Its unique name comes from the Turkish work “keif”, which means “good feeling”.
For centuries, it has been used in European and Asian folk medicine due to the wide variety of conditions it has been known to cure. When made correctly, it is one of my favorite drinks and, after reading this article, I hope that you consider including it into your regular natural health regimen.
Kefir Nutrition Facts
Kefir is a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like a drinkable yogurt.
Kefir contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. Because kefir does not have a standardized nutrition content, the content values can vary based on the cows, cultures, and region where it is produced. Yet even with the range in values, kefir has superior nutrition.
Because of kefir’s unique set of nutrients it has been show to benefit the body in 7 main ways:
- Boost Immunity
- Heal Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Build Bone Density
- Fight Allergies
- Improve Lactose Digestion
- Kill Candida
- Support Detoxification
And these are just a few of the benefits of consuming kefir daily.
Kefir Probiotics Are Powerful
Since the beginning of time, every culture has pickled and fermented foods primarily to preserve them. Unknowingly, they were magnificently creating superfoods jam-packed with healthy microorganisms (also known as “probiotics”) and regularly enjoyed healthy, long lives because of them.
In his Theory of Longevity, Nobel Laureate Elie Metchnikoff pioneered research suggesting that fermented milk has significant health benefits back in the early 20th century.
Since then, research has proven time and time again that the age-old practice of fermentation is good medicine because of the “healthy bacteria” that are contained within these foods.
A list of the more common probiotics that we regularly see in fermented foods include:
- Bifidobacteria species
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus caucasus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Acetobacter species
Kefir is one of the highest probiotic foods you can eat with several important probiotic strains. And homemade kefir far outranks any store-bought variety:
At this point you may be wondering: why would we want to eat foods with bacteria in them? Don’t people take antibiotics to kill the bacteria so that they can feel better?
Living in the American “antibacterial” culture, where hand sanitizer is only an arm’s length away, it may seem like suicide for people to knowingly eat foods or drink beverages filled with microorganisms. However, nothing could be further from the truth! The key to understanding this is to learn a little bit about your gut.
Kefir Grains Good For Your MicroBiome
Did you know that over 75% of your immune system is housed in your digestive system? Essentially, trillions upon trillions of “good” bacteria and fungus kill the “bad” microorganisms, which keeps you alive and well.
So what happens when you take antibiotics or regularly use antibacterial lotions and soaps?
You literally kill the good bacteria and the bad ones take over. This, in turn, disturbs the symbiosis (balance) of your microbiome which will lead to digestive issues and immune reactions.
Studies have linked everything from autism to most chronic diseases to leaky gut syndrome and improper digestion. Bottom line is that if you can’t absorb the nutrients in your food because you don’t have the proper bacteria balance in your gut, your body will never run on all cylinders because it lacks the fuel.
Kefir Health Benefits Proven By Medical Studies
First described by tribes in Russia, “kefir grains” are actually not grains at all, but are a delicate balance of yeast and bacteria.
Able to ferment milk in around 24 hours, kefir grains can transform raw milk into a Superfood probiotic drink (kefir), a naturally-carbonated, refreshing beverage that has several key medicinal benefits.
Rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, kefir also provides significant amounts of lactic acid bacteria and beneficial yeast. In fact, the cocktail of beneficial microbiota within kefir makes it one of the most powerful probiotic foods on the planet!
1. Fights Cancer – Consumption of fermented foods has been shown to kill several different types of cancerous tumors in animal studies. The Journal of Dairy Science, for example, published a study that evaluated the immune cells in mice and discovered that regular kefir consumption helps stop breast cancer growth.
2. Supports Detoxification – “Mutagens” are various agents that can literally alter your DNA and can be found everywhere in our environment.
Aflatoxins, for example, are food-born toxins created by mold and can be found in many ground nuts (which is why peanut butter causes allergies and immune reactions), crude vegetable oils (like canola, soybean, and cottonseed), and grains (wheat, soy, and corn).
Being rich in lactic acid bacteria, kefir can literally bind (kill) aflatoxins and other funguses, which helps preserve healthy genetic expression.
3. Boosts Immunity – Next time you get sick, think twice about taking an antibiotic and drink kefir instead. A study out of University College Cork in Ireland compared Lactobacillus probiotic preparations, and compared them to conventional antibiotics in three animal models that are similar to humans. They discovered that, “In all three animal diseases we observed a positive effect in that the animals were significantly protected against infection.”
In fact, the researchers discovered that probiotics worked as well as or even better than antibiotic therapy in not only eliminating the infectious agent, but in resolving symptoms!
