Our modern society seems to promote obesity and poor health at every turn – with the population paying for it dearly. Estimates suggest that more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese (1), with related conditions like heart disease and diabetes also increasing in prevalence.
This pattern makes weight loss critical, yet doing so is often incredibly difficult. After all, we live in a fast-paced world that offers convenience foods and sugar laden products everywhere we look.
Realistically, there is also no single ‘magic pill’, food or even diet that can revolutionize weight loss. Instead, the process involves making consistent and sustainable good choices about food.
Yet, there are some decisions and products that can help more than others. Turning to kefir for weight loss is one of these – and is the focus of this discussion.
Now, I’m not going to say that kefir will make you shed pounds overnight without effort on your part. Sorry, the real world doesn’t work that way. But, there are some interesting things about kefir that make it extremely relevant to weight loss.
What is Kefir?
Probiotics have become increasingly popular these days and kefir is one example of this pattern. Basically, kefir is a type of fermented milk product – typically made from goat or cow milk.
To prepare it, kefir grains are added to milk and it is left to ferment, often overnight or for 24 hours. Once the milk is clumpy it is strained, with the strained milk being the finished product.
The fermentation process means that lactose is converted into lactic acid, which also happens when yogurt is made. As a result, kefir has some flavor similarities to yogurt, even though the texture is different.
However, kefir does tend to be tangier than regular yogurt and typically contains less sugar and more protein. The flavor can take a little getting used to but many people prefer it over yogurt or milk.
There can also be considerable variation in kefir flavor and nutrition. For example, some premade kefir brands add a high amount of sugar to reduce the ‘tang’ of the product. Other brands won’t do so, resulting in very different flavor profiles.
While fermentation alters some aspects of the finished product, kefir has roughly the same nutritional profile as milk. As such, it is a good source of protein and nutrients, including calcium.
Kefir also offers more healthy bacteria than most yogurt, which is a key advantage. For that matter, the health benefits of kefir are associated with the idea of gut health and probiotics.
Basically, we have a collection of bacteria in our gut, which strongly influences how our bodies respond to the environment and process food. We’re still learning all the implications of this situation but theory suggests that having a good balance of bacteria can promote health overall, including in the areas of depression and weight loss.
With this in mind, kefir can be powerful, as the fermentation process makes it a key source of probiotics. Plus, it tastes great too.
The Benefits of Kefir for Weight Loss
From the fermentation process and the nutritional profile, it’s clear that kefir can be good for health. But, how does it aid in weight loss? Well, there are four key areas to consider.
Kefir Offers Proteins That Boost Weight Loss
Kefir is developed from milk and contains most of the same nutrients – including proteins that aid with weight loss. One of these is casein protein, which can help to extend gastric emptying time. Kefir also contains whey protein and this is associated with many health benefits.
Both types of protein help people to feel full for longer. This process promotes decreased food intake and weight loss. There is also considerable evidence about how protein can affect weight loss (2), especially protein from dairy sources.
If nothing else, the chance to feel hungry less often can be a radical outcome. For many people, this makes it easier to eat in a healthy manner and may decrease cravings for sugar and processed food.
Kefir Contains Calcium
Calcium is normally viewed as a way to improve bone health. But, some research has also linked it to weight loss.
In particular, increasing calcium intake may help promote the breakdown of fat, making weight loss easier overall (3).
Research has also shown this, finding that an increase in calcium (combined with a low-calorie diet) can improve weight loss outcomes (4). A similar effect has been seen in patients with type 2 diabetes (5).
For non-diabetic patients, increasing dairy calcium intake can also reduce food intake (6). Now, this effect may be the result of calcium or of dairy products overall but kefir offers benefits in both areas. Plus, the low lactose in kefir can make it a good source of calcium for anyone lactose intolerant (7).
Kefir is a Dairy Product
Views on dairy tend to be complicated. Milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir and related products all act as key sources of nutrients and may promote significant health benefits. Yet, some people cannot digest them effectively and others simply hate the concept.
For that matter, research shows that increasing dairy intake leads to greater weight loss (9). However, this pattern is associated with calorie control (10), meaning you must be aware of your energy intake to see the desired outcome.
Furthermore, including dairy in your diet is much more powerful for weight loss than cutting it out (11).
Kefir hasn’t been researched as often as milk or yogurt. Nevertheless, one study showed that both milk and kefir promote weight loss in roughly the same manner (12). This means that you could rely on either – but kefir offers probiotic benefits that milk doesn’t.
