Lifeway Frozen Kefir: Probiotics for Dessert?

Lifeway Frozen Kefir

This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, Director of food/nutrition labeling and product development at Palate Works.

Kefir, the more probiotically-endowed cousin to buttermilk and drinkable yogurt, is a cultured, fermented dairy beverage that’s been around for centuries, but doesn’t have the marketing pizzazz of Greek yogurt… yet.

If you don’t expect Lifeway’s frozen kefir to taste like ice cream (which is much richer) or most frozen yogurts (sweeter), it’s easy to like this product, especially if you’re a fan of liquid kefir and its slightly sour taste (great over oatmeal, BTW). The sourness is mostly noticeable in the original/plain (vs. fruit or chocolate) flavor, while the fruit-flavored versions are reminiscent of sherbets.

Like sherbets, the fruit-flavored frozen kefirs are just that – flavored (and colored). Here’s Mango:

kefir ingredients

With no real fruit (despite images of fruit on the packages and web site) or even juice, it’s a missed opportunity to bump up the taste and vitamins (e.g., A and C from mango, C from strawberries): Just four medium strawberries per pint (one strawberry per ½ cup serving) is all it would take to get 10% DV for vitamin C from the fruit, and with 2% DV already coming from the milk (via the cow’s diet), it would take slightly less than one strawberry per serving for the strawberry flavor to qualify for “good source” of vitamin C. The mango flavor would need less than 1/5 of a mango per pint (4 servings) to reach 10% DV for vitamin C. Here’s the nutrition info for the mango flavor (all flavors are almost identical nutrition-wise):

Kefir nutrition facts

Similarly, the chocolate flavor contains no actual chocolate, despite being a good way to add iron and fiber (not to mention better taste): one ounce of dark chocolate in each serving could provide 10% of your DV for fiber and 28% for iron. Of course, any of these changes would raise the cost of the product (and make the manufacturing more complex).

Under the Cossack:

Best (apparent) assets:

  • Probiotics (having 10 different bacteria strains is probably better than just one or two).
  • Lower in calories and sugar than in the same volume of ice cream and frozen yogurt. But because this product has more air (which lowers caloric density), it actually has a higher percentage of calories coming from sugar: 71% of calories from sugar vs. 50% in a leading frozen yogurt (containing more protein and fat) vs. about 30-40% in typical ice cream (more fat). Calories are completely relative to portion size/density, and rarely is that factored in. Then again, if you can get the same taste satisfaction and satiety with ½ cup of frozen kefir as with ½ cup of ice cream – and stop at ½ cup – then the lower calorie count per serving is a benefit.

Labeling/marketing bloopers:

  • “High in protein”: at 4 g it isn’t. One serving needs at least 5 g protein to be a good source and 10 g to be “high in” (aka “excellent source”).
  • “High in calcium”: 15% DV qualifies for “good source” but not “high in” (20%+).
  • “Evaporated cane juice” in the ingredients list: not an approved name for sugar, which is what this is. FDA has stated the following on this: “Sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be listed … by names which suggest that the ingredients are juice, such as “evaporated cane juice.” FDA considers such representations to be false and misleading … because they fail to reveal the basic nature of the food and its characterizing properties (i.e., that the ingredients are sugars or syrups) ….” Even white (aka common granulated) sugar is made by evaporating the “juice” crushed out of the sugar cane.
  • From the company’s email: “This product [is] a… “flat belly power food…..” Great visual, but it’s a meaningless (and commonly abused) statement. To get a flat belly, you need to do one or more of the following (let’s ignore genetics for now): take in fewer calories than you burn; exercise more; and not react even to healthy foods, such as certain fruits, whole grains, veggies and nuts (all known to temporarily cause bloating due to the fiber). If you’re on a diet, temporary bloating can be a good thing – the full feeling makes you less likely to overeat.
  • Also, note that the Lifeway web site shows the exact same ingredients for the Chocolate, Pumpkin, and Dulce de Leche flavors (including “chocolate flavor”). Ooops.

One claim they are allowed to say, but don’t:

  • “No saturated fat” (if under .5 g) or “low in saturated fat” (if no more than 1 g), unlike ice cream, which often contains up to 11 g saturated fat (55% of DV) per ½ cup serving… a portion size that few people limit themselves to, so it’s not unusual for the real amount to be close to 100% of your Daily Value.

Solution: Enjoy for the probiotics, and top with your own fruit, nuts and chocolate to boost taste and nutrition.

Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

  • Jensen_G

    So they are going against FDA statements but cannot be penalized? Does the FDA not have any teeth on this?

    • Carol

      It’s amazingly common. Show me just about any food package and I can pick out at least one error or non-compliant claim/statement. Multiply this by the tens or hundreds of thousands of food products, and consider the small FDA budget for non-emergency enforcement (i.e., things not involving food poisoning or other more serious issues) and you get a fairly unregulated food environment. Add to that the number of food companies that use marketing people to decide what should go on a package (with no knowledge of labeling regulations, nutrition or sometimes even math), and … bingo. The fact is that FDA does inspections and sends warning letters every week, but will never catch up with all the problems.

      • Jensen_G

        thanks for the illustration, too bad consumers or companies like Fooducate cannot submit these types of issues to the FDA with the assurance they will be looked at.

        If food companies are given an inch with this kind of thing, they will take a mile, like with most unenforced regulations in the private sector…

      • CT

        Why can’t Fooducate bring these types of mis-labeling instances to FDA’s attention? I don’t see any reason why not. It would be the responsible thing to do.

  • malachite2

    Springfield Creamery in Oregon makes a far better kefir, w/perhaps 4 ingredients. It’s the “Nancy’s” brand–Nancy’s yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. The business ships its product all over the US, so perhaps if people ask for it, stores/supermarkets will stock it.

  • Crystal

    Very informative and detailed. I needed to know this. Thanks!!

  • Dan

    Personally, I like the ProBugs Kefir tubes. They’re really marketed for kids, but they’re single serve which is great for someone like me who can’t get enough of frozen dairy treats. They’re not the best for you, but it’s dessert. Not a main course. I’m okay with one every other day.