Kefir is a hot item in the world of health and fitness, and for a good reason. If you’re just discovering kefir, it is a fermented beverage made from cow or goat’s milk.
It’s made by adding kefir grains containing yeast and lactic acid bacteria colonies to milk. Most people attribute most of its health benefits to its probiotic content. Many parents have discovered kefir and have asked me about kefir for babies and if it’s healthy.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the potential benefits and risks of kefir for babies.
What Is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented dairy product that’s gotten a lot of attention lately for its potential health benefits.
It’s made by adding yeast cultures and bacteria to cow or goat’s milk. The cultures feed on the sugars in milk and multiply, resulting in a white-colored, slightly fizzy, fermented beverage.
After the kefir grains multiply, the grains are removed from the liquid and can be stored for future use.
It has a sour, tart, creamy distinctive taste very similar to buttermilk or liquid yogurt. However, kefir may have slightly different tastes and characteristics depending on the type.
Most grocery stores have noted the increased demand for kefir, so it is often readily available in most supermarkets. You can also choose to make your own to save a few bucks. Homemade kefir also usually packs in a few extra nutrients as well.
Although kefir can be enjoyed alone as a fizzy beverage, many choose to mix it in a smoothie, add it into baked goods, use it in place of yogurt in parfaits, or make it into ice cream.
Nutritional Compositin of Kefir
One cup of plain, full-fat kefir contains around:
- 139 calories
- 8 grams of protein
- 8 grams of fat
- 7 grams of sugar
- 9 grams of carbohydrates
- 300 milligrams of calcium
- 91 milligrams of sodium
- 300 IU vitamin A
The exact amount of nutrients can vary depending on if your kefir is store-bought or homemade and the type of milk base used.
When Can Babies Have Kefir?
If introduced the right way, kefir can be an easy-to-digest, probiotic-rich first food for your baby.
It can be introduced to your baby as soon in solid foods as they are ready to start on solids. Many experts recommend introducing kefir at around 12 months of age. However, some pediatricians may give you the OK to begin introducing kefir much sooner.
The Benefits of Kefir For Babies
There are many benefits of giving your baby kefir as one of their first foods. Let’s examine how your baby can benefit from kefir!
Promote Healthy Growth and Development
Kefir is chock-full of beneficial nutrients to help nourish your growing baby. To start, it’s a rich source of calcium. Babies need calcium to help them build strong bones and healthy teeth. Kefir is also rich in B vitamins, including B12. Babies need B12 to support brain development and produce healthy red blood cells.
Kefir is also a good source of vitamin A, which supports your baby’s vision and growth and can help fight infection.
Since most dairy is fortified with vitamin D, some kefir drinks will have a good amount of vitamin D as well.
Kefir is also filled with organic acids and peptides that can benefit the overall health and wellness of your little one.
Impressive Macronutrient Profile
Kefir is a great source of protein for your baby to help repair and maintain vital tissues and support the growth of all organ systems within their body.
It also has carbohydrates to help maintain energy levels and keep a baby’s brain functioning optimally.
To fully benefit, it’s important to choose full-fat kefir, the same as you would with milk.
Whole milk kefir will have more fat in it. Your developing baby needs fat for many reasons, including brain and nervous system development.
It also helps promote the absorption of other nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K that can only be absorbed if there’s fat in the diet.
Probiotics are good bacteria. They can support healthy digestion and help with many other health conditions.
One study suggests that infants who received probiotics led to shorter crying episodes, less reflux and spit-up, and fewer episodes of constipation.
Still, we really need more research on the benefits of probiotics in infants and babies to investigate their potential.
Nevertheless, probiotics are for most babies and children and it’s certainly reasonable to give your little one’s fermented foods like kefir to support their rapidly developing microbiome.
Gut bacteria helps with food digestion, provides vitamins, and helps protect against harmful bacteria.
Studies show that fermented foods restore the gut microbiome more effectively than probiotic supplements.
Kefir has many bacterial strains present. The exact composition often varies by different products. However, studies show the predominant Lactobacillus species is always present.
In comparison to probiotics, kefir is a much cheaper alternative that provides many additional nutrients that probiotics do not.
Help Broaden Your Child’s Palate
By introducing your baby to a fermented milk product like kefir, you are allowing them to explore different textures.
It also can allow your child to experience sour foods at an early age.
Research shows that giving your child fermented foods at an early age can help reduce their desire to overeat sweets.
Easier to digest
When a cow’s milk is fermented, it contains many beneficial enzymes including digestive enzymes such as lipase, lactase, and proteases.
These enzymes can help break down fat, protein, and lactose in the milk. This may make kefir easier for your baby to digest than regular milk.
Is Kefir Safe For Babies?
Yes, kefir is safe for babies and can be introduced in solids or as a dip as soon as your child begins eating yogurt. It shouldn’t be consumed as a beverage until your child is around 12 months old.
However, kefir is usually made from cow’s milk, which is the most common food allergy among children.
If you suspect that your child has a milk allergy or if milk allergies are common in your family, it’s important to speak with an allergist before introducing your baby to kefir.
Thankfully, a milk allergy often resolves on its own between the ages of 1 and 3.
Because kefir is fermented, it’s naturally lower in lactose than regular milk. In fact, some children may actually tolerate it better than whole milk. It also contains beneficial digestive enzymes which can help the body digest kefir.
What Is the Best Kefir For Babies?
The best kefir for babies is whole, full-fat, pasteurized kefir products. It’s best to begin introducing unflavored, unsweetened kefir in very small quantities.
You can use it as a dip or blend it into smoothies or other foods to first introduce kefir.
There are other kefir products made from water, almond milk, and other milk products. However, many of these foods may not contain as much vitamin D, calcium, or fat as kefir from whole milk.
You can learn more about the nutrient compositions of non-dairy milk sources here!
Kefir For Babies With Eczema
Eczema is a condition that can be tricky to treat. According to the National Eczema Association, an abnormal balance of bacteria plays an important role in eczema.
This may lead you to question if kefir, which is rich in probiotics, can help restore a healthy balance of bacteria.
While some studies appear promising, other studies show no benefit.
As of right now, there are no significant studies that suggest children with eczema can benefit from kefir.
Kefir is generally safe for babies and can be a great, easy-to-digest first food to introduce to your baby. It’s also chock-full of beneficial nutrients to help your baby grow and develop. If you’re looking to broaden your child’s palate and introduce them to sour foods, kefir is a great choice. The introduction of sour foods in Western cultures often occurs much later, so starting early can be beneficial.
Kefir is also an excellent source of probiotics that can help support your little one’s gut microbiome. Although we still need more research on probiotics, you can’t go wrong with introducing whole food probiotic sources early on.
If you have a history of milk allergies in your family, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider before offering whole-milk kefir to your child.
Although you can typically start offering kefir as soon as your child starts eating yogurt, be sure to speak with your child’s pediatrician before changing your baby’s diet.