Using Kefir to Keep Your Gut Healthy

Beneficial Gut Bacteria

The sharp tang of kefir may not be to everyone’s taste, but the fermented
milk drink has a growing legion of fans, as it flies off the shelves.Tesco, for example, reported a 400 per
cent increase in sales in the 18 months
to February this year.
Kefir, available in dairy and non-dairy
versions, is high in the ‘good’ bacteria thought to contribute to improved gut health, reducing the risk of disease and -supporting weight loss. It is a source of nutrients such as vitamins A, B, K and calcium. Adding good bacteria to the diet helps rebalance the microbiome — the com- munity of bugs in our guts. Plain yoghurt is also a fermented prod- uct that naturally contains the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Strepto- coccus thermophilus. Meanwhile, prod- ucts sold asprobiotic* yoghurt will usu-ally have more beneficial bacteria
-ally have more beneficial bacteria
added, such as Lactobacillus casei and
types of Bifidobacteria.
But kefir usually has a larger range of
potentially health-giving bacteria
with 12 or more varieties rather than
the typical one or two added to probi-
otic yoghurts. Another difference
thought to be responsible for kefir’s
superior health benefits — is that it
often also contains beneficial yeast
(which is why it can be fizzy).
It’s this micro-organism diversity that
can make kefir superior to more simple
fermented foods such as yoghurt,’ says
Professor Paul Cotter, a microbiologist
at Teagasc Food Research Centre in
Cork, who studies the health benefits of
fermented foods.
A review last year by Professor Cotter,
published in the journal Nutrients, sug-
gested that consuming kefir or kefir
micro-organisms is linked to reduced
inflammation, improved cholesterol lev-
els and healthy blood pressure.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study in the journal
PLoS One suggests peptides (broken-
down protein) that form during the
making of kefir can reduce the clotting
that contributes to heart attacks, and
improves the absorption of calcium.
Kefir is produced when kefir ‘grains’ are added to milk to initiate fermenta- tion. They look like gooey mini cauli- flower florets and contain different bac- teria and yeast. teria and yeast. Once the milk is fermented, the grains are removed. The liquid left is the kefir. It’s this process that helps distinguish the better products. Many don’t use . It’s this process that helps distinguish the better products. Many don’t use the better products. Many don’t use this technique, as it’s difficult to mass-produce, says Professor Cotter. -produce, says Professor Cotter.

One popular way to scale up involves
using a small amount of the kefir
produced to start fermenting a new batch. It’s still quite good,
as the consumer is drinking real
kefir microbes.’
Other products are made by fer-
menting milk with a few beneficial bacteria extracted from kefir grains. ‘In this case, they would bevery similar-to drinking probiotic very similar-to drinking probiotic yoghurt,’ adds Professor Cotter. You can identify a good kefir product as its label will say it’s made with actual kefir grains. It will also list some of the ‘good’ bacteria, but look out for yeasts, in particular Kluyveromyces marrianus or Saccharomyces. It is easy to make kefir (see box), but beware if you buy one. but beware if you buy one. Some kefirs contain lots of
added sugar, flavouring and fruit
purees, which as well as impacting
calories and oral health, may
reduce the wider health benefits
of the beneficial bacteria and
yeasts,’ says Helen Bond, a dieti-
tian in Derbyshire.
Here, our experts analyse some
kefir products and we rate them.