Why Our Kefir is Up to 99% Lactose-Free

If you’re a fan of our kefir, there’s likely a specific reason you took the plunge and grabbed your first bottle. While some of you grew up drinking it, others  may have tried based on a tip from a friend, had it recommended by a health practitioner, or read a news story promoting the many benefits of the fabulous and fizzy drink. Whatever your reason, we’re glad to have you in the Lifeway Family.

Lifeway Kefir Lactose Free

Drink Kefir, Feel Fabulous

We’re of course fans of all things kefir, but we’re especially proud of the fact that our kefir is up to 99% lactose-free. While this idea might seem contradictory (a milk drink without much milk sugar?), it’s completely true! “But how,” you ask? By fermentation, of course!

View our 2018 Lactose Test Results here.

The Simple Answer: Get Cultured

On a basic level, a person who is lactose intolerant is unable to digest lactose (the sugar in milk). That’s a pretty obvious statement, but it’s important for framing the rest of the conversation. A person who is lactose intolerant is not allergic to milk or dairy foods (that’s something completely different), they simply do not possess or create the enzyme lactase, which is what our bodies use to break down lactose.

So what does fermentation have to do with lactose? To refresh what we discussed a few weeks ago, fermentation (or fermenting) is the term used to describe foods that have been broken down to a degree by bacteria, enzymes and yeast. The result of this process is the production of beneficial bacteria and enzymes. With our kefir, the bacteria we introduce are our 12 specific kefir cultures. These cultures break down the lactose and the resulting beneficial bacteria produced are the probiotic cultures.

The combination of our specific kefir cultures, as well as our long fermentation time (14-18 hours) ensures that our kefir is up to 99% lactose-free when you drink it, as testing by our independent laboratory, a leading FDA-certified food testing laboratory, has shown. Even though some amount of lactose may remain, kefir is typically safe for most lactose-intolerant people to consume.

The Not So Simple Answer

Lots of things happen to milk when kefir cultures are introduced, especially with the lactose (what we really care about right now). On a chemical level, lactose is a disaccharide (two-part) sugar found in milk. When the kefir cultures are introduced to the milk, the cultures split the lactose into the simple sugars galactose and glucose (galactose and glucose are the two monosaccharide sugars that create lactose when linked). Once lactose is broken down, the enzyme lactase is no longer needed for digestion. That is why our kefir is tolerated by most people who are lactose-intolerant!

The chemical reactions don’t stop there, though! Once the lactose is broken down, the kefir cultures turn to the remaining sugars. When they react with glucose, they turn it into lactic acid in a process known as homofermentation. This lactic acid is one of the byproducts of fermentation that give kefir its distinct taste and bite!

A Long Story Short

The fermentation process can be complicated, but we hope we’ve answered a few of your questions about the lactose concentration in our kefir. Whether you’re lactose-intolerant or not, Lifeway Kefir is a creamy, delicious beverage you can enjoy in a smoothie, over cereal or straight out of the bottle. And with more than 100 different varieties to choose from, we’re certain you can find a favorite!

Park, Y. W. (2009). Bioactive Components in Milk and Dairy Products. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell.