What’s the only sweetener you should mix with your kefir?

I only allow one kind of sweetener on the farm:

Stevia.

Stevia is brilliant stuff. Made from a plant, low-GI, zero calories, safe for diabetics. Stevia is not actually a sweetener at all – it just stimulates the sweet taste buds on your tongue, so that you have the sensation of sweetness.

Stevia has been used for for centuries as a bio-sweetener and a traditional treatment for diabetics — and studies show it may actually improve blood sugar control. 1 Stevia also appears to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Researchers particularly recommend its health benefits for diabetic patients, those wishing to lose weight, and children. 2

The sugar folks fought long and hard to keep stevia out of this country and off the shelves – and who can blame them! You would too, if faced with an alternative to your product that had zero calories and actual health benefits.

The sugar barons lost the fight, though, and had to adopt a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, so stevia can now be found on the shelves of many supermarkets. Little word of advice though – check the label on the stevia you purchase. Most stevia you will find in the supermarket is layered onto a dextrose base to give it extra bulk- and dextrose is sugar! Naughty marketers…

Which kind of stevia is best?

What you want is the completely pure stevia. It comes in crystals, drops and clickers that you can put into coffee and tea. I like the clickers and the crystals – but only the 100% pure stevia. Make sure it says so on the label. I usually order mine online, or get it from a health food store.
The pure stuff is pricey – but as it’s something like 30 times as sweet as sugar, one bag will do you for a long, long time!

I also like the clickers for coffee and tea. I don’t like the drops, as I find them fiddly and I’m generally in a hurry – but that’s just personal preference, you might find they work really well for you.

The only downside to stevia that I’ve found is that it’s hard to bake with. It has an odd, fluffy texture unlike the lovely grainy quality that sugar gives a cake. If you find a good way to bake with it, please do let me know , and we’ll go into business together! ; )

There is a baking version of stevia that has erythritol added for bulk. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is made by fermenting glucose. Like stevia, it does not raise your blood sugar, so is microbiome-safe. The advantages of erythritol is that it creates the same shiny effect in low-calorie chocolate, adds bulk to dairy products and improves shelf life in baked goods. Stevia and erythritol work for home baking because they’re both heat-stable. It’s safe enough – but I’m still not crazy about the results.

For baking I prefer to sweeten with whole blended up fruit and veg, like bananas and carrots, or dried fruit. Dried fruit tends to have a similar glycemic index to its non-dried counterpart, so is safe to use sparingly as a natural sweetener – because it still has its fiber, the sugar goes into your bloodstream more slowly. Dried apples, apricots, peaches and plums are all low GI and nice to work with. If you need to increase sweetness levels, you can top up with stevia until it’s sweet enough for your taste.

Now that we’ve talked about adding stevia to your diet, let’s talk about what you need to let go of:

Sugar.

Sorry to say, it’s a real baddie. Quite simply, it kills the good bugs in your microbiome.

Professor Cynthia Kenyon from the University of California, one of the world’s top researchers in the field of ageing, experimented with giving glucose to worms, and found that it shortened their life span. Killed them right off. She claims that if you had seen what she has seen, in terms of what sugar does to living organisms, you would never eat sugar again. She doesn’t. 3

Sugar is death to your microbiome. Just like pouring bleach into the river.

Just say no to sugar.

What about honey? Well, honey is brilliant stuff – but I treat it as medicine. It’s a natural antibiotic. If we have coughs or colds, we make a mix of honey, lemon and ginger and drink it down. We also apply sterile dressings that have been surgically infused with honey to wounds, in order to promote rapid healing and prevent infection. I used these surgical honey dressings on Rich’s wound when he had MRSA, and I always keep a few spare in my farmhouse first aid kit – they’re brilliant. 4

Honey should not be mixed with kefir, because its naturally antibiotic action will kill off the good kefir probiotics that you’re trying to get into your system.

We don’t mess with manuka – apparently three times more manuka honey is on the shelves than is actually produced in New Zealand, so chances are good that you’re being over-charged for fake manuka! 5

When we need honey on the farm, we use heather honey – the honey that most beekeepers choose to eat. A little more expensive than regular honey, but nowhere near as pricey as manuka! It’s a mono-honey (made from only one plant) that has been shown to be just as anti-bacterially effective as manuka. 6 And it comes from right here in the good old UK.

Honey is very high on the GI index – almost as high as pure glucose – so don’t use it as an everyday sweetener. It will rock your microbiome.

Maple syrup, agave syrup – same. Maple syrup is even higher on the glycemic index than honey, so is no good for your microbiome either. And do not use agave syrup! Agave nectar is about 85% fructose, which is much higher than plain sugar, and can contribute to insulin resistance when consumed in large amounts.

I don’t hold with artificial sweeteners, so those are out.

Xylitol – mmm, well, I do chew xylitol gum, because it has been shown to promote dental health.

