Kefir, Kombucha, and Sauerkraut…Oh My!

by | Aug 24, 2017 | Nutrition

Healthy eating habits create happy and healthy microbiota in your gut!

A Dirt to Dinner reader recently emailed our team in response to the Kombucha article we had written. After reading the article, she questioned which probiotic supplement was “better” for her—Kefir or Kombucha?
“Hey D2D, I am a Kefir drinker but just read your article on Kombucha and was wondering if I should switch to this probiotic source? Which one is better for me? Thanks.”
More than just giving a simple recommendation based on these two products, this question opened a new door for us. How can we help our readers make smart food purchases?
Incorporating diverse, nutrient-dense foods is the best way to keep your digestive system healthy. But, foods containing probiotics might not find their way into your diet naturally.
“When you look at populations that eat real food that’s high in fiber, and more plant-based foods, you’re going to see they have a more robust microbiota, with more genetic diversity, healthier species and fewer pathogenic bacteria living in the gut.” —Meghan Jardine (Registered Dietitian)

Probiotics are not just limited to Kefir or Kombucha— although the companies that make these products do a great job at marketing themselves as the best option to maintain a healthy gut. In reality, there is a laundry list of products and foods that contain probiotics, some of which are sauerkraut, yogurt, miso soup, and vinegar. But how often are you reaching for the sauerkraut when there isn’t a hot dog attached? If the answer is “not very,” then clearly that isn’t the right probiotic for you!

We know that you want to incorporate a probiotic into your diet and we know where you can get them—but, is there a food/product that is the “best” for you? The answer is simple…No! D2D (and the microbiota industry) cannot recommend which probiotic source your body will respond best to. But, we can give you a few tips and tricks when selecting probiotic supplements for your diet.
So many choices!  The labels we see every day can be overly complicated and it’s important to know what to look for before purchasing.

While probiotic foods can be quite different, there should be a probiotic-rich food or supplement that is right for you…you might just have to experiment a bit. And there may not be one solution!

We have talked a lot about the importance of good bacteria. If you happen to have read an earlier post on the microbiota in your gut, you know that your gut is actually your second brain! New research shows that your gut health may have the ability to influence your mood, energy levels, immune system, sleep, weight, and even your mental clarity. It is even being said that your gut bacteria is responsible for 70% of your immune health.
The biggest challenge with promoting gut health is emphasizing how unique every single individuals’ microbiome is! Thus, its hard to give supplement recommendations because what might work for you might not help another. Watch the video to the left to learn more about what is known about microbiomes.
Looking specifically at Kefir vs. Kombucha— there are a few advantages and disadvantages that you should be aware of.
Kefir is typically made from a fermented milk base and for that reason it is a strong source of calcium. It also contains vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, enzymes, and (of course) probiotics! Kefir products, like Lifeway, can contain over 15 billion viable bacteria cells per cup! You can also buy water based Kefir products, like Kevita, however these beverages contain roughly 4 billion colony forming units.
One thing you definitely want to be aware of when buying Kefir and other similar probiotic foods is sugar! In “Sugar is Sugar is Sugar!” we reviewed the various health issues that are associated with the overconsumption of sugar. Excess sugar consumption is believed to cause inflammation and inflammation has been associated with a whole host of health issues. Unfortunately, the average American consumes 3x more sugar than is recommended on any given day. (The FDA recommendation for sugar is 24 grams a day for women and 36 grams per day for men).
Sugar content is a very important thing to keep in mind when you are selecting a probiotic. Sugar is often used to feed the live bacteria cultures that are present in probiotic supplements. And while most of this is utilized by the bacteria and not ingested by the consumer, some products can sneak extra sugar into their foods to make them tastier. Kefir, for example, typically contains about 12 grams of sugar per serving. That is half your daily amount. Similarly, yogurt is another probiotic source that has a higher sugar content. Kevita and Kombucha, on the other hand, usually contain roughly 3-5 grams of sugar per serving.
P.S. Some of you might be interested in testing your microbiota. There are many testing services available – but don’t waste your time. There is not enough science to determine the perfect gut components for your individual lifestyle. 
However, if you are aware of this, your stomach feels great, and you are mindful of your remaining sugar intake, then Kefir is probably the right probiotic for you! But, if the roughly 12 grams of sugar that is coming from Kefir is not accounted for in your diet— then you might want to look elsewhere…Especially if you would rather spend the 24 grams on yummy dark chocolate (like the D2D team).

Bottom Line: Every individual’s gut is different and there is no telling what probiotic source will work best for you. So, if you are a Kefir drinker and it is keeping your stomach happy—keep it in your diet. Simply be mindful of the sugar and make adjustments with other products. Finally, remember that if you have a varied and healthy diet, pre and probiotic supplements might not be needed.