4. Builds Bone Density – A 2014 study published in the journal of Osteoporosis International found that consuming kefir benefits bone density and can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The researchers found kefir works by increasing the absorption of bone building minerals of calcium and magnesium.
The probiotics in kefir improve nutrient absorption and the dairy itself contains all of the most important nutrients for improving bone density including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2.
5. Heals IBS and IBD – Because of the high doses of probiotics including the strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium kefir is also an effective natural treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in a Canadian medical journal found that probiotic rich foods, including yogurt and kefir, can help heal IBS and reduce bowel inflammation.
6. Allergies and Asthma – In a recent study published in the Journal of Immunology, kefir was found to have both positive effects on allergies and asthma. In the study, kefir significantly suppressed inflammatory markers of interleukin-4, T-helper cells and IgE immunoglobulins. The researchers stated that kefir has strong anti-inflammatory properties that could prove useful in the prevention of asthma.
7. Improves Lactose Intolerance – It may sound crazy, but yes fermented milk products like kefir can help people with milk-related lactose intolerance. To grip your brain around this, you have to keep in mind that fermentation changes the chemical make-up of foods and, as in the case of fermented milk, kefir is relatively low in lactose.
Additionally, if you struggle with lactose problems, you may want to try adding kefir to your diet in small amounts because a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that, “Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose malabsorption.” As a disclaimer: although I have found most people do very well with goat’s milk kefir a small percent of people may still have issues with dairy.
If you have had lactose intolerance, my advice is to try it first by placing a small drop of the kefir on the inside of you arm or wrist and let it dry. Then wait 24 hours and see if you have any inflammation. If you do, then steer clear of it. But if not, then try adding just a drop or two to a beverage or some food and see if you have any reaction. You can then increase the amount until you are certain that you are not reacting to it.
As with any food or diet, make sure to listen to your body.
NOTE: If you have had an allergic reaction with any dairy, then I would seek advice from your doctor or natural health practitioner on how to test your allergies without ingesting the kefir.
Types of Kefir
You’ll be happy to know that even if you cannot tolerate having any dairy, there are types of kefir that are still rich in probiotics and have plenty of healthy kefir benefits, but that are completely lactose and dairy free. There are essentially two main types of kefir, and they differ in multiple ways.
The two types of kefir are: milk kefir (made from cow, sheep, or goat milk but also from coconut milk) and water kefir (made from sugary water or coconut water, both of which do not contain any dairy).
While the base liquid used in different types of kefirs vary, the process for making kefir is still the same and the health benefits are thought to be present in both types. All kefir is made using kefir “grains”, which are a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. All types of kefirs are similar to kombucha (another healthy probiotic-rich drink favorite) in that they must have sugar either naturally present, or else added, in order to allow the healthy bacteria to grow and for the fermentation process to take place. However the end result is that both kombucha and kefir are very low in sugar, because the live active yeast essentially “eats” the large majority of the added sugar during fermentation.
Here is more information about how the different types of kefirs are made and how their tastes and uses differ:
Milk Kefir (made with goat, cow, or sheep’s milk)
Milk kefir is the kind that is normally most well-known and widely available, usually sold in most major supermarkets and nearly all health food stores. Milk kefir is most often made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk, or sheep’s milk, but certain stores also carry coconut milk kefir, which again means it does not contain any lactose, dairy, or real “milk” at all.
When buying milk kefir made from goat, cow, or sheep milk, you want to always look for a high-quality organic brand to ensure you are getting the most benefits and avoiding any harmful substances found in conventional dairy.
Traditionally, milk kefir is made using a starter culture, which is what ultimately allows the probiotics to form. All probiotic-rich beverages use a starter kit of “live” active yeast which is responsible for creating the beneficial bacteria.
Once fermented, milk kefir has a tart taste that is somewhat similar to the taste of Greek yogurt. How strong the taste is depends on how long the kefir fermented; longer fermentation usually leads to a stronger tarter taste and even yields some carbonation which results from the active yeast.
Milk kefir is not naturally sweet on its own, but other flavors can be added to it in order to boost the flavor and make it more appealing. While some people prefer to have kefir plain, many like to have vanilla or berry-flavored kefirs, similarly to how you will find yogurts flavored and sold.
Most store-bought kefirs will be flavored with additions like fruit or cane sugar, but you can sweeten and flavor your kefir yourself at home by adding pure honey (preferably raw), pure maple syrup, pure vanilla extract, or organic stevia extract. Also try adding pureed fruit to your plain kefir (like banana or blueberries) to boost the nutrient content even more.
