Just like yogurt and kombucha, kefir is a product of fermentation of sugars present in milk or sweetened water. The presence of an ecosystem in this fermented fluid makes it an ideal drink if you’re looking to revamp your gut flora or if you want to strengthen your immunity. Kefir benefits on our health include boost immune system, increase bone health, improve skin health, help in weight loss, etc.
Research shows that the probiotics in kefir work side by side with our friendly gut bacteria. Kefir benefits in our gut include reduction of diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.
Moving ahead, we will see more kefir benefits in detail. Also, we will learn key nutrients of kefir, how to make kefir, and types of kefir.
Kefir comes from the Turkish word ‘keyif’ which means ‘good feeling.’ This ‘good feeling’ was accidentally discovered when the shepherds of European mountains left some milk in their leather containers. It got fermented and produced a sour liquid with an odd smell.
The stories of a powerful concoction, able to heal all illnesses spread among the tribes. Finally, some Russian doctors decided to study its biological activities contributing to kefir benefits on health. This is how present-day kefir came into existence.
- Suggested read: 12 Probiotics Benefits on Your Health
1. Revamps the immune system
Other than offering abundant helpful bacteria, kefir also provides sufficient amounts of biotin (vitamin B7) and folate (vitamin B9) which promote immune functions of the body.
Kefir also increases the production of immunoglobulins, especially IgA, in the gut which provides local immunity against a variety of harmful bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, Y. enterocolitis, and Campylobacter. (1)
2. Reduces the risk of cancer
Everyone you know will have a tragic cancer story to tell you, be it about their immediate family member or a distant relative. The horror of cancer and its excruciating and lengthy treatment is something no one wants to experience.
The underlying pathology of cancer is the excessive and uncontrolled growth of abnormal and mutated cells.
Kefir contains various fermented products which not only boost our immunity against mutated cells but also inhibits the growth of cancer cells in our body.
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that kefir reduced the in-vitro growth of human breast cancer cells while not affecting the normal human breast cells. (4)
Another study showed that kefir arrested cell division and promoted apoptosis (programmed cell death) in malignant T-cells. (5)
3. Improves allergies
Kefir contains helpful organisms that alleviate inflammatory and allergic reactions occurring in our body in response to an allergen. Research shows that kefir reduces inflammatory cytokines and mucus production in airways of asthmatic model mice. (6)
Some scientists believe that allergic reactions like hay fever and seasonal asthma occur due to a reduction in a load of friendly bacteria in our body.
Out of the 23 studies performed on the anti-allergic action of kefir, 17 studies showed that daily kefir intake not only alleviated the allergic symptoms of the participants but also improved their quality of life. (7)
4. Increases bone strength
Osteoporosis (lower density and strength of bone) is a major public health concern affecting about 200 million women worldwide.
Postmenopausal women are the most susceptible to fractures because of depletion of estrogen, a hormone known to increase bone mineralization.
Every three seconds, a person fractures their bone as a result of osteoporosis! (8) Currently, calcium supplements and hormone replacement therapy are used to deal with this condition.
Kefir benefits can be seen in the enhancement of bone density as it contains a significant amount of vitamin K2 (menaquinone) and calcium which can prevent age-related bone loss in women. (9)
5. Promotes skin healing
Any disturbance in the natural flora of our gut produces a cascade of reactions which ultimately affects the largest and aesthetically the most important organ of our body i.e. our skin.
Majority of skin problems like acne, psoriasis, eczema, rashes, and even physical injuries like burns can be alleviated by consuming probiotics which bring back the friendly bacteria of our gut and maintain homeostasis in our skin.
Kefiran, a carbohydrate present in kefir, can kill many organisms like candida, Staph. aureus, and Strep. pyogenes which cause skin infections. Kefir benefits wound healing and increase collagen production. (10)
6. Helps to treat diarrhea
The use of antibiotics is a boon and a bane for modern medicine. We are all aware of its advantages but what many people don’t know is that several antimicrobials kill the friendly bacteria of our gut paving way to infections and disrupted gut motility.
This leads to infective or secretory diarrhea and abdominal cramps as side effects. Probiotics in kefir enhance the growth of protective bacteria.
Thus, doctors are now prescribing probiotics along with broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent unwanted problems.
According to an article published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, probiotic in kefir benefits in the reduction of pain and diarrhea associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. (11)
7. Used in lactose intolerance
A lot of people suffer from a deficiency of the enzyme lactase in their gut which usually breaks down lactose sugars present in milk.
Whenever they consume milk or milk products, they develop abdominal cramps, flatulence, and diarrhea thus, preventing them from enjoying several delicacies like ice-creams, milk chocolates, shakes, etc.
This condition is known as lactose intolerance and is highly prevalent in the USA. Lactic acid bacteria present in fermented food products like kefir and yogurt convert lactose into lactic acid, and hence, people with lactose intolerance can devour these items without facing any problems.
Kefir also contains some substances which improve lactose digestion which makes it a potential treatment option for those suffering from lactose intolerance. (12)
Before consuming a glassful of kefir, make sure your body is ready to accept this drink. Apply one to two drops of kefir on the back of your hand and wait for 1-2 days. If redness or swelling develops in that area, consult your physician before drinking kefir.
8. Kills certain bacteria
Kefir is enriched with probiotics, like lactobacillus kefiri, which promote gut immunity by maintaining healthy gut flora. (13) In addition to supporting the growth of helpful bacteria, kefir also effectively kills many harmful gut pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.
