9 Best Probiotic-Rich Kefirs for Your Gut
Gut health is still an emerging field, but its importance is becoming more and more clear with every day. A healthy gut has been linked to benefits that range from mental health to weight regulation. One of the first steps to managing gut health is by adding more probiotic-rich fermented foods, like kefir, to your diet.
What is kefir?
Kefir is a drinkable yogurt hailing from Eastern Europe that's praised for its high probiotic and protein content. Kefir has a thick and viscous texture that's closer to a smoothie than it is to milk.
With an acidic, tart flavor similar to unsweetened Greek yogurt, kefir has a fresh taste that brightens up recipes and is refreshing on its own.
Traditionally, kefir is made with cow's milk, but kefir brands also use goat milk and even dairy-free liquids like coconut milk and water.
The key ingredient for making kefir is kefir grain. Kefir grains are a protein-based community of bacterial and fungal species where the magic of fermentation takes place. You can think of kefir grains to kefir like a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or "mother" is to kombucha.
What are the health benefits of kefir?
Although it's not as well-known as other fermented dairy products, like yogurt, kefir has been consumed and associated with health benefits for hundreds of years. These health benefits of kefir, as summarized in a Frontiers in Microbiology review include:
- Improving cholesterol profile
- Increasing levels of "good" bacteria in the gut
- Supporting a healthier immune system
- Possess antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Has antitumor activity against cancer cells
- Decreases inflammation
- Promotes a healthier digestive system
Store-bought kefir vs. homemade kefir
Note that these kefir health benefits are linked to traditionally-made kefir that uses kefir grains. Store-bought kefir often uses starter cultures rather than whole kefir grains in their fermentation process. Researchers have yet to study whether commercially-made kefir possesses the same health benefits of that of traditional kefir.
More evidence is needed to support the health benefits of isolated probiotic strains. Luckily, you can make homemade kefir using traditional methods to reap the benefits! Milk Kefir Starter Grains and Water Kefir Starter Grains are both available to purchase online. Follow Cultures For Health's post for how to make homemade milk kefir.
Kefir vs. yogurt
Both kefir and yogurt are fermented dairy products, but they differ in a few key ways.
- Fermentation: Kefir is fermented by kefir grains, which contains a mix of bacteria and yeast. Yogurt, on the other hand, is fermented with only bacteria. Due to the presence of yeast in kefir fermentation, some kefirs may have slightly effervescent properties due to low levels of carbonation.
- Probiotics: While it's quite comparable to its custard-like cousin, yogurt, most kefirs are brimming with at least 10 different probiotic strains (while yogurt contains around two to three)—which are beneficial for maintaining healthy immune and digestive systems—as well as a solid dose of your daily value of disease-deterring calcium.
- Micronutrients: Kefir boasts energy-boosting B vitamins, specifically B12. Kefir will often have higher B12 levels than yogurt because of kefir's unique fermentation process that uses bacteria and yeast. Kefir also contains good levels of heart-protecting potassium.
- Digestibility: Kefir is found to be more easily digestible than yogurt. "Since kefir has fewer milk sugars than regular milk, many people who don't tolerate milk well can sip kefir without an issue," Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, founder of Family. Food. Fiesta. tells us. Many kefir products are 99% lactose-free or entirely lactose-free.
Where to buy kefir?
To make it easier to buy the best kefir brands, we've added links to purchase the following picks online. You can also buy kefir at your local health food store in the dairy aisle.
Ways to drink kefir and use it in recipes.
Since most of these best kefir brands have no added sugar, you'll want to customize your kefir to your liking.
- Drink it plain. You can simply drink kefir on its own if you like it plain, tart, and tangy. Top a glass of the probiotic drink with fresh fruit and a blend of nuts and seeds for a crunch.
- Blend it up in a smoothie. You can toss in natural sweeteners such as fiber-filled fruit, which feed the good gut bacteria, and nuts and seeds for crunch.
- Add it to overnight oats. For a more luxurious texture without it being too thick, use kefir in your overnight oats instead of milk or yogurt.
