Is The Kefir Craze Worth Its Weight In Probiotics?
There has been a growing awareness in recent years that probiotics are important for good health. Kefir is one of those probiotic-friendly products that has a growing following in this health movement.
The facts show that kefir indeed provides large numbers of friendly gut bacteria, but is the kefir craze really worth its weight in beneficial probiotics?
Here are the facts about kefir’s probiotic impact.
FACT: Kefir, when it is cultured correctly, can have large numbers of friendly gut bacteria.
Kefir could be said to be the powered-up version of yogurt when it comes to the amount of probiotics. At least that’s what I’ve read in random places online.
From the Evolve Kefir website: “Evolve kefir is different because of the superior quality and quantity of probiotic cultures it contains. Evolve contains some of the most tested strains of beneficial bacteria –– over 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) before expiration.”[1. Evolve Kefir. “Kefir Health Studies.” http://evolvekefir.com/healthstudies.html (accessed March 6, 2014).]
10 billion colony forming units is indeed a large number.
As with any food, though, processing can make all the difference when it comes to its overall health impact. I’ve been told that kefir cultured from home could certainly be more beneficial than buying it from the store.
FACT: This large number of bacteria can also contain various strands and types.
I’ve seen numerous websites proudly displaying the long list of probiotics that can be found in this product. It all sounds great when you read it without knowing exactly what role each of those strands actually play. The greater the variety, the better, right? Not exactly.
The two most important bacteria that you want to populate your gut on a daily basis are Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Why? These are the original bacteria to populate the gut in the first 8 days of life.[2. Brouse, Richard, DC. “Leaky Gut: Causes and Cures.” Live Tele-Clinic Lecture, March 3, 2014.] The other strands–though surely having some benefits–are simply less important when it comes to protecting the overall gut environment.
FACT: Kefir’s bacteria population can vary greatly from product to product in number and type, even when cultured from home.
How do you know exactly which bacteria are in the kefir product that you’re consuming? Some products may list them on the label. (And in that case, we have to trust that they’ve done their testing.) Knowing this information becomes more tricky when you’re culturing it from home.
And here’s the one that the kefir marketing machine doesn’t want you to know.
FACT: Only 6-20% of the probiotics in the kefir ever make it to the gut, where they are most beneficial.
This percentage varies depending on the acid environment of the stomach when the kefir is consumed. On kefir products, you will never find a “guaranteed live delivery” amount. This is essentially what you need in order to know for sure that you are getting what is written on the label.
So even though the first 3 facts about kefir are indeed amazing and encouraging for consumers, the last fact is one that is often conveniently left out. Afterall, this fact does not make good marketing and won’t help sell more products.
Take note again at what the Evolve Kefir label says: “Evolve contains some of the most tested strains of beneficial bacteria –– over 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) before expiration.” The only amount they can guarantee is what is in the box.
Overall, kefir is indeed a great product to get some good probiotics in your diet. Many families even notice some great health benefits from consuming it. (Afterall 6-20% of billions of probiotics are better than zero.)
However, you would have to consume a large amount 3-4 times a day to even come close to the amount of beneficial bacteria that your gut needs on a daily basis for optimal health. Even then, if you culture from home, you may still be wondering if those two all-important strands are even in there.
As a wise consumer, just be aware that even though the kefir product may tought the presence of certain probiotics, your gut is still missing 80% of what’s in the bottle.