The Health Benefits of Kefir

What Is Kefir?

Kefir is a fermented milk product that health nuts love. It can be made from any type of milk, including:

  • Cow milk
  • Goat milk
  • Sheep milk
  • Soy or rice milk

Like a drinkable yogurt, kefir is slightly tart, very creamy, and contains naturally-occurring bacteria and yeasts that give kefir its superior health benefits. Here’s a closer look at kefir, the health benefits of kefir, and how you can use it at home.

A Brief History of Kefir

“Kefir” itself is a word with a Turkish origin — “keyif” means joy or pleasure, and “kopur” means milk or froth. For the ancient shepherds of the Caucasus who originally discovered kefir, then, “kefir” was a pleasurable, frothy milk drink.

The shepherds stumbled upon kefir because they carried milk with them in leather pouches. When the milk would ferment, it would become an effervescent and tasty drink. Eventually the shepherds started making kefir on purpose by adding kefir grains to a leather bag and hanging it near a doorway. Whenever someone walked through the doorway, they would often bump the bag, thus “stirring” the contents.

Legend has it that kefir was protected from outsiders for centuries. Finally, however, a Russian lady by the name of Irina Sakharova convinced a prince in the Caucasus to give her a few kefir grains in the early part of the 20th century. She started making kefir in Moscow, and ever since then it has been a Russian staple. In the last few decades, kefir has made its way west.

How Kefir is Made

As mentioned above, the production of kefir depends upon kefir grains, which are a mix of bacteria and yeasts that form in the midst of various natural proteins, fats, and sugars. Usually, the grains are added to a milk product, then kept at room temperature overnight in order to allow the milk to ferment. More grains are produced during the process of fermentation, and by passing on these grains to others, they can make their own kefir from scratch.

Once the kefir is finished, some like to mix the sour drink with fruits to make it a little more palatable. Fruits blended together with kefir make delectable and very healthy smoothies.

What Kefir Contains, and How it Differs from Yogurt

Both probiotic yogurt and kefir have a variety of health benefits, but they contain different sorts of friendly yeasts and bacteria. Yogurt and kefir both help keep our digestive track clean by providing nutrients for the friendly bacteria that live in our gut. However, kefir includes certain types of bacteria that yogurt does not have, including lactobacillus caucasus, leuconostoc, streptococcus, and acetobacter. Saccharomyces kefir and torula kefir are additional yeasts found in kefir that are not found in yogurt. These two types of yeast can eliminate harmful yeasts that cause digestive problems and yeast infections.

Thanks to the beneficial active yeasts and bacteria in kefir, the body gradually becomes better at resisting certain types of bacteria and intestinal parasites. Kefir is easier to digest than yogurt, keeps the colon clean, and is excellent for people who experience frequent indigestion and/or chronic fatigue.

Other Health Benefits of Kefir

In addition to the health benefits already mentioned above, consider these other amazing benefits of kefir:

Help for the lactose intolerant

Regular consumption of kefir helps people who lack the lactase enzyme to digest dairy products again. Some of the bacteria contained by kefir helps to break lactose down, so even those deficient in the lactase enzyme can digest dairy.

A healthier immune system

The Journal of Immunobiology reported in a 2006 study that kefir improves immunity in mice. As mentioned above, kefir makes the body more efficient at destroying harmful pathogens, including harmful bacteria and viruses. In addition, the study showed that the friendly bacteria in kefir can help destroy tumor cells. The study hasn’t been repeated in the human body, but certainly there is good evidence that kefir helps to fight cancer.

Kefir may prevent breast cancer

Speaking of cancer, the Journal of Medicinal Foods published a study in 2007 showing that kefir contains compounds that stop the growth of human breast cancer cells.

Vitamins and minerals in kefir

Kefir contains vitamin B, vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium. These vitamins are crucially important to a healthy body.

Consuming Kefir

Given all these incredible health benefits, it’s easy to understand why some people are replacing the milk in their breakfast cereal with kefir. These days, it’s easy to find a commercial brand of kefir at a grocery store, but some die-hard kefir fans insist that the best kefir is made at home. These kefir fanatics claim that not all commercial brands use actual kefir grains, but rather use a laboratory-engineered starter powder. One major brand, Helios, states that they use actual kefir grains; not all brands make the same claim.

It’s relatively easy to make kefir at home. First, find live kefir grains – a quick internet search will reveal several online sources of kefir grains. Alternatively, you can purchase a kefir starter kit, but the grains reproduce on their own, giving you an endless supply, whereas starters have to be purchased again and again each time you make kefir. There are different types of kefir grains, so you’ll need to do a little research first to find out what type of grain will work for you.

Once you have the grains, put them into room temperature milk. The milk can be of any sort, as mentioned above. Cover the milk loosely, then wait for 24 hours. The milk should be thick. Separate your grains from your new batch of kefir with a strainer or cheesecloth.

You can store your kefir grains in cold milk in your refrigerator. Every couple weeks, you should change out the milk. Freezing your grains is not a good idea, as it can kill the beneficial bacteria.

What are you waiting for? Get started with kefir right away! The health benefits of kefir might get you started, but the creamy, delicious taste will keep you coming back for more.


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