Kefir (Keh-FEAR)is a probiotic-rich, fermented milk bevvy that has been shown to improve many immune and digestive health issues. Kefir contains as many as 30 strains of good bacteria that are believed to instill kefir health benefits, like fighting tumors, bacteria, free radicals, and more!
There are two kinds of kefir—milk kefir and water kefir—and both are made using kefir starter grains, which look a little like a cauliflower head in their raw form. Kefir grains contain a rich combination of yeast, lactic acid bacteria, sugars, proteins, and lipids. These ingredients interact with a milk of choice, be it cow’s milk or coconut milk, to cause fermentation, and voila! A healthy gut-loving, kefir drink.
A Brief History of Kefir
It’s believed that fermenting kefir began with the nomadic shepherds living in the North Caucasus Mountain range of Russia. Among Islamic people, legend tells that the prophet Mohammed gave kefir grains to Christian missionaries.
Anyone who possessed the sacred grains was incredibly secretive about it, as they believed that sharing the recipe would cause it to lose its potency. They were considered truly “magic grains” and even in ancient times, the health benefits of kefir were recognized and revered.
Kefir grains were passed from generation to generation and guarded in secrecy. Although tribespeople would often treat foreign dignitaries to the drink, they would rarely divulge the recipe, nor allow them to take any samples with them. And for a time, the kefir drink and how it was made seemed to disappear, at least from historical accounts.
Kefir made a resurgence in the 1900s, and through trade and travels the secret of how to make kefir became more well known. To this day kefir continues to be most popular in Russia, although the pasteurized version can be found in grocery stores all over the world. Lucky for you we’ve got a few of our own secret recipes at the end of this article to help you make a kefir drink at home. But in the meantime let’s talk a bit about why kefir is so ridiculously good for you.
Kefir is similar to yogurt in flavor and composition, although it tends to be thinner than yogurt in its consistency. It’s tart and tangy, and the fermentation can bring a natural carbonation to the drink.
Three-fourths cup of milk kefir contains about 100 calories and 6 grams of protein. It’s also rich in calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B2 and B12, and potassium. And you’ll get a thumbs up when drinking kefir for weight loss; 1 cup of low-fat plain kefir has just 110 calories and 2 grams of fat, and the 11 grams of protein will help protect your lean muscle mass.
Kefir Health Benefits
As a probiotic food, kefir promotes many health benefits, including housing an abundance of beneficial bacteria that are excellent for optimal gut health, an efficient digestive track, and the absorption of essential nutrients to keep your immune system active and healthy!
1. Kefir for Digestion
Probiotics are a healthy gut’s best friend. Studies have shown that during times of stress on the gastrointestinal system, introducing probiotics such as the ones found in kefir can present significant relief.
Drink kefir when you’re on an antibiotic regimen, because this probiotic beverage can re-introduce healthy “good” bacteria back into the gut microbiota, healing any additional gut damage introduced by the antibiotics.
Many GI disorders, such as peptic ulcers or gastric cancer, can be caused by the presence of Helicobacter pylori, which may remain in the gut of an infected person for life. Introducing probiotics has been shown to minimize the symptoms and give patients significant relief.
Kefir has also been shown to provide relief for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
2. Kefir as an Antibacterial
Some of the friendly bacteria in kefir have been shown to prevent the growth of E.Coli, H. Pylori, and even Salmonella. In fact, kefir is the sole provider of the infection-fighting probiotic strain Lactobacillus kefiri.
It’s often recommended that pregnant women consume kefir as a way to prevent the growth of Group B Strep, which is a bacterial yeast infection that can be transferred to a newborn baby during delivery or through breast milk.
If you are pregnant or nursing, please seek medical advice before taking any probiotic, including kefir.
3. Kefir Is Good for Bone Health
Osteoporosis is the leading health problem affecting bones, particularly in older women. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures from injury and can deteriorate bone mass in such a way as to weaken bone support.
It’s often recommended that people living with osteoporosis add a calcium supplement to their diet, but milk kefir is a useful alternative because it provides the necessary additional calcium required to maintain healthy bones. Kefir is also rich in vitamin K2, which has been shown to reduce the risk of bone loss and fractures.
4. Kefir and Cancer Protection
There are many foods that have been shown to provide cancer prevention, and kefir is an influential one.
