Kefir: What A Wonderful Source Of Many Nutrients!
What is kefir?
Kefir is a fermented drink, similar to yoghurt, usually made from cow’s or goat’s milk. Kefir grains – these are not cereal grains – but grain-like cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria, which are added to the milk.
It takes approximately 24 hours for the micro-organisms in the kefir grains to multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. The grains are removed from the liquid, are able to be used again to make a new batch of the kefir beverage.
Kefir is very sought after by the natural health community, as it is rich in nutrients and probiotics, and very useful for digestion and gut health. It has a sour taste similar to yoghurt, but the consistency is much thinner.
A rich source of protein, calcium, protein and B vitamins, and kefir is best defined as a fermented milk drink, cultured from kefir grains.
The health benefits of kefir
Over the last few years, global markets have become more open-minded about the benefits of alternate therapies, many of which such as kefir, are now evidence based. Here are some of the health benefits kefir can offer you.
- Probiotics occur naturally in the body, but they are available in foods such as kefir and yogurt. Yogurt has always been a frim favourite for sourcing probiotics, but studies have shown that kefir is a more powerful probiotic than yogurt. Probiotics are bacterial micro-organisms which are mainly concentrated in the gastro-intestinal tract, providing so-called healthy bacteria necessary for a healthy digestion, and a healthy gut. A healthy gut helps to prevent constipation, and promotes proper absorption of vitamins and minerals.
- Certain of the probiotics in kefir have antibacterial properties which are known to protect against harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E coli.
- Bone health. Bone health is a major problem in many countries where fast foods are common, all of which lack any nutrients of value. Bone tissue deteriorates when there is a lack of minerals such as calcium, and can lead to fractures and osteoporosis in later life. Kefir is rich in calcium and studies have also linked kefir to increased calcium absorption in bone cells. Kefir also contains vitamin K2, which plays an important role in bone health, heart health and the correct clotting of blood.
- Cancer protection. Some studies have indicated that the probiotics in fermented dairy products such as kefir, may reduce tumour growth by stimulating the immune system. One notable study revealed that kefir extract reduced the number of breast cancer cells by 56% as opposed to only 14% for yoghurt extract. However, this was a test-tube study, and more research is needed for human studies.
- Many folk, adults and children alike, are lactose intolerant – the natural sugar in dairy products. The bacteria in kefir convert the lactose into lactic acid, reducing the lactose in milk products. There is also some evidence to suggest that kefir may be helpful in reducing the symptoms of other food allergies.
- Digestive problems. The probiotic qualities in kefir play a major role in restoring the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut. This results in being very useful when treating diarrhea, as well as irritable bowel syndrome. Other digestion issues, such as acid reflux, have also been successfully treated.
Kefir grains contain up to 50 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very sought-after probiotic, for a healthy gut and digestive system.
Is kefir safe to take?
The FDA has not approved any probiotics for treating any health condition, but depending on the actual end use of the probiotic, the FDA may regulate it as a dietary supplement, or a food ingredient.
Kefir has a good safety record, and if there any side effects at all, they may only consist of some temporary mild digestive hassles like excessive gas. Many probiotics, including kefir, are marketed as dietary supplements, and as such do not need FDA approval to hit the stores.
More facts about kefir and probiotics
Although intensive clinical studies have given evidence to the benefits of kefir and probiotics, much research is still ongoing.
Here are some of the facts we have already learned:
- Store-bought kefir is available, but if you are wary about the quality, you can make kefir at home quite easily. Kefir grains, sometimes known as a starter pack, can be purchased in some health food stores, supermarkets, and even online. The grains are mixed with milk according to instructions, and when it has fermented, strain out the liquid and keep the grains to start a new process.
- The nutrient profile of kefir includes protein, calcium and magnesium, vitamin D, phosphorous for strong bones, and also vitamin B12 and B2.
- Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, which are called good micro-organisms because they are of benefit to the body, especially the digestive system.
- Studies have shown that kefir is much more potent a probiotic than yoghurt, which is the best known probiotic source in the Western diet.
- Kefir is popular across Central and Eastern Europe, where for many years the kefir drink has been associated with general well-being. In Russia, kefir is regarded as a staple food. It is given to primary school children to help with concentration, also given to the elderly in nursing homes, and those recovering from surgeries, to help promote healing.
- For most people kefir is safe to consume on a daily basis. A single serving is loaded with probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and eating it daily could build up a healthy balance of good bacteria in the system.
- The benefits of kefir are best experienced when taken on an empty stomach. The best option is to drink it before breakfast, or otherwise at least 3 hours since you have had food.
Through research, studies, and the need for a healthy gut, science has proved that kefir is a natural healthy, probiotic and nutrient-laden food, thanks to the fermentation of the cultures.