Kefir is a tart and even sour tasting cultured dairy (or non-dairy) drink that’s prepared by fermenting milk with bacteria. It’s often—but not always—pasteurized. Kefir is rich in probiotics and is generally kind to the digestive system.
One of the greatest health advantages of kefir is its high probiotic content, which may be the main reason for your improvement in digestive issues (congrats!). As you may have read in my dairy blog, goat’s milk is closest to human milk, is slightly alkaline, and has the least amount of lactose, making it more digestible and a better beverage compared to cow’s milk. But, keep in mind that goat’s milk kefir still contains casein and growth factors which may have a negative health impact. Plus, kefir typically has sugar added to make it more palatable (about 12 grams per cup), so make sure you’re being a food detective and reading your labels.
Non-dairy, unsweetened kefirs such as coconut kefir may be a great alternative. While a coconut kefir doesn’t contain the protein in a dairy kefir, it has a similar probiotic profile, none of the growth factors or dairy proteins found in dairy kefir, and the unsweetened varieties aren’t high in sugar.
You may also want to try supplemental probiotics. I’d encourage you to choose one of the higher quality probiotics like Dr. Ohirra’s, Primal Defense, Healthforce Nutritionals (Friendly Force), or MegaFood’s Megaflora as an experiment to see if it’s simply the probiotic content of the kefir that’s helping you. I talk about probiotics in my gut health blog, and I discussed probiotics with Kenneth Bock, Integrative MD in this Chat & Chew video. Take a peek!
Lastly, if you were drinking cow’s milk before switching to kefir, your improved digestion may be related to what you’ve eliminated rather than what you’ve added. Just an idea! If you’re interested in more veggie-based solutions, a plant-based kefir and/or probiotics may give you the same digestive benefits without the drawbacks of casein and growth factors found in animal-based milks and kefirs.