- Shake it up with some protein powder. Looking for an extra protein punch after a workout? Use kefir as the liquid base in your protein shake for an additional 10 grams of protein plus live and active probiotics.
- Use it as a creamer. Instead of using half-and-half or almond milk, add kefir to your morning coffee, tea, or latte.
- Make a kefir bread or pancakes. Any recipe that uses milk or water can be substituted with kefir for a fluffier baked good. The fermented properties inherent in a probiotic drink like kefir lend light, airy notes to your recipes.
- Try it as a base for dressings or marinades. Just like you would with mayo or Greek yogurt, you can use plain kefir as a tangy base for herby salad dressings and chicken marinades.
The best kefir brands to try.
Start sneaking this fermented superfood into your diet with these go-to picks for the best kefir.
Maple Hill Organic Whole Milk Kefir, Plain
Maple Hill's organic whole milk kefir will lend homemade marinades and salad dressings an irresistibly creamy texture thanks to the healthy fats. Maple Hill uses 100 percent grass-fed milk, which results in a rich flavor and higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and fat-burning conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than regular milk.
Green Valley Creamery Lactose-Free, Organic, Lowfat Plain Kefir
To ensure their probiotic beverage is completely lactose-free, Green Valley Creamery adds the lactase enzyme to organic milk and cream before culturing it. That way, even lactose-intolerant folks (who still avoid those 99% lactose-free products) can satisfy their taste buds without compromising on calcium, protein, and billions of probiotics from 11 unique strains. This lactose-free kefir is certified USDA Organic, Certified Humane, and FODMAP Friendly.
Lifeway Lowfat Kefir, Plain
Build a better smoothie bowl by blending a cup of this low-fat kefir with a handful of fruits and leafy greens, and benefit from 12 strains of gut-loving probiotics in addition to 30 percent of your daily value of bone-building calcium. This pick is plain as it is versatile, so you can feel free to pour it into any of our best protein shake recipes for weight loss.
Redwood Hill Farm Plain Kefir
Redwood Hill Farm's award-winning kefir boasts the lowest naturally-occurring sugar content thanks to its use of organic, humane-certified goat milk. Besides the fact that goat milk is better for your gut than cow's milk because it's more easily digestible, a study in the Journal of Dairy Science found that goat milk can increase the absorption of anemia-fighting iron and collagen-forming copper, giving you another reason to pour this pick over a cup of granola.
Lifeway BioKefir, Vanilla
Not craving an entire glass of kefir? This portable, 3.5-ounce shot is packed with twice the amount of probiotic activity than Lifeway's regular kefir—50 billion units to be exact—in addition to two grams of satiating fiber coming from organic inulin and is sweetened with a touch of cane sugar. Chug this pick on-the-go or store it in the breakroom fridge to beat midday doughnut cravings.
Wallaby Organic Lowfat Aussie Kefir, Plain
Wallaby's Australian-style tubs are crafted in small batches with organic milk, which lends the cultured drink a creamy texture without too much tart. Pair this Aussie sip with sliced nectarines, a handful of walnuts, and banana chunks for a balanced breakfast.
Lifeway Protein Kefir, Mixed Berry
If you're looking for high-protein kefir, look no further. Wrap up your workout with a cup of Lifeway's fat-free, Protein kefir with a 1:1 carb-to-protein ratio. It's brimming with 12 probiotic cultures as well as an impressive 20 grams of protein to help build and maintain strong muscles. Due to the higher sugar content, we recommend saving this drink for active sweat sessions.
Evolve Plain Kefir
Evolve's creamy kefir is crafted with 11 live and active cultures that work to keep your skin clear and your gut regular. It's made with just four wholesome ingredients in addition to probiotics: cultured grade A low-fat milk, non-fat milk, and vitamins A and D3, as well as tops our list with a whopping 40 percent of your daily value of bone-building calcium.
Lifeway Perfect12 Kefir, Key Lime Pie
With this tangy yet sweet drink, you can have your cake—er, pie—and eat it too. Lifeway injects its probiotic blend with natural key lime flavors and zero-calorie stevia for a satisfying flavor without added sugars.