Food/Nutrition Columnist
Try Kefir – Your Gut Will Thank You
Aug 5, 2013 - 12:03:00 AM

( - Each time you go to the supermarket you see more brands of kefir in the dairy case. We all know about yogurt. Many of us have switched to the ever-expanding Greek yogurt line, but know there is kefir, used and enjoyed for years in Europe. What is the difference between kefir and yogurt?

Both are cultured milk foods rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins and potassium. Unflavored they have a slightly tangy flavor. When flavored they both are sweeter and less tart tasting. The prime difference is in consistency, kefir is thinner and normally used as a drink. Kefir almost always contains more strains of friendly bacteria (probiotics) than yogurt which normally contains only a few. Kefir is also lower in lactose (milk sugar) than milk, so it is a good option for those with lactose intolerance.

Regularly eating foods, like kefir, that contain probiotics protects your immune system and digestive health and may protect against many serious health problems such as heart disease and colon cancer. The friendly bacteria that live in your digestive tract outnumber your human cells by more than 10 to 1 - we live with these microbes as partners. Gut microbes are essential to your immune system, they extract nutrients from our food, and protect us from infectious diseases.

There is speculation that over the last 50 years as we have become more conscious about hygiene and have shifted our diets away from naturally containing probiotic foods, the make-up of our gut bacteria may have changed. This could explain, in some part, why autoimmune and inflammatory diseases have increased and may even have implications for our obesity epidemic. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently showed that children with autism have fewer types of gut bacteria when compared to children without autism. And, children who grow up on farms have fewer allergies and immune-related conditions.

Kefir, which is rich in a wide array of probiotics, can be used as a drink or over cereal or fruit, or even blended into a smoothie. It can be substituted in any dish that calls for yogurt. It is a good, healthy substitute for milk, on occasion, and a pleasant, filling snack for kids. I recently tried 3 brands.

The Greek Gods ( expanded its yogurt line to include drinkable lowfat kefir. It is available in 4 flavors - Plain, Vanilla Honey, Honey Strawberry, and Honey. Each is made with 12 types of probiotics.

Plain is a tangy traditional kefir. A 1 cup serving has 140 calories and 400 milligrams of calcium (40% of the daily recommendation). When the kefir is flavored as in Vanilla Honey (220 calories in 1 cup), Honey Strawberry (220 calories in 1 cup) or Honey (230 calories in 1 cup) it has a milder, sweeter taste with no tangy aftertaste but it has more calories. These are a good choice for those that don't like traditional kefir.

Lifeway ( kefir beverages are made with 12 active probiotics which provide 7 to 10 million CFUs (colony forming units) per cup. I tasted the Lowfat Plain variety which has 110 calories and 300 milligrams of calcium (one-third of the day's requirement) in a 1-cup serving. It had a tangy traditional taste. In addition to Plain, Lifeway makes 31 other varieties of kefir including flavored, lowfat, nonfat, Greek style and organic. The Lifeway kefir label explains that the beverage is slightly effervescent and a rounded or slightly bulging bottle can be expected. Traditional kefir is slightly bubbly and may "splash" when opened if you shake the bottle. Other brands make a "flat" kefir drink that should be shaken before pouring.

Helios Organic Nonfat Greek Kefir ( has recently been brought under the Lifeway Foods product line. It comes in Original, Plain, Vanilla, and 7 fruit flavors. Helios Kefir is made with 7 active cultures plus inulin, a plant-based fiber that promotes the health of your gut bacteria and enhances calcium absorption. The Original flavor is the same effervescent cultured milk beverage popular in Eastern Europe for thousands of years. A 1-cup serving has 120 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 300 milligrams of calcium (one-third of the day's requirement). The brand is kosher certified (cRc).

Next time you go to the supermarket, look for kefir in the yogurt section and give it a try.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.

Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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