Optimising our overall health starts with good gut health. Some foods build and improve our gut health naturally, with kefir being a miracle substance that goes the extra mile.
Kefir is a fermented drink with a high probiotic value that can be made from either milk or sweetened water.
Milk kefir is a thick and slightly effervescent beverage with a sour, creamy taste. Traditionally made from dairy milk, today, there are a wide variety of non-dairy kefir drinks with similar health properties.
Origin and History of Milk Kefir
It is believed milk kefir originated in the Northern Caucasus Mountains areas in Russia and Georgia. The story of kefir is quite fascinating, starting with the legend that the first kefir grains were given to Orthodox people by the Prophet Mohamed. This gave way to the names “The Drink of the Prophet” or “The Grains of the Prophet”, as kefir is also known.
Being both a tradition and health practice that transcends time, kefir has been used over the years as a fundamental part of a healthy diet. Kefir has a lot to offer, being used as a treatment for certain conditions and even being proven to improve immune system functioning.
Types of Kefir
Kefir can be dairy or non-dairy, offering options for those with lactose intolerance too. Both water and milk kefir come with various health benefits and make a great addition to a healthy diet.
Kefir is a very popular choice of beverage as the latest health trend with good reason as it is jam-packed full of health benefits.
Water kefir is made by fermenting water and sugar with water kefir grains. The water kefir grains are similar in composition and appearance to their milk kefir counterpart, also being slightly more translucent. They feed on sugar, while milk kefir grains feed on lactose from milk. Water kefir has the same benefits as milk kefir and makes for a delicious healthy alternative to carbonated cold drinks.
Milk kefir is made by inoculating fresh milk with milk kefir grains, tiny gelatinous clusters that are similar to cauliflower in appearance. Consisting of bacteria and fungi that humans cannot make from scratch, these grains are beneficial to the human gut. Kefir’s microbiological and chemical composition indicates that it is a very complex probiotic.
In essence, kefir is a mildly acidic fermented milk produced by adding lactic acid bacteria and yeasts to milk. The composition of kefir varies according to factors such as milk type and the microbiological composition of culture types. Kefir’s distinctive flavour is a blend of lactic acid, ethanol, carbon dioxide and flavouring products.
The microorganisms in kefir produce vitamins whilst breaking down protein and lactose, resulting in a highly nutritious and digestible foodstuff.
Composition and Breakdown
Kefir typically contains 89–90% moisture, 0.2% lipid, 3% protein, 6% sugar, 1% lactic acid and 1% alcohol. Lactic acid is the most abundant organic acid after fermentation and is derived from approximately 25% of the original lactose in the starter milk.
Kefir contains vitamins B1, B2, B5 and C, as well as other minerals and essential amino acids that benefit healing and homeostasis. The vitamin content of kefir is influenced by both the type of milk and microbiological flora. Kefir microflora contains many microorganisms, alongside carotene and vitamins A & K, which come with their own list of beneficial properties.
Yeasts and lactobacilli are mutually dependent and grow in balanced proportions in kefir grains. The symbiosis between the yeast lactobacilli and streptococci can be observed during the production of kefir and is where the sour taste comes from.
Yeasts are recognised as playing a vital role in fermented dairy products’ preparation, providing essential growth nutrients such as amino acids and vitamins. This results in the altering of the pH, as well as the secretion of ethanol and production of CO2. The yeasts in kefir are less well studied than bacteria. However, the yeasts in grains clearly provide an environment favourable for the growth of kefir bacteria, producing metabolites that contribute to the flavour and mouth- feel.
Health benefits of Kefir
Studies have shown that kefir is correlated with a wide range of health benefits, including improved digestion, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer prevention, improved immune systems, and reduced asthma and allergies.
- Has strong antibacterial properties being rich in probiotics and other vital nutrients such as vitamins and amino acids.
- Improves bone health and prevents osteoporosis due to the Calcium and Vitamin K content. This supports the absorption of Calcium and improves bone density.
- Improves digestion and alleviates digestive issues such as IBS, SIBO, ulcers etc
- Boosts and supports optimal immune system functioning, also lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Alleviates asthma & allergies and may even prevent cancer.
- Regulates bile production and gallbladder function. It also increases energy and supports overall health.
How much Kefir to drink?
The recommended dose of kefir is about a glass a day. It can be consumed as is or used in smoothie recipes and breakfast bowls instead of yoghurt.
As mentioned, keep in mind that milk kefir is made from dairy and is unsuitable for those with a milk allergy or sensitivity to dairy products. Additionally, while most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate it without any issues, it may cause adverse side effects in others.
In some cases, specific side effects may include gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea or stomach pain if consumed in high amounts. These symptoms are more common when first trying it and typically subside over time with continued use.
As with most natural products, the benefits outweigh the side effects and are worth trying to see whether they are compatible with your lifestyle. Kefir will make a great addition to level up a healthy and balanced diet, bringing many advantages with it.
Whichever kefir drink you choose, you are guaranteed to reap the benefits of a wide range of health perks. Check out our selection of Kefir drinks and explore the available options!