Benefits of Kefir

Kefir is made using the fermentations of yeast and bacteria. This mixture creates kefir grains, which can be combined with milk to create a tangy drink.
Kefir is consumed around the world and has been for centuries. It is a fermented milk drink developed in the northern Caucasus Mountains, according to popular belief.

The name Kefir comes from the Turkish word keyif, which refers to the “good feeling” a person gets after they have drunk it.

Kefir has been popular in parts of Europe and Asia for many years but has only recently started gaining popularity in the United States, due to the growing interest in probiotics and gut health.

What is kefir?

Kefir grains and kefir drink.
Kefir is made using bacteria, giving it probiotic qualities. Probiotics are attributed with supporting healthy digestive functions.

While yogurt is the fermentation of bacteria in milk, kefir is a combination of bacteria and yeast fermentations. The combination of bacteria and yeast is called “kefir grain.”

Kefir grains are not typical grains, such as wheat or rice, and do not contain gluten. Milk is combined with the kefir grains and stored in a warm area to “culture,” producing the kefir beverage.

Kefir has a tart and tangy flavor, and a consistency similar to a drinkable yogurt. Due to the fermentation process, kefir may taste slightly carbonated.

Many of kefir’s health benefits are attributed to its probiotic content. Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” are living organisms that can help maintain regular bowel movements, treat certain digestive conditions, and support the immune system.

Types of kefir

While kefir is typically made from cow’s milk, it can also be produced from the milk of other animals, such as goats or sheep, or from non-dairy milk.

Kefir made from cow’s milk is available in non-fat, low-fat, and whole milk varieties.

Kefir is also available in plain and flavored varieties.

Seven benefits of kefir

Kefir consumption is still being researched, but the potential benefits include:

1. Blood sugar control

In 2015, a small study compared the effects of consuming kefir and conventionally fermented milk on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Participants who consumed the kefir had significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels than those who consumed the conventionally fermented milk.

Participants in the kefir group also had decreased hemoglobin A1c values, which are a measurement of blood sugar management over 3 months.

2. Lower cholesterol

2017 study looked at changes in cholesterol levels among women drinking low-fat milk or kefir. The participants drank either 2 servings a day of low-fat milk, 4 servings a day of low-fat milk, or 4 servings a day of kefir.

After 8 weeks, those who drank kefir showed significant decreases in their total and their “bad cholesterol” levels compared to those who drank only 2 servings per day of low-fat milk. Participants who consumed 4 servings per day of low-fat milk also had lowered cholesterol levels.

The probiotics in kefir may play a role in how much cholesterol the body absorbs from food. They may also affect how the body produces, processes, and uses cholesterol.

3. Increased nutrition

The nutrients in kefir depend on the type of milk used to make it. Generally, it is a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium. Some store-bought brands are fortified with vitamin D, as well.

4. Improved lactose tolerance

People with lactose intolerance may be able to consume kefir without experiencing symptoms, as the bacteria present in kefir break down much of the lactose.

The leading brand of kefir in the U.S. claims to be 99 percent lactose-free.

small study in 2003 concluded that the consumption of kefir improved lactose digestion over time, and could potentially be used to help overcome lactose intolerance. It noted that flavored kefir produced more adverse symptoms that plain kefir, probably due to added sugars in the flavored product.

5. Improved stomach health

Kefir may be able to help treat digestive issues, such as diarrhea or lactose intolerance.

The stomach contains both good and bad bacteria. Maintaining a balance between them is an important part of keeping the stomach healthy. Diseases, infections, and some medications, such as antibiotics, can upset this balance.

Probiotics are similar to the good bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and may help maintain a healthy balance.

There is some evidence that probiotic foods, such as kefir, can help treat diarrhea caused by an infection or antibiotics.

One review cited the use of kefir to aid the treatment of peptic ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.

6. Healing properties

Laboratory studies have shown kefir may have antibacterial and antifungal properties, although more investigation is needed.

Research shows that kefir has the potential to be beneficial against gastroenteritis, vaginal infections, and yeast infections.

2016 review reported that kefir lessened the severity of symptoms in mice infected with a parasite. Another review demonstrated beneficial effects of kefir on mice for wound healing and reduced tumor growth.

7. Weight control

Another study reported that kefir consumption reduced body weight and total cholesterol in obese mice. However, more research on people is required.

Making kefir at home

A person can make kefir at home in a clean environment. Utensils, cooking equipment, and a person’s hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before starting.

You will need:

  • active kefir grains
  • your preferred type of milk
  • a glass jar
  • a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth
  • a rubber band
  • a silicone spatula or wooden spoon (non-metal stirring utensil)
  • a non-metal mesh strainer

Combine 1 teaspoon of kefir grains for every cup of milk into a glass jar. Cover the jar with the paper coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Store the jar in a warm place around 70°F for 12-48 hours, depending on your taste and the warmth of the room.

Once the milk has thickened and has a tangy taste, strain the kefir into a storage container. Cover tightly and store for up to 1 week.

There are a few tips to be aware of when making kefir at home:

  • Exposure to metal can weaken the kefir grains, so avoid metal utensils.
  • Temperatures above 90 °F can cause the milk to spoil.
  • Keep the jar away from direct sunlight.
  • The strained kefir grains can be kept to make new batches.
  • Shake it if it starts to separate while being stored.
  • To make a fruit-flavored kefir, chop up fruit and add it to the strained kefir. Let it sit for an additional 24 hours. Re-strain if desired.

How to use kefir

Kefir can be used in many of the ways milk and yogurts are used.

