Kefir is a fermented milk drink that contains kefir grains. Consuming kefir may have several health benefits, but many claims lack evidence. The name “kefir” comes from the Turkish word “keyif”, which refers to the “good feeling” you get after drinking this drink. The drink is a combination of milk and kefir grains and contains live bacteria and yeast.
Some people attribute the potential health benefits of kefir to its probiotic content. Probiotics are beneficial species of bacteria and other microbes. Probiotic research is still in its infancy. Here’s what kefir is, its health benefits, how to prepare it, and how it compares to other fermented dairy products in terms of nutrition.
What is kefir?
Kefir is a type of fermented milk product. People make it by adding bacteria and yeast cultures to milk. Cultures feed on the natural sugars found in milk. This allows them to multiply, creating a fermented drink. Kefir has a tangy, tangy taste and a consistency similar to drinking yogurt. Due to the fermentation process, kefir can taste slightly airy. This happens because the microbes produce gases when they digest the sugars in the milk.
Different types of kefir
There are many types of kefir. It can be purchased or crafted using:
– cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk
– non-dairy “milk” such as coconut or oat milk
– some water
Some companies also make flavored or low-fat kefir drinks.
Is kefir gluten free?
Despite their name, kefir grains have no connection to wheat or oats. This means that there is no gluten in a traditional kefir drink, which only contains milk and live cultures. However, some brands may use oats and other gluten-containing products to add flavor or change the texture of the liquid. Always check the label before buying.
Is kefir lactose free?
Many kefir drinks are based on some type of milk. The fermentation process reduces the amount of lactose in this milk, but it does not necessarily make kefir lactose-free. It may still contain traces of lactose, depending on the product. Some people with mild lactose intolerance can still tolerate kefir if the amount of lactose is minimal. People with more severe intolerances or allergies may benefit more from non-dairy kefir.
What are the health benefits of kefir?
Research into the health benefits of kefir is still in its early stages, but some evidence suggests it may help:
Blood sugar control.
A small study from Iran from 2015 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 may have a number of benefits for people with diabetes and obesity. It could modulate diabetes-related markers. However, larger scale research is needed to support this hypothesis.
A 2017 study examined changes in cholesterol levels in obese or overweight women who drank low-fat milk or kefir. The participants drank either two portions of low-fat milk per day, four portions of low-fat milk per day, or four portions of kefir per day.
After 8 weeks, those who drank kefir showed a significant decrease in their total cholesterol and 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. Probiotics in kefir can play a role in how much cholesterol the body absorbs from food. They can also affect how the body produces, processes and uses cholesterol.
The intestine contains many species of microorganisms. Some of these species have beneficial effects on the body, while others can be harmful. Probiotic foods contain some of the beneficial bacteria species that live in the digestive tract. They can therefore contribute to maintaining a good balance between these species.
However, scientists are still learning how it works. A 2018 animal study showed that kefir supplementation can improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut and reduce physical fatigue during exercise in mice. Further research is needed to understand whether this finding also applies to humans.
Elimination of pathogens
Pathogens are harmful microorganisms that can cause infections. Older research from 2013 notes that in laboratory studies, bacteria from kefir grains killed harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. This could mean that kefir could be potentially useful in preventing infections, such as gastroenteritis or vaginal infections. However, there is little human research confirming that kefir has this effect. Probiotics or kefir should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment of an existing infection.
Nutritional value of kefir
The nutritional value of kefir and the probiotic microbes it contains varies greatly depending on the ingredients and the fermentation technique. An article from 2017 estimates that traditional milk kefir consists of approx.
– 90% water
– 6% natural sugar
– 3.5% fat
– 3% protein
Kefir also contains a number of vitamins and minerals, including:
– B vitamins
– Vitamin C
– vitamin A
– vitamin K
How to make kefir at home
It is possible to make kefir at home. This requires a clean environment and equipment to prevent the wrong types of bacteria from entering the fluid. To get started, you must:
– active kefir grains, which can be purchased
– milk, such as cow’s, goat’s or coconut milk
– a glass jar
– a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth
– an elastic band
– a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon
– a colander with non-metallic mesh
To prepare the kefir:
– Wash hands with soap and water.
– Sterilize the jar by washing it with soap and warm water. Air dry upside down on a clean drying rack.
– When it is dry, add the milk to the glass container. Mix 1 teaspoon of kefir grains for every cup of milk. Leave some space at the top as the liquid will expand as it ferments.
– Cover the glass with the paper coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band. Store the jar in a warm place, around 21°C, for 12 to 48 hours. Protect the glass from direct sunlight and shake it gently if the liquid starts to separate.
– When the liquid has thickened, pour it through the sieve into a sterile storage container. Cover tightly and store for up to a week in the fridge.
– A shorter fermentation will give a sweeter kefir, while a longer fermentation gives a more acidic drink. You can save the kefir grains they have collected in the sieve to use in their next batch of kefir.
How to use kefir
Kefir can be used in the same way as milk and yogurt. Sample :
– drink it chilled in a glass
– pour over cereal, oats or muesli
– add it to smoothies
– eat with fruit
Kefir can also be used in creamy salad dressings, frozen yogurt, baked goods and soups. However, be aware that heating kefir inactivates live cultures.
Are there any risks to consuming kefir?
There is little research on the potential risks of kefir. It appears to be generally safe to eat as long as it is prepared and stored safely. People with lactose intolerance can drink kefir without experiencing symptoms, but they must be careful not to drink too much. People with milk allergies should avoid kefir unless it contains non-dairy milk. People with diabetes should read the label carefully and stick to plain varieties without added sugar.