Beyond just drinking milk kefir, there are other ways to cleverly use it in recipes. Milk kefir can make a great base for soups and stews that would otherwise call for regular buttermilk, sour cream, heavy cream, or yogurt. You can substitute plain or flavored kefir for any of these in ingredients in your favorite recipes for baked goods, mashed potatoes, soups, and more in order to boost the nutrient content.
Coconut kefir can be made either using coconut milk or coconut water. Coconut milk comes directly from coconuts and is made by blending coconut “meat” (the white, thick part of the inside of a coconut) with water, and then straining the pulp out so only a milky liquid is left.
Coconut water is the clear liquid that is held inside coconuts naturally, which would come out if you were to crack open the coconut.
Both types of coconut kefirs do not contain any dairy. Coconut water and coconut milk are said to be the perfect base for creating fermented kefir because they naturally have carbohydrates present, including sugars, which are needed to be consumed by the yeast during the fermentation process to create healthy bacteria.
Coconut kefir is made in the same way as milk kefir, using a traditional starter culture that contains live active yeast and bacteria.
Coconut kefir becomes more tart and also carbonated once fermented, and tends to be sweeter and less strongly flavored than milk kefir is.
Both types of coconut kefir still taste like natural coconut and also keep all of the nutritional benefits of unfermented plain coconut milk and water (potassium, and electrolytes, for example).
Water kefir tends to have a more subtle taste and a lighter texture than milk kefir does. Water Kefir is normally made using sugar water or fruit juice.
Water kefir is made in a similar way as milk and coconut kefirs. Just like milk kefir, plain water kefir can be flavored at home using your own healthy additions, and makes a great healthy alternative to drinking things like soda or processed fruit juice.
You will want to use water kefir differently than you would use milk kefir: try adding water kefir to smoothies, healthy desserts, oatmeal, salad dressing, or just drink it plain. Since it has a less creamy texture and is less tart, it is not the best substitute for dairy products in recipes.
If you’d like to drink water kefir on its own, make sure you buy a kind that is low in sugar and then consider adding your own fruit or herbs to give it more flavor. Try having water kefir with fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, mint, or cucumber to flavor your water kefir naturally, or make a healthy soda alternative by combining water kefir with club soda or seltzer for a virtually sugar-free carbonated drink.
No matter the type of kefir you choose to consume, look for a high-quality brand that is preferably organic. Choose kefirs that are low in sugar and added flavors, and then try flavoring it yourself at home where you have control over the amount of sugar being used. All types of kefir should be refrigerated and it’s best to keep them in glass bottles, so that plastic or any BPA that might be present, cannot leach into the kefir.
Do you drink kefir or yogurt? What kefir benefits have you experienced from it?
- Guzel-Seydim ZB, et al. Review: functional properties of kefir. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Mar; 51(3):261-8.
- St-Onge MP, et al. Kefir consumption does not alter plasma lipid levels or cholesterol fractional synthesis rates relative to milk in hyperlipidemic men: a randomized controlled trial BMC Complement Altern Med. 2002;2:1. Epub 2002 Jan 22.
- de Moreno de Leblanc A, et al. Study of immune cells involved in the antitumor effect of kefir in a murine breast cancer model. J Dairy Sci 2007; 90(4):1920-8.
- Guzel-Seydim ZB, Kok-Tas T, Greene AK, Seydim AC. Review: functional properties of kefir. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011; 51(3):261-8.
- Chen HL, et. al. kefir improves bone mass and micro architecture in an ovarectomized rat model of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International 2014; PMID 25278298.
- Hertzler SR, Clancy SM. Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. J Am Diet Assoc 2003; 103(5):582-7.
- Lopitz-Otsoa F, et al. Kefir: a symbiotic yeasts-bacteria community with alleged healthy capabilities. Rev Iberoam Micol 2006; 23(2):67-74.
- Liu JR, et al. Hypocholesterolaemic effects of milk-kefir and soyamilk-kefir in cholesterol-fed hamsters. Br J Nutr 2006; 95(5):939-46.
- Vinderola CG, et al. Immunomodulating capacity of kefir. J Dairy Rez 2005; 72(2):195-202.
- Lopitz-Otsoa F, et al. Kefir: A symbiotic yeasts-bacteria community with alleged healthy capabilities. Rev Iberoam Micol 2006; 23:67-74.
- Society for General Microbiology. “How Probiotics Can Prevent Disease.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090401200433.htm (accessed April 12, 2014).