H. pylori, which causes the much painful peptic ulcers in the stomach and intestine, is also in the radar of our fermented antibiotic. (14)
Kefiran, a carbohydrate present in kefir, can kill various bacteria like Staph. aureus and Strep. pyogenes and some fungi like Candida. (15)
9. Enhances cognition and delays dementia
Numerous animal studies depict the role of kefir and probiotics in boosting learning capacity and memory. The acetic acid bacteria present in kefir produce alkali-stable lipids (ASL), which have shown positive effects on brain function and memory retention in rats with dementia. (15)
However, it’s wise not to rely solely on animal experiments and wait for standardized human trials before making bold statements about this fermented food product.
10. Helps in weight loss
A vast array of bacteria, which form kefir, performs diverse activities most of which result in weight loss in the long run. Lactobacillus gasseri increases the size of fat molecules as a result of which we absorb lesser fat from our food. (16)
A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods revealed that six weeks of supplementation with Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum reduced the body fat of healthy, but overweight participants by 3-4%. (17)
Nutrient status of kefir
When milk undergoes fermentation for a few days, its lactose content decreases while the amount of lactic acid and bacteria goes up. Kefir is the end product of a similar fermentation procedure making it similar to yogurt.
One cup (240 milliliters) serving of milk-kefir contains – (18)
- 160 calories
- 12 grams Carbohydrates
- 10 grams Protein
- 8 grams Fat
- 500 IU Vitamin A (10 percent DV)
- 100 IU Vitamin D (25 percent DV)
- 300 milligrams calcium (30 percent DV)
Kefir consists of a vast variety of friendly bacteria and yeast like Lactobacillus lactis, Lactobacillus delbruecki, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Candida kefyr, Streptococcus thermophilus, Kazakhstania unispora, Bifidobacterium lactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, and Saccharomyces unisporus.
A study on beneficial foods published in the Frontiers of Microbiology revealed the composition, microbial content, and biological activity of kefir which makes it a useful health substance with multifaceted applications. (19)
How to make kefir at home?
Looking at myriads of kefir benefits on health, you would definitely like to make this at home. You can use a variety of elements like milk, coconut water or even merely water as the starting product to make kefir.
Milk has an advantage over other substances as it is rich in vitamin D and calcium which are required to maintain bone strength, especially in postmenopausal women. Originally, goat milk was used, and even today, it is the preferred choice due to its lower casein content.
Steps to make kefir from goat milk –
- Take a glass jar with a capacity of one liter. For every two cups of milk, add two tablespoons of probiotic grains. You can decide how much kefir you want and use a bigger or smaller jar as per your needs.
- Using a wooden or bamboo stick, stir the mixture well.
- Cover the jar with a cloth or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.
- Place it in sunlight at room temperature and allow it to ferment for 1-3 days. Ideally, one day is enough for the fermentation process. For a zestier and sourer taste, leave it for more time.
- Strain the kefir with a plastic strainer and collect it in a glass or another suitable container.
- You can either use the grains for another batch or store them.
Kefir v/s yogurt
Although, kefir looks like a liquefied version of yogurt. In reality, they are different in many ways. From the method of production to their biological activity, kefir surpasses yogurt in all areas.
Probiotic content and action
- Yogurt comprises of 2-7 strains of helpful bacterial species while kefir contains about 10-37 species of bacteria as well as yeast.
- The bacteria in yogurt are short-lived and provide food to the friendly bacteria already present in our gut. On the other hand, organisms in kefir are there to stay. They attach to the gut wall and proliferate. Some aggressive species may also penetrate the gut wall and provide protection elsewhere in the body.
- Since yogurt contains predominantly thermophilic bacteria, we have to heat milk at a specific temperature to activate those microbes. Kefir solely consists of mesophilic bacteria thus, doesn’t require heating of fluid for its biological activity.
Consistency and taste
- Yogurt is thicker and milder as compared to kefir which exists as a drink.
- Yogurt is milder in taste as compared to kefir which is sourer and tastes like buttermilk.
Types of kefir
There are primarily two types of kefirs as milk kefir and water kefir. While milk kefir provides higher quantities of vitamin D and calcium required for bone strength, water kefir is safer in people suffering from lactose intolerance.
The probiotic content of both the types of kefir is similar, and so is their method of production.
Milk kefir is the most commonly used and widely available of all kinds due to its higher nutritional content and higher acceptance.
It can be made from cow milk, goat milk, sheep milk or coconut milk (doesn’t have any real dairy in it) however goat milk is preferred as it is more homogenous and has lower casein content.
If you are making milk kefir at home, don’t use ultra-pasteurized or UHT milk as it won’t work to make kefir. To make your homemade kefir more palatable, you can add maple syrup, vanilla extract or honey to it.
Kefir can be added to several food items like soups, stews, baked items, and mashed potatoes to alter their taste and improve their nutritional status.
Water kefir is milder in taste and thinner in consistency as compared to the regular milk kefir. The starting material for water kefir is sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water.
The probiotic content of water kefir is similar to milk kefir, but due to its sweeter taste, it’s better not to add it in milk-based creamy food items.
You can add water kefir to your oatmeal, desserts, smoothies, salad dressing or drink it alone after adding lemon, cucumber, and mint for taste.
Points to take home on kefir benefits
Over the centuries, kefir has been devoured by one and all because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Kefir benefits on health are recognized globally and day by day, it is becoming more and more popular.
Kefir stabilizes our altered gut flora and also provides a boost to our immune system by its antibiotic action against harmful bacteria. Bone-strengthening, skin healing, alleviation of diarrhea symptoms, minimizing allergies, and cancer prevention are some kefir benefits.
Milk and water kefirs are available in the market, and you can make one for yourself just as easily by following certain steps. Adding kefir to your recipes not only adds zest to them but it will also enhance your food nutritionally.
For first time users, mild uneasiness in the form of constipation and abdominal cramps may occur so it’s better to start by taking a small quantity of kefir daily and then increasing the amount as per your wish.