic acid bacteria, yeast and polysaccharides. The grains culture the milk, infusing it with healthy organisms. The result is a tangy, slightly effervescent drink similar to yogurt that supports a healthy gut and offers numerous other purported health benefits. Although not all of the health claims surrounding kefir are scientifically proven, it is a healthy addition to any diet. Always consult your doctor, though, before adding it to your diet.

Nutrition

One cup of kefir is a source of protein, with 8 to 11 g per cup. Kefir also provides 10 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin A and 25 percent of the value for vitamin D. Kefir is also a source of calcium, with 30 percent of the daily value per cup, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Probiotics

Kefir contains certain healthy bacteria that is not available in yogurt, including Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, Streptococcus species, Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir. These beneficial microorganisms may help support digestive health and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines. Vitamins, such as vitamin K and B-12, are produced in the gut, and the probiotics in kefir may potentially help facilitate this production.

Help with Lactose Intolerance

Although kefir is made from milk, the fermenting process used to create it makes it nearly lactose-free, note kefir manufacturers. In a study in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" published in May 2003, researchers from Ohio State University tested 15 people with lactose intolerance and found that kefir reduced symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea related to the consumption of lactose. The curds in kefir are smaller than those in yogurt, making it typically easier to digest. Although this study is promising, if you suffer from severe lactose intolerance, you should check with your physician before adding kefir to your diet; it will not result in reduced adverse symptoms for everyone.

Weight Control

One cup of plain kefir contains 150 calories and 8 g of fat, 5 g of which are saturated. Choose low-fat kefir if you are watching your weight, because 1 cup of low-fat kefir contains just 110 calories and 2 g of fat, with 1.5 g saturated. Researchers from Curtin University in Australia found in an October 2009 study that dieters who consumed five servings of dairy daily, in addition to a low-calorie diet, lost more weight and belly fat than dieters who consumed just three servings daily. One cup of kefir counts as a serving of dairy.

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