It can be drunk as a beverage, used as the blending liquid in a smoothie, or poured over cereal or oats. Kefir can also be used in baked goods, soups, dips, or salad dressings, though heat may significantly decrease probiotic concentration.

Risks and considerations

Kefir is safe to consume, but a person must consider certain factors before adding it to a regular diet.

While people who are lactose intolerant may be able to drink kefir without symptoms, others with a milk allergy should not consume kefir made from dairy milk, as it can cause an allergic reaction.

Since kefir is made from milk, it contains some sugar. Some pre-packaged, flavored kefirs have high amounts of added sugar.

People with diabetes should be especially careful to read the label and stick to plain varieties without added sugar.

When made traditionally, kefir may contain trace amounts of alcohol. Many commercial brands of kefir are alcohol-free.

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9 Best Fermented Foods for Your Gut

Fermented food has made a comeback in recent years, partially thanks to the popularization of Weston A. Price teachings. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi aren’t considered to be the most appealing types of food; however, research exploring these and other fermented products on gut, brain, and body health has revitalized public interest. The fermentation process encourages essential bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria to flourish. This makes fermentation a good source of probiotics for vegans since many fermented foods are plant based. Vegetables are submerged in a salty brine during preparation to kill off dangerous, pathogenic bacteria. The good bacteria break down lactose and other sugars and starches in the food, making digestion easier. And once they reach your gut, they continue to help break down food and keep out bad guys like E. coli and C. difficile.

The Best Fermented Foods

When it comes to fermented foods, your options aren’t limited to sauerkraut or fermented soy. There are other fantastic options that are considered “fermented,” including tea, yogurt, and various vegetables. Here are 9 fermented foods you should include in your gut.

1. Yogurt

Yogurt has many benefits, mostly due to its rich probiotic content. Brands of yogurt that contain billions of live active cultures may support digestion, and some research indicates it could even benefit the skin. Raw, unpasteurized yogurt is ideal if you can handle dairy. Personally, I tend to skip dairy altogether, but you can find dairy-free yogurt options at many stores these days, some of which are made from coconut and almond milk. Be sure you’re choosing yogurt that contains live active cultures, and try to choose plain, full-fat versions in order to avoid sugar. Yogurt that contains sugar can be counterproductive, as sugars feed pathogenic bacteria and contribute to sugar overload.

2. Natto

Natto is prepared with soybeans and is fermented so it forms the beneficial bacteria Bacillus. It’s an excellent source of calcium, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin K2. You may not have heard a lot about it, but K2 is essential for heart health as it keeps calcium out of your arteries and gets it to your bones where it’s needed. Natto also contains nattokinase, a powerful anti-clotting agent that protects your heart and brain and lowers your blood pressure.

3. Kefir

Kefir is a bit like yogurt, except that it’s more of a drinkable consistency. Researchers report kefir may reduce irritation in the intestines, preventing toxins and other pathogens from getting into the blood. If you’re choosing to drink dairy kefir, make sure it’s organic and isn’t loaded with refined sugar. There are options for making your own dairy-free water kefir, and many health food companies online sell kefir grains specifically for this purpose. You can also check out our recipe for making coconut milk kefir.

4. Kombucha

Made from tea, clean water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria, kombucha has become popular recently for its probiotic qualities. Its fizzy bite is also popular among those used to drinking soda. Research finds this fermented tea fights off E. coli and Staph bacteria in the digestive tract, possibly protecting against illness and aiding digestion.

5. Sauerkraut

Traditional sauerkraut preparation uses water, salt, and cabbage, and very little heat is applied to the final product in order to prevent killing off beneficial microbes. The sour taste comes from lactic fermentation or the breakdown of lactose by the probiotic bacteria native to the cabbage. A serving gives you a powerful dose of healthy probiotics that aid digestion and research has found raw sauerkraut prevents cancer cells from forming. Be sure to purchase raw sauerkraut, or better yet, make it yourself with organic cabbage and Himalayan salt.

6. Kimchi

This spicy Asian fermented cabbage, similar to sauerkraut, provides you with loads of probiotics. Extensive research indicates it contributes to colon health, lower cholesterol, better thinking, a stronger immune system, healthy skin, and weight loss. Additional research also shows it has anti-oxidative, anti-aging, and immune-supporting properties.

7. Tempeh

This Indonesian ‘cake’ has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, and because of this, it is often used as a replacement for meat in many vegan recipes. Traditionally made from soybeans and a yeast starter, it undergoes controlled fermentation that makes it a great source of probiotic bacteria. Tempeh is also a great source of calcium, iron, and magnesium.

8. Pickles

Raw pickles, much like sauerkraut, are a great introduction to fermented foods. Pickles made by lactic fermentation are a delicious snack that aid digestion and support a strong immune system.

9. Lassi

Yogurt and fermented dairy play an important role in Indian cuisine. Lassi is made by combining yogurt and milk (or water) and sometimes fruit and spices to create a great probiotic-rich drink. It digests quickly, helps restore friendly gut bacteria, and soothes irritation in the colon. Again, I don’t recommend consuming conventional dairy, especially from cows. If you are going to drink lassi, it’s best to find a product using grass-fed, free-range goat milk. Goat milk tends to digest more easily. If you’re vegan, try finding or making lassi with organic coconut or almond milk yogurt.

Other Tips to Support Digestion

Each of these 9 probiotic foods will help restore balance to your intestinal ecosystem, but they’re not the only way to support digestion. Prebiotics, or foods containing inulin, sustain your current gut bacteria by providing them the foods they need to thrive. Probiotic supplements like Floratrex, my advanced formula with over 23 probiotic strains with prebiotics, are a great way to support your digestive system.