Coconut Kefir Is the Plant-Based, Probiotic-Rich Drink a Gastroenterologist Says Is Stellar for Your Gut

Photo: Stocksy/Sophia Hsin
Coconut kefir: You may have seen it at your local Whole Foods (or "shoppy shop"), on TikTok, or in a lucky pal's smoothie. Or maybe you haven’t seen it at all, but are in need of gut support? Regardless, coconut kefir is one delicious drink to check out.

“Coconut kefir is a fermented beverage made from coconut water and kefir grains,” says Sara Mesilhy, MD, MRCP, a gastroenterologist at ProbioticReviewGirl. “Traditional kefir is made from fermented cow’s milk and is not considered vegan, but there are various plant-based milk options, like coconut, almond, and pea milk, which can be used to create vegan-friendly kefir.”

Experts In This Article

Perhaps even better, you can consume it in a variety of ways. “Its smooth consistency and tangy taste is similar to drinkable yogurt,” says Avery Zenker, RD, a registered dietitian and writer for EverFlex Fitness. “It can be enjoyed in similar ways to milk and yogurt, such as in a bowl with cereal, added to a smoothie, popsicles, or simply on its own.”

The health benefits of coconut kefir

The love that gastroenterologists and dietitians have for coconut kefir is all about probiotics, aka “good bacteria,” according to Dr. Mesilhy. She says probiotics “improve gut health and facilitate digestive processes by maintaining a balanced and healthy microbial environment in the digestive system.”

Further, Zenker says a balanced gut microbiome is “associated with numerous essential elements of health, including digestion, mental health, higher energy levels, and a stronger immune system, to name a few.” You might have heard of these phrases in regards to probiotic yogurts. They're a solid option, too! Just note this intel Zenker shares: “Compared to yogurt, kefir tends to be a better source of probiotics in terms of variety and quantity of microbial species.”

But back to the many health benefits of coconut kefir. For starters, this drink can help build to stronger bones and muscles, better cholesterol and blood sugar control, and has potential anti-inflammatory effects, according to Dr. Mesilhy.

That’s not all. Zenker says coconut milk kefir is a great source of potassium, and sometimes calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin B12, depending on the brand. Dr. Mesilhy adds it’s rich in protein, vitamin B, and sometimes calcium.

What brands of coconut kefir do experts back?

Speaking of coconut kefir brands, is there one that’s best? Dr. Mesilhy isn’t partial to a specific brand, but she does have a recommendation to keep in mind in the aisle. “When choosing a coconut kefir brand, try to choose one with a good source of probiotics,” she says. “Look for brands that mention ‘live and active cultures’ on the label, as this indicates a higher probiotic content and potential health benefits.”

“When choosing a coconut kefir brand, try to choose one with a good source of probiotics. Look for brands that mention ‘live and active cultures’ on the label, as this indicates a higher probiotic content and potential health benefits.”
—Sara Mesilhy, MD, MRCP, gastroenterologist

Zenker says she isn’t familiar with every brand out there, but likes the Maison Riviera brand. “Their plain coconut milk kefir is rich in probiotics with 2 billion CFU per serving, plus it's dairy-free and vegan,” she explains. “Unlike some other coconut kefir varieties, their plain kefir has zero sugar and four grams of protein per serving.”

Fun fact: You can also make coconut kefir at home! All you need, Zenker says, is coconut milk and a kefir starter culture, similar to a sourdough starter or kombucha scoby.

Just FYI… on health benefits of coconut kefir and general expectations

There are some “best practices,” so to speak, when consuming coconut kefir. Nothing to be worried about, though. “Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique and may respond differently to probiotics,” Zenker says. “Some people may want to start slower with smaller quantities when introducing probiotic foods if they're not used to it.” At the same time, she recommends consuming them often—aka, every day—so you can fully obtain the benefits.

At the end of the day, though, while coconut kefir is loaded with health perks, it’s not a cure-all. “Coconut kefir itself likely won’t heal your entire gut or solve all your health issues, but it can be a beneficial addition to your diet,” Zenker says. “For best results, support your gut microbiome in other ways regularly, including through a balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, and managing stress.”

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