What is kefir?
Kefir, which literally translated means “feel good” in Turkish, is an ancient cultured, enzyme-rich food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance your “inner ecosystem” to maintain optimal health and strengthen immunity.
The world of lacto-fermentation is indeed a fascinating one. Virtually every culture has some kind of fermented food or beverage that could be significant sources of amino acids, vitamains and minerals. They produe substances that inhilbit harmful bacteria such as salmonella. They can eradicate H.Pylori, the bacteria responsible for the majority of gastric ulcers. In this series, I will talk about a few of the ferments with which I have become very familiar over the last several years. When all is said and done, fermentation is not only cheaper and better than popping a probiotics pill, but is also a lot healthier for you.
Kefir a dairy ferment. For vegetaraians it’s considered to be the mother culture of all dairy ferments. I regard kefir grains to be Probiotic-Jewels and their culture-product kefir a Probiotic-Gem. This view is shared by Jordan Rubin in The Marker’s Diet, who relied on kefir and other dietary habits to heal from Crohns, a severe intestinal disease.
Throughout history, kefir was readily consumed in the Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus peoples enjoyed longevity of over 100 years. There is a legend that kefir grains were a gift of the prophet Mohammed, and they fiercely guarded their grains for fear they would lose their strength if given away and the secret of making kefir got out. Even Marco Polo mentioned it. Yet the magical properties of kefir were forgotten for centuries until news spread of its successful use in the treatment of tuberculosis, intestinal and stomach diseases. The first studies on kefir were published in Russia at the end of the 19th century.
Traditionally, kefir is prepared by fermenting milk with kefir grains. The word ‘grains’ however, is a misnomer, as they look like little pieces of cauliflower and have absolutely no relationship to cereal grains. They are composed of a firm gel-like mass of proteins, facts and polysaccharides and reproduce in a dairy medium. However, they are diffcult to find as they are passed from one friend to another.
Also the organisms may vary between different grains. Indeed the culture stater is what differentiates between “very good”, “good” and “average”value kefir.
Commercial powdered starters are also available and these contain 10-15 organisms, while the bottled kefir you buy in the store contains a maximum of 10 strains (along with a lot of sugar you don’t want). Most bottled kefir contains only bacteria as many states do not allow the selling of beverages with live yeasts, so if you want kefir foe its probiotics value, it only makes sense to culture your own. It is very simple to do, taking about five minutes a day. It is also quite simple to prepare cheese from kefir.
Kefir start and refreshing flavour is simillar to a drinking-style yogurt and it contains beneficial yeasts as well as the friendly ‘probiotic’ bacteria found in yogurt. When used regularly, the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast i kefir combine symbiotically to help balance your intestinal flora and boost your immunity. Among its many beneficial powers, kefir:
Provides supplemental nourishment for preganant and nursing women.
Contributes to a healthy immune system.
Promotes a relaxing effect on the nervous system and benefits many who seek a restful night’s sleep.
Helps support your normal intestinal tract function, promotes bowel movements and a healthy digestive system and is beneficial after the use of antibiotics to restore balance to the digestive tract.
Curbs unhealthy food cravings by making your body more well-nourished and balanced.
What are the health benefits of kefir?
Research into kefir’s health benefits is still in its early stages, but some evidence suggests it may help with:
Blood sugar control
A small 2015 studyTrusted Source in Iran compared the effects of consuming kefir and conventionally fermented milk on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Participants who consumed kefir had significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels than those who consumed conventionally fermented milk.
A 2020 review suggests that kefir could have a range of benefits for people with diabetes and obesity. It may modulate diabetes-related markers. However, larger-scale research is necessary to support this.
A 2017 study looked at changes in cholesterol levels among females with obesity or overweight who drank low fat milk or kefir. The participants drank either two servings a day of low fat milk, four servings a day of low fat milk, or four servings a day of kefir.
After 8 weeks, those who drank kefir showed significant decreases in their total cholesterol levels, and in their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, compared to those who drank only two servings per day of low fat milk. Participants who consumed four servings per day of low fat milk also had lower 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.
The gut contains many species of microorganisms. Some of these species have beneficial effects on the body, while others can cause harm.
Probiotic foods contain some of the same beneficial species of bacteria that live in the digestive tract. This may mean they can help with maintaining a good balance of species. However, scientists are still learning how this works.
An animal study in 2018 found that kefir supplementation can improve the ratio of good to harmful bacteria in the gut and reduce physical fatigue during exercise in mice. More research is necessary to understand if this finding also applies to humans.
Pathogens are harmful microorganisms that can cause infections. Older research from 2013Trusted Source notes that in laboratory studies, bacteria from kefir grains killed harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus.
This may mean kefir can be potentially helpful for preventing infections, such as gastroenteritis or vaginal infections. However, there is little research in humans to confirm kefir has this effect.
People should not use probiotics or kefir as a substitute for medical treatment for an existing infection.
Nutritional value of kefir
The nutritional value of kefir and the probiotic microbes it contains varies widely depending on the ingredients and fermentation technique. A 2017 paper estimates that traditional milk kefir consists of around:
6% natural sugars
Kefir also contains a number of vitamins and minerals, including:
Fermented foods such as kefir and yogurt contain high levels of a substance called histamineTrusted Source.
Some people are intolerant to histamine and can experience symptoms such as:
If a person knows that they are intolerant to histamine, or if they have any of the symptoms of intolerance, it may be best for them to avoid yogurt and kefir.
Some people can experience gas and bloating when they first consume foods that contain probiotics. These tend to subside once the person’s gut gets used to the new foods. It can help to introduce these foods gradually.
Fermented foods may have an effect on the immune system, so people who are taking immune-modulating drugs and those who have compromised immune systems should speak to a doctor before trying new products.
Sometimes, fermented foods are responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning. According to the authors of one 2019 review, manufacturers can help prevent these outbreaks by ensuring the product’s acidity.