Is Kefir Gluten-Free? + Benefits and How to Use it

Is Kefir gluten-free? We’re taking things back to my fermenting roots today by talking all about gluten-free kefir, what it is, what the benefits are, and how to use kefir in this sponsored blog post by Lifeway Kefir.

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Is Kefir Gluten-Free + Benefits and How to Use it​ - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

What is Kefir? And is it Gluten-Free?

Before we determine if Kefir is gluten-free we need to understand what it is. Kefir is a probiotic fermented drink that is commonly made with milk. It’s kind of like drinkable yogurt and it offers a ton of benefits to the body.

Kefir is started with what are known as kefir grains. This could make people on a gluten-free diet think twice, as grains can contain gluten. However, kefir grains aren’t actually grains, instead they are clusters of bacteria, yeast, and nutrients to help ferment water or milk.

So is kefir gluten-free? As long as the ingredients used to start or flavor the kefir are gluten-free, the kefir will be gluten-free. In most cases, this is true. I have yet to come across kefir that is not gluten-free.

Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir

Now that we know in general what kefir is and that it is gluten-free, let’s talk about the different types of kefir. There are two types of kefir; milk kefir and water kefir.

Milk kefir and water kefir are very different from each other. Milk kefir is typically made from animal-based milk. However, milk kefir can also be made from non-dairy alternatives like Lifeway Oat Milk Kefir. In general, milk kefirs are thick (almost like yogurt) and have a tart or tangy taste.

Water kefir is made from water, coconut water, or juice. It is always dairy-free whereas milk kefir is sometimes dairy-free. Another key difference between milk and water kefir is water kefir does not have as strong a taste and it tends not to be thick.

Water kefir and milk kefir are very different from each other however they do have a few things in common. Both require kefir grains to start and both are gluten-free as long the ingredients used to start and flavor the kefir are gluten-free.

Speaking of gluten-free kefir, are oat-based kefirs gluten-free? Oat-based kefirs are an example of kefirs you’d want to double check. In the case of oat-based kefirs, like Lifeway Oat Milk Kefir, you want to make sure the oats are celiac-safe.

In this case, Lifeway Oat Kefir uses certified gluten-free and 100% whole grain organic oats. Thus, this oat-based kefir is considered safe for people with celiac in the USA, as long as they aren’t intolerant or reactive to oats. But you’d want to check the status of any other oat-based kefir before consuming.

Is Lifeway Oat Kefir Actually Gluten-Free and Celiac-Safe?

Benefits of Kefir on a Gluten-Free Diet

There are many nutritional and health benefits of gluten-free kefir. Though the total nutrition of gluten-free kefir depends on what kind of milk is used, kefir grains used, and fermentation time.

Generally speaking, anything that is fermented offers a chance of increased nutrition absorption. This is because the living organisms in the fermented food pre-digest nutrients making them easier for the body to use.

This pre-digestion of the food also has other benefits like making lactose better digested by the body. For example, those who are lactose intolerant may find that they can tolerate dairy-based kefir as the fermentation process breaks the lactose down into more digestible forms. This is especially great for those on a gluten-free diet for celiac disease, as lactose intolerance is common in celiacs.

But enough about the nutrients offered by kefir, let’s talk about health benefits. In the 2017 article on Milk Kefir by Rosa et. al. in the Nutrition Research Review, many benefits of milk kefir were noted. Benefits like the potential to lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, lower risk of some cancers, and more. All of which were attributed to the benefits of probiotic activity in the body. Learn more about the benefits of probiotics with celiac disease here.

In the case of oat-based kefir like Lifeway Oat Milk Kefir, could increase the mentioned benefits of kefir. That’s because oat-based kefir contains oats which have beta-glucans. Beta glucans are soluble fibers that can lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as contain prebiotic fibers to feed the probiotics in the kefir.

To put it simply, kefir offers a lot of health benefits, nutrients, and can even be better tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant. The increased nutrient absorption alone is a big benefit of kefir for celiacs as many celiacs are deficient in many nutrients.

Benefits of Kefir on a Gluten-Free Diet for Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, RDN

How to Make Gluten-Free Kefir

As I mentioned before, kefir is gluten-free if it’s made to be so. Making gluten-free kefir at home is easier than most people think. All you need is to combine kefir grains with milk or water in a jar. Tightly seal it and let it ferment on the kitchen counter for about a day. Then you’ll strain the grains out (and reuse) and enjoy the kefir! For more detailed instructions, check out this recipe.

If you are following a non-responsive celiac diet, you’d want to make you’re own until you’re done with the protocol. Otherwise, it’s completely up to your preference on if you want to go the DIY route or just buy it.

Where to Buy Gluten-Free Kefir

If you choose to forgo the DIY kefir route (whether making your own gluten-free kefir sounds like too much or the thought of growing good bacteria grosses you out) you can buy gluten-free kefir instead. Not only is this an easier way of incorporating kefir into your diet, but if you’re a big texture person, it also will provide more consistent results.

I generally find kefir near the yogurt section of my local grocery store. A great kefir brand to look for is Lifeway Kefir. They offer organic and plant-based kefir options that taste amazing and can be found in most stores. They were actually the first kefir brand I ever tried years ago and still enjoy them to this day. My favorite is their Strawberry Kefir.

What to do With Kefir

So we’ve confirmed most kefir is gluten-free, we’ve talked about the many benefits and where to get it, now let’s talk about what to do with kefir. Kefir is a lot like yogurt, so you can use it in a similar way. One key thing to remember though is if you cook the kefir, you will likely kill the live probiotics in it so you want to try to keep it uncooked if possible. Some creative ways to enjoy gluten-free kefir include:

  • Adding kefir to smoothies instead of milk or yogurt like this Citrus Kefir Smoothie. It adds extra beneficial nutrients and creaminess to them.
  • Soaking overnight oats in kefir for a creamy probiotic and prebiotic rich breakfast. This Apricot Kefir Overnight Oat recipe is a great example of how tasty this can be.
  • Use Kefir to make a creamy dressing like this Fig & Arugula Salad with Maple Kefir Dressing. It adds a healthy spin to popular cheesy dressings.
  • Make it into Creme Brulee like this Cranberry Creme Brulee Mousse. Because it’s thick (almost like yogurt), when you combine it with something like cream cheese, you get a delicious creamy mousse texture that is a must-try.
  • Make a creamy soup with it, making sure to prepare it appropriately so you don’t kill the probiotics. A great example of how to do this is like this Fall Spicy Butternut Squash Recipe.

Kefir is a delicious gluten-free probiotic drink that people with celiac disease can enjoy. Not only can milk kefir be better tolerated for those who are lactose intolerant, but there are also many plant-based options on the market (like the vegan options provided by Lifeway). The bottom-line is if you like yogurt, then you’ve got to try kefir.

Citations:

Rosa, D., Dias, M., Grześkowiak, Ł, Reis, S., Conceição, L., & Peluzio, M. (2017). Milk kefir: Nutritional, microbiological and health benefits. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(1), 82-96. doi:10.1017/S0954422416000275

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