Over the past few weeks, we’ve received tons of emails and phone calls from you (our loyal kefir drinkers), asking some seriously awesome questions about the power of probiotics, the origins of kefir and how Lifeway can help you live a happier, healthier life. While we’re able to answer many of your questions, we want to make sure you have all of the facts we can give you, so you can make the best decisions for the health of you and your family.
In our quest for the most up-to-date and comprehensive kefir nutrition information, we reached out to a few certified nutrition experts, including Molly Bray, RDN. Molly is a Community Dietitian with Jewel Osco; she graciously answered some of our most pressing questions about kefir and probiotics. We’ll be sharing her insight in a series of posts, starting today.
A ‘biotics Background
The history of kefir makes for a great story that is shrouded in mystery (as all good stories are). According to scholarly research, kefir and kefir grains (white clusters of bacteria cultures that, when added to milk, ferment to produce kefir) were discovered and used over two thousand years ago in the Caucasus Mountains, a region in Eastern Europe. The origins of kefir grains themselves remains a mystery (no one really knows how they came to be!), we know that kefir grains were passed down by families and considered to be a form of wealth.
A few more fun facts:
- The word kefir is thought to come from the Turkish word “kefi,” which means “good feeling.” This is likely because of the feelings of well-being one achieves after drinking kefir
- Before refrigeration existed, kefir was an excellent way to preserve milk and avoid spoilage/waste
- With the advent of refrigeration, consumption of cultured foods decreased drastically, but thanks to modern methods of culturing, (and tasty cultured foods), there has been surge in consumption by modern consumers (especially of kefir!)
- Kefir has been shown to help support a healthy weight, healthy digestion and, when used topically, is a great addition to a skincare regimen
What are Probiotics and What is Kefir?
One of the most basic (and extremely important!) questions we get asked is, “what are probiotics?” That question is often followed up with, “well, why do I need probiotics? What will they do for me?” According to Molly:
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that promote intestinal health. Although we associate bacteria as harmful, many bacteria actually help the body function properly. According to the National Institute of Health, there are several mechanisms that may account for the benefits of these good bacteria. The possible mechanisms include:
- Producing antimicrobial compounds that destroy or suppress the growth of microorganisms
- Altering the intestinal “microecology” therefore reducing the harmful organisms in the intestine
- Strengthening the immune system
In short, probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your digestive system and support intestinal health, help keep your regular and help strengthen your immune system.
Acids and Bases:
Can Probiotics Survive in Your Stomach?
Another great question we receive has to do with how probiotics survive in the stomach, and whether they do or not. Specifically, does stomach acid kill the live and active kefir cultures? And do the live and active cultures/probiotics survive in the gut? Again, we turned to Molly for assistance:
As one of key features for probiotic effectiveness, survival of live and active cultures in the gastrointestinal tract has been evaluated in clinical trials. Of the several trials observed, probiotics have been proven to withstand the high acidic levels and the digestive enzymes of the human digestive system.
Turns out these belly bugs are right at home in your tummy – they’re even designed to live there! How cool, right?
It’s All About the Benefits, Baby
So now that we know where kefir came from and what probiotics do, here’s a bit more about WHY you should drink kefir by the glass:
- GI disturbances: the probiotics in kefir have been found to prevent diarrhea, and reduce to the duration of that very uncomfortable and unfortunate condition
- Kefir has been found to alleviate symptoms of many stomach conditions, including infant’s diarrhea, IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s disease, Gastroenteritis and traveler’s diarrhea
- Kefir can reduce the symptoms of chronic constipation
- Essentially kefir is good for your gut and can be especially helpful if you have a GI condition
Without a doubt, there are countless benefits to including probiotics, such as kefir, in your diet – mental, emotional and physical. To us, one of the very best things about kefir is that it does something for everyone! You don’t have to suffer from GI distress to benefit from probiotics, nor do you need to have a compromised immune system. Lifeway Kefir is above all a tart and tangy cultured milk smoothie that is creamy, nutritious and a great addition to a healthy diet.
Check back soon for our next Interview with and RDN. In the mean time, check out our What is Kefir section for more information, and never hesitate to send us an email with your questions at [email protected].
Molly Bray, RDN, received her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the College of Saint Benedict and completed a dietetic internship through Iowa State University. Her career has taken her from Minnesota where she worked in the clinical setting as a weight loss counselor to Florida as a clinical dietitian. Working in a hospital setting, she gained experience educating patients of all ages and specialized in diabetes management.
Her clinical experience also includes pediatrics, nutrition support in the ICU, chronic kidney disease, chemical dependency, and weight management. Molly made the move to Chicago to work at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as a nutrition services manager. Since November 2013, she has been following her passion for nutrition and wellness as a Community Dietitian with Jewel Osco. In her free time she loves experimenting in the kitchen and trying new recipes that combine good health and great flavor.
For more information about how Jewel Osco Dietitians can help you Build a Better Basket, email [email protected]