But stevia is the only thing that goes onto my farmhouse kitchen table, or into my Nutribullet to mix with my kefir!

Note: Pregnant or nursing women shouldn’t use stevia. Whole stevia leaves were also traditionally used as a contraceptive by the Guarani Indians in Paraguay. Those on blood pressure or diabetes medications should check with their doctor before using stevia-based products, as they may interact with these medications. People allergic to ragweed may be allergic to stevia as well.

References:

  1. Shivanna N. - "Antioxidant, anti-diabetic and renal protective properties of Stevia rebaudiana". Published by Elsevier Inc. on November 7, 2012.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23140911
  2. SK Goyal - "Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review". Published by Taylor & Francis on February 13, 2010.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19961353
  3. Dr. Kris Verburgh - "The Food Hourglass". Published by London: Harper Collins on June 18, 2014.
  4. NHS Choices - "Can Honey Fight Superbugs like MRSA". Published by NHS on April 13, 2011.
    nhs.uk/news/2011/04April/Pages/manuka-honey-mrsa-superbug-bacteria.aspx
  5. Maybelle Morgan - "Is your superfood honey FAKE? Experts reveal that three times more jars of healing manuka are sold around the world than being produced in New Zealand". Published by Daily Mail on May 3, 2015.
    dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3066381/Is-superfood-honey-FAKE-jars-manuka-sold-world-produced-New-Zealand.html
  6. Daily Mail Reporter - "Scottish honey 'is as good at healing as manuka': Heather variety could offer cheaper alternative". Published by Daily Mail on October 2, 2013.
    dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2440926/Scottish-honey-good-healing-manuka-Heather-variety-offer-cheaper-alternative.html#ixzz4AiVVJXiU

11 thoughts on “What’s the only sweetener you should mix with your kefir?

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  1. Really interesting and useful information – as always – thank you, Shaan! I love your blogs and especially the fact that they’re backed up with scientific evidence. I used to put a bit of xylitol in my morning kefir smoothie, because stevia tastes like sweetener, which i didn’t like. However, now i’ve been taking the kefir for a while, my taste buds have adapted and i only now need a bit of banana and some berries.

    1. Hi Jo – glad you’re enjoying the posts, thanks for taking the time to check them out! ; ) You make a really interesting point – we’ve had the same experience on the farm. I used to have to sweeten the kefir for the boys in the morning, but now they drink it straight. I think over time, you really do adjust. We have a bad habit of thinking that everything should taste sweet these days – doesn’t do us any favours! x

  2. Hi could you possibly provide a link to the stevia clicker you use as I am having trouble finding one as I find it hard to get the power right! I am half way through the kefir 21 day course and loving it!!

  3. Oh thank you for that information. I followed your link and have now bought Stevia. I chose the crystals as I don’t have sugar in any drinks at all, but thought that the crystals would be more like sprinkling sugar when needed. Until now I have used Zylosweet which you can bake with successfully. The only exception is it won’t work with yeast. I love your blogs, and read the spots off them!!! Great information about honey too. Best wishes

    1. Thanks Denyse! ; ) I do find the crystals easy to use, as you say you can sprinkle them as needed – and boy, you don’t need much! They’re super-sweet. Let me know how you get on and what you think – x

  4. This is really interesting, I was having a bit of maple syrup in mine, but will get some stevia instead. What do you think about eating dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, apricots etc. I make a fruit cake without any added sugar, just dried fruit – but its probably on the no-no list, isn’t it.!

    1. Good news here Kate – Dried fruit is good! Dried fruit tends to have a similar glycemic index to its non-dried counterpart, so is safe to use as a natural sweetener – because it still has its fiber, the sugar goes into your blood stream more slowly. Dried apples, apricots, peaches and plums are all low GI and nice to work with. ; )

  5. Very interesting and informative……. I purchased some Stevia from Morrison’s Supermarket thinking I was doing good lol x
    Off now to check the label……. Thanks Shann x

    1. They’re sneaky, those marketers – Coca Cola Live has a tiny bit of stevia to give it a “green pedigree,” but still has 22 grams of sugar – more than Diet Coke or Coke Zero! ; 0

  6. Hi Shann
    Please could you kindly suggest the actual stevia you use as i have already accidentally purchased a stevia product ie Natvia which i hadnt realised contained the erythritol in so it was an expensive mistake. Fortunately amazon reimbursed me the cost without having to return the product due to shipping costs. i have a terrible sweet tooth and am currently on day 5 of my kefirising and just need something to make the odd cup of tea taste bearable. Hoping to ween myself off eventually but it will take baby steps to get there no doubt. Also i wanted to know whether it is normal for conditions to get worse before better as my skin has become more inflamed and the skins is very flaky around the top of my cheeks and on my nose. I am using both the milk and the breakout products. Hoping there is a light at the end of this long tunnel.
    U