Kefir exhibited anti-tumoral activity in studies on specific cancers, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer. The probiotics in kefir help inhibit the growth of the tumor. As compared to yogurt, kefir was more effective in preventing the growth of breast cancer cells.
5. Kefir for Your Allergies
Kefir’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to reduce and prevent allergy symptoms. The polysaccharide, kefiran, which is a significant ingredient in kefir, is believed to be at play here.
Kefiran has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in the airways of rats in a study published in the Archives of Pharmacal Research, leading researchers to believe that kefir can lessen the symptoms of allergies.
The lactobacillus in kefir also possesses this anti-allergic effect, and as a result, kefir has proved to suppress allergy-induced asthma in studies.
6. Kefir for Lactose Intolerance
All dairy contains lactose, which is a combination of glucose and galactose. People who are lactose intolerant do not possess the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose, and thus develop symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.
In some cases, fermented dairy products do not produce this same reaction, and lactose-intolerant individuals may be able to enjoy foods such as yogurt and kefir.
In fact, a study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that patients with lactose maldigestion reduced their symptoms of flatulence by 71% with kefir. As a comparison, yogurt only decreased symptoms by 54%.
It’s believed that the bacteria and yeast in kefir feed on the lactose and end up breaking it down during the fermentation process, thus decreasing the actual lactose in the drink. This makes kefir a viable option for a lactose-intolerant person.
7. Kefir for Detox
A detox or cleanse is a way of presenting highly potent, nutrient-rich food or drink into your body to help it process and eliminate harmful free radicals, pollutants, and toxins. If left unchecked, sometimes an overabundance of these can create allergies, headaches, fatigue, and more.
As a natural antifungal, kefir is a beneficial detox drink. And due in part to its ability to promote a healthy gut, it’s a great way to flush your body of toxins naturally and efficiently.
8. Kefir and Heart Health
As a natural source of probiotics, kefir helps to promote healthy blood circulation as well as lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. According to this study in Current Medicinal Chemistry, a diet rich in fiber and polyphenolic compounds, such as those found in kefir, can reduce the risk of inflammation from smoking or an unhealthy diet, and improve metabolism and general heart health.
Additionally, the presence of vitamin K2 in kefir has been shown to prevent plaque buildup in arteries as well as to prevent heart disease. The kefiran in kefir has also been shown to lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels.
9. Kefir and Diabetes
In several studies, kefir has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes dramatically, particularly with the use of soy milk kefir. Many patients see results from using kefir as a complementary treatment to medication and other doctor recommended measures.
10. Kefir and Skin Health
Inflammation in your body almost always translates to redness on your skin in the form of acne, rashes, eczema, and in some cases even psoriasis. Probiotics similar to those found in kefir have been shown to help reduce these symptoms.
It’s even possible to apply kefir topically to promote skin contact with the helpful probiotics.
Kefiran has also been found to improve the duration of time it takes for a wound to heal, as well as to promote connective tissue skin health.
How to Make Kefir
Although traditionally made from milk, kefir can also be made with water, nut milk, coconut, and soy milk. Be advised though that the starter grains for water kefir are slightly different than the starter grains for milk kefir.
Water kefir grains tend to have more of a clear jelly composition. Consider the ratio of 1 teaspoon of grains to 1 cup milk/water if you’d like to double or triple the recipe.
Ingredients for Milk Kefir
- 1 teaspoon organic kefir grains
- 1 cup organic milk of choice
- Sweetener of choice such as honey, maple syrup, or freshly squeezed juice
- Mix grains and milk in a bowl.
- Cover loosely with a cheesecloth in a warm place for 24 hours.
- Strain the grains into a cup.
Over time the bacteria and yeast will ferment the milk, converting it to kefir. It will be slightly thicker than milk and tangy in flavor.
Refrigerated kefir will last from 2 to 3 weeks, and room temperature kefir will only last a couple of days.
Additional Notes on Homemade Kefir
You can reuse the same grains by making kefir every 24 hours, or refrigerate them for 24 hours in a cup of milk. To reuse kefir grains make sure they are stored in cow or goat milk.
- Glass jars are best as they will not leach or react to the fermentation process.
- Always leave space in the jar for the natural carbonation to escape, or the jar may explode!
For water kefir, the process is the same but storage is different. You must store live grains in a combination of water and sugar in a watertight lid. This article has some additional resources and recommendations for storage of your water kefir grains.