What is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented drink similar to a slightly runnier version of yogurt with a sour taste and slight fizz. However, it is miles apart from yoghurt in terms of the sheer volume and variety of probiotics that it contains. Kefir is great as a stand-alone drink or, alternatively, it can be used as an ingredient in a range of tasty recipes. It is most commonly made with cows’ milk; however, it can be made with a range of other dairy-free milk such as coconut, almond and rice milk. This milk alternatives produce what’s called ‘vegan kefir’. Whatever your milk choice is, the process for making kefir is relatively the same - combine your milk with the relevant kefir grains. These grains can be loosely understood as a combination of bacteria and yeast.
What are Kefir Grains?
Kefir grains are natural (not man-made) living microorganisms. It’s unknown when or where it first appeared, however, it is thought that they originated thousands of years ago in the Northern Caucasus Mountain region of the former USSR. The grains look a little bit like cauliflower with a gelatinous texture and are very unique meaning that they cannot be manufactured, making them a truly natural food.
What Can Kefir do for you?
Kefir provides a wide range of different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. It helps colonise the digestive tract with these bacteria and yeast providing many benefits for gut health, as well as overall health.
Here are a few other benefits of Kefir to your overall health:
Having a variety of good bacteria in the gut can help to improve overall health. A healthy microbiome provides enzymes which assist in the digestion of foods, as well as the absorption and synthesis of vitamins. A healthy gut microbiome helps to maintain a strong immune system, assists in reducing junk food cravings and supports overall gut wellness.
Lacto-fermented foods like kefir are digested easily as the bacteria have already broken down the nutrients into their most digestible form. The process of fermentation also adds extra nutritional value such as B vitamins and digestive enzymes that are not always present in the food previously.
The good bacteria in fermented foods can provide many benefits to digestive health that are associated with fermentation. Fermented foods can also help your body digest, absorb and assimilate other foods you are eating.
The majority of the immune system resides in the gut, so when the microbiome becomes out of balance the immune system struggles to function at its optimal levels. There are numerous lifestyle factors that can cause the gut microbiome to become imbalanced, such as junk food, stress and antibiotics.
The exact reasons why fermented foods benefit the immune system has been relatively allusive to nutritionists, dieticians and food scientists alike for a long time. However, in recent years, many promising studies of initial research have started to shed some light. One of these recent studies discovered a cell mechanism unique to apes and humans which may provide an explanation.
This mechanism involves a cell receptor known as HCA3. A cell receptor is a protein that matching molecules can bind to and send signals into a cell. The role that HCA3 plays hasn’t been clear for several years and scientists wondered why only humans and great apes have this receptor, yet other mammals do not.
This study discovered that HCA3 allows a by-product of lactic acid bacteria activity to bind to it. This by-product, or metabolite, is called D-phenyllactic acid (D-PLA). When D-PLA binds to HCA3 it sends a signal that alerts the immune system to the presence of bacteria. The scientists who worked on this study suggest that this receptor is likely to control some of the beneficial and anti-inflammatory effects of lactic acid bacteria (present in fermented foods) in humans.
While more studies need to be done to investigate how D-PLA affects the immune system, they believe that this study shows potential for the treatment of inflammatory disease. There is also some evidence that kefir may benefit those with allergies and asthma according to one study. This study showed anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects from kefir in mouse models.
Some of the key factors in the development of osteoporosis is vitamin D deficiency and poor digestion. As already mentioned, fermented foods such as kefir can help to improve digestion, and as a result, can also assist in the absorption of nutrients such as vitamin D. Vitamin K is another important nutrient for bone health. A lack of vitamin K may lead to weak bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Vitamin K2 may be the most important form of vitamin K related to bone health. Research on the relationship between bone health and vitamin K2 has indicated that this nutrient increases bone strength, slows the rate of bone weakening after menopause and may reduce fractures in women with osteoporosis. Vitamin K2 also plays an important role in calcium metabolism which is an important factor in bone health.
Vitamin K2 is available through meat, dairy foods and eggs. However, it is particularly high in fermented foods such as yogurt, fermented soybean products and kefir. Full-fat kefir is an excellent source of vitamin K2, as well as calcium, both of which are beneficial to bone health and reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
People with lactose intolerance may be able to introduce dairy into their diets again by consuming kefir. In a small study, 15 healthy men and women with diagnosed lactose intolerance were given milk, yogurt and kefir (separately) after a 12 hour fast and tested through breath hydrogen excretion and symptom observation. Both yogurt and kefir performed significantly better with the breath hydrogen excretion tests compared to milk. It also caused fewer symptoms than milk, showing that it may be suitable for those with lactose intolerance. Part of the reason for this is because the fermented process involves the breaking down of lactose within the milk.
How to Make Your Own Kefir
Making your own kefir at home is a lot easier than you might realise. This delicious, probiotic-rich drink is simple to make with very few ingredients and equipment. You will need kefir grains, milk and a glass jar. There are numerous different types to try, such as milk kefir, water kefir, coconut kefir, and almond milk kefir. As an added bonus, it’s very affordable and one set of supplies will last you a lifetime! Once you make your first batch, you will notice that the grains multiply - giving you an endless supply that will last you a lifetime!
Kefir is a tasty, probiotic-rich beverage that can provide many health benefits to you and your family. There are a variety of studies which show promising results about the benefits this probiotic packed drink can provide, including improving the immune system, digestive system, protecting against some chronic diseases and providing an alternative for those suffering from lactose intolerance. Kefir is very simple to prepare at home with minimal ingredients. Start your journey to improved overall health with our DIY Kefir Making Kit.