What is Kefir? Health Benefits and Delicious Ways to Use Kefir! – 80 Twenty Nutrition

What is Kefir? Health Benefits and Delicious Ways to Use Kefir!

probiotic health benefits kefir grain closeup

Kefir has transitioned from being a niche product at specialty food shops to being easily available in major grocery chains across the country. Despite its recent popularity, kefir is certainly no new kid on the block. Its origins can be traced back over 1,000 years ago in the Caucasus mountain regions, where the kefir grains were passed generations and were considered a source of family wealth.

With its digestive health benefits, it’s no wonder the Turkish word “kefir” literally means “good feeling”! Interested in what makes this tart beverage jam-packed with health benefits? Here’s the scoop on why you’ll cheer for kefir!

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a slightly acidic taste and natural carbonation. It is made by fermenting milk with cauliflower shaped kefir “grains”. They’re not the usual grains that we usually think of, but are instead a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. Kefir can be produced using any type of milk, including plant-based milk. However, cow’s milk is the most common.

probiotic health benefits kefir grain closeup
Photo Credit: Tarikgore via Flickr

During the fermentation process, kefir grains grow in size and are then filtered out to be used for the next batch of milk.

Kefir can be consumed after the kefir grains have been separated or refrigerated for later consumption.

Why is Kefir Good For You?

Probiotics In Kefir

As a result of the fermentation process, kefir is an excellent source of probiotics. Probiotics are live organisms that provide positive health benefits. They are part of your digestive tract and stimulate your body’s immune response, protection against harmful bacteria, produce vitamins and absorb minerals.  Check out my blog post on healthy gut bacteria and how it’s great for your health.

While yogurt is commonly regarded as the go-to probiotic food, in fact, kefir has a higher probiotic content than yogurt. Kefir contains over 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts making it an excellent probiotic food!

#Kefir is an excellent #probiotic source, containing over 30 strains of healthy bacteria and yeast – that’s way more than yogurt! Click To Tweet

There is also increasing evidence that increasing evidence that probiotics may be helpful in alleviating symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), H. pylori infection (a common cause of ulcers) and other digestive issues.

Another added benefit is kefir contains kefiran, a type of carbohydrate that may act as a prebiotic. Prebiotics  promote the growth of more probiotic bacteria, so together prebiotics and probiotics become synbiotics (yay synergy)!

Kefir and Lactose Intolerance

The enzyme that is able to break down lactose (milk sugar) is naturally found in kefir grains. During the fermentation process, kefir grains reduce the lactose content of the kefir. One study found that after the fermentation process, One study found that after the fermentation process, kefir had a 30% reduction of lactose in comparison to unfermented milk.  It is important to note that there have not been many studies on kefir and lactose intolerance, although these results are promising.

While the degree of lactose intolerance varies between individuals, kefir’s reduced lactose content makes it a suitable option for people with lactose intolerance to try.

If you have lactose intolerance, start with a small amount of kefir (1/2 cup) and see how your body reacts. Some people with lactose intolerance are really sensitive to even small amounts of lactose, while other people are fine to have certain dairy products that are lower in lactose in small portions (yogurt, kefir and hard aged cheeses).

Probiotic health benefits kefir
Photo credit: Stephen G Pearson via Flickr

Where Can I Buy Kefir?

Kefir products can be found in the dairy aisle of your grocery store, typically alongside yogurt beverages.

In the U.S., common brands include Lifeway and Greek Gods. If you’re in Canada, common brands include Liberte and Elite. Kefir comes in both plain and flavored varieties.

For the healthiest kefir, your best bet is to go with plain versions and add your own fruit for flavor. Why? Flavored kefir is quite high in added sugars, usually 3 times higher than their plain counterparts!

It’s also important to note that kefir products may or may not be fortified with vitamin D, so be sure to check the nutrition facts table.

If you want to order kefir or supplies to make your own online, try these:

Milk Kefir (Ready to Drink)

Lifeway Nonfat Plain Kefir

Green Valley Organic Strawberry Pomegranate Acai Lactose-Free Kefir

Milk Kefir Supplies to Make Your Own Kefir

Milk Kefir Grains

Glass Jars for Fermenting Kefir

Vegan Kefir (Ready to Drink)

Water Kefir Grains

I always thought Kevita was kombucha, but it doesn’t contain tea. It’s actually coconut-water based kefir! Totally vegan/dairy-free.

Vegan Kefir Supplies to Make Your Own Dairy-Free Kefir

How to Use Kefir in Recipes

Most kefir products are quite effervescent/fizzy, although there are non-effervescent versions if this is your preference. This is usually indicated on the front label.

Kefir recipe probiotic health benefits
Photo credit: Carissa Gan via Unsplash

The great thing is that kefir can be consumed as is! Although, if you want to get a bit more creative you can substitute kefir for yogurt, milk or buttermilk in recipes that call for these ingredients. Examples include smoothies, in salad dressings, poured over cereal, baked goods, and even pasta sauce!

Keep in mind that the probiotics in kefir are sensitive to heat, so cooking or baking with it will reduce the probiotic content.

How to Make Milk Kefir at Home

Making your own kefir is another option instead of purchasing kefir products. It isn’t as challenging as it seems, and all you need is 2 ingredients: milk and kefir “grains”! Get the recipe to make your own milk kefir.

How to Make Vegan Kefir 

If you’re vegan or dairy-free, you can make your own kefir at home. Keep in mind that to make kefir with coconut milk or almond milk requires starting the kefir grains in dairy.

If you want to avoid that, you can buy these water kefir grains that will grow in coconut water. That way you’ll get coconut water kefir. No dairy required! And all of the instructions on how to make your vegan kefir are on the package.

The Bottom Line on Kefir

Kefir is one powerhouse of a food: it is an excellent source of probiotics, has versatile applications in the kitchen and promising results regarding digestion. How do you plan on using kefir? Share in the comments below!

More Probiotic Food Sources

If you love kefir, why not try sauerkraut and kombucha! Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage while kombucha is a fermented tea drink, and both offer up a healthy dose of gut-friendly probiotics.

 

A huge thank you to my student, Jacqueline Vykoukal, for writing this awesome kefir article.

Have you tried kefir? What’s your favorite way to use it? Share in the comments below!

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