Kefir Contains Probiotics
The probiotics in kefir are a key reason that many people drink it, along with products like kombucha. These probiotics affect the bacteria in our gut, which has many indirect impacts for weight loss.
For one thing, gut bacteria are critical for digestion overall. Having a poor balance of gut bacteria can mean you get more calories from your food and are more likely to store fat (13,14). As a result, probiotics can help shift this balance – offering a greater potential for weight loss.
Animal studies also suggest that supplementing with probiotics may promote decreased food intake, which is another way of aiding weight loss (15). Likewise, the bacteria in kefir may be able to improve fat loss and decreased body weight overall (16).
Collectively, these areas are powerful. There may also be many more weight loss implications that we’re not currently aware of, especially as probiotics do promote health in general.
Using Kefir Effectively
A single 6-ounce glass of kefir per day should be enough to promote weight loss benefits. You may need less if you consume other fermented foods as well.
When just starting with any fermented food, try eating smaller quantities less often. This helps to avoid any side effects and gets your body used to the probiotics. Even then, you may experience some slight gastric side effects as your gut bacteria adjusts. This is normal and nothing to be concerned about.
While kefir is safe for consumption, it is a dairy product. As such, you may need to avoid it if you are allergic or sensitive to milk.
Interestingly, the fermentation process does remove most of the lactose from milk. This means that many lactose sensitive people can successfully drink kefir without side effects – although this isn’t true for everybody (17).
Buying or Making Kefir
One other area to discuss is where you get your kefir from. As with most fermented foods, there are two possible answers – either you buy it directly, or you make the product yourself.
Buying kefir is fairly easy, as specialty health stores stock premade kefir and many supermarkets also.
However, you need to pay close attention to brands. For example, most kefir will go through pasteurization, which kills the beneficial bacteria. Some bacteria are then added back in again afterward, as is the case with probiotic yogurt. But, the end result isn’t exactly the same.
Additionally, many brands add in much more sugar than is necessary. This is a horrible pattern if you want to lose weight. As a result, store bought kefir is always going to be inferior. It does still offer some benefits but you’re better off making your own, if at all possible.
Thankfully, doing so is easy and gives you much more control over what you’re consuming. In fact, if you want to make your own fermented food and drink, kefir is the perfect place to start.
The video below shows the basic process and you can also check out this step-by-step guide from Food Renegade, where she also shows you how to make flavored kefir.
The main thing that you need to make kefir is simply the grains and these can be easily ordered online. For example, the company who made the video above sells kefir grains, which also come with the instructions that you need.
There are also other companies, such as Fusion Teas, which sells kefir grains with an eBook on how to them effectively. While the packaging isn’t as nice with that brand, the reviews are better.
On a side note, it is also possible to make water kefir, using the same general concepts. This is less common and basically uses water as the base, rather than milk. Wellness Mama has instructions for water kefir if you want to try it and it is an interesting alternative.
In doing so, you are still getting the probiotic benefits of kefir and you’re also producing a drink that is lower in calories. For some, it can be a good replacement for soda.
Nevertheless, water kefir does have some disadvantages, as it doesn’t offer the same nutrients as milk. You could still drink it simply for the probiotic aspect (much like other fermented foods). But, because you’re not using milk, the weight loss implications may be less significant.
A similar pattern is true with other variations, like making kefir from almond milk or from coconut milk. So, if you don’t want dairy, this type of kefir could work for you. Just be aware that the weight loss benefits may not be as powerful.
There are many products out there that can help with weight loss, including natural foods like kefir and other probiotics. But, these are only one part of a larger equation.
In particular, lifestyle modifications remain the most powerful way to lose weight – and the only effective way to do so in the long-term.
As Precision Nutrition points out, there is no single ‘correct’ lifestyle approach for health and weight loss. Instead, it is a matter of determining which idea works for you.
After all, there are many differences between individuals, including our habits, lifestyles, preferences, gut bacteria and even the way that our bodies respond.
So, it stands to reason that the best healthy lifestyle is going to vary as well. For some people, that answer may be ketosis or paleo, while others could turn to strategies like intermittent fasting – or something different entirely.
But, while kefir may not be a miracle weight loss product, it is still a powerful one and fits within a healthy lifestyle. It’s a terrific way to get the benefits of probiotics into your daily life.
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