When I first heard about kefir, I was skeptical, because I didn’t realize its numerous benefits and what bothered me more was its tart flavor and it slightly carbonated taste. Maybe I expected a delicious yogurt-like structure and taste. However, after years of denying its existence I got gastrointestinal issues and I started to look for ways to improve my condition with natural resources, because I was sick of the medication I was prescribed with.
So I decided to give kefir a try once again, because of its probiotic content.
What is kefir?
Kefir is popular mainly around Europe and some parts of Asia. Its name comes from “keyif”, which in Turkish means “good feeling”. In fact, in the past it was used as a cure to many diseases.
It is a combination of bacteria and yeast fermentations known as “kefir grain” (Don’t worry, although it is called grain, it does not contain any gluten). These grains are stored in warm space to culture and make the popular drink. From a scientific point of view, kefir’s content is a microbial symbiotic mixture (lactic acid bacteria and yeast on a matrix). After approximately 24 hours, these microorganisms ferment the sugar content in the milk and turn it into kefir. In other words, the grains turn the lactose into lactic acid, which is why the lactose-intolerant can also benefit from this beverage.
To favor the vegans- kefir can be made from whatever milk you like- rice, coconut, almond.
1. Nutritional benefits
To be fair, the nutritional value of the drink depends on the type of milk used to make it. However, generally speaking- protein, calcium and potassium are some of its ingredients. In addition, there are many bioactive compounds such as organic acids and peptides.
The bacteria and yeasts content may be the following (Price 2017):
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis- it is used alive for treatment of human disease; it also has a homofermentative metabolism which means they produce the lactic acid from sugars. There are studied that say it has an opportunistic pathogen.
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Lactobacillus felbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
- Lactobaciullus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
2. Improvement in lactose intolerance
As I mentioned, the consumption of kefir will also benefit those who cannot tolerate the lactose in milk because of the way it is produced. The bacteria break most of the lactose content which makes it easier to digest, that is why it is believed that the drink is 99% lactose-free (Ware 2017).
According to a study, kefir can help adverse the symptoms over time and there is a chance that people can overcome this condition (Hertzler et al. 2003).
The microorganisms known as probiotics or “good bacteria” aid digestion and help fight gastrointestinal issues, because of the 61 strains of bacteria and yeasts (Leech 2018). The bacteria help maintain the healthy balance in the gut. Moreover, kefir fights diseases such as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other.
Additionally, those who take antibiotics for various reasons can also benefit from kefir’s consumption particularly because of its content. Usually when doctors prescribe antibiotics, they also advise you to take probiotics because antibiotics tend to disrupt the normal gut balance. The probiotics in kefir can restore the lost flora and even fight some of the pathogens.
4. Bone health
The silent disease affecting many people- osteoporosis, develops in people that do not receive enough calcium. Kefir can help because of the calcium in the milk. It also contains compounds which absorb the calcium and therefore stop the bones from degenerating. Moreover, it is known that vitamin K affects positively the skeletal system because of its absorption properties of the calcium and its deficiency leads to some of the issues arising. Kefir usually contains vitamin K2 and the probiotics help improve the absorption of most of the nutrients.
5. Cancer prevention
Kefir can stop the spread of the multiplying cancerous cells, because some of its compounds can destruct the stomach’s cancer cells.
It has an anti-carcinogenic role and it slows down the growth of the tumors. Moreover, it can prevent the conversions from non-carcinogenic to carcinogenic cells. A test showed that the consumption of kefir reduced breast cancer by more than a half (Price 2017).
6. Antibacterial and immune-boosting properties
One of the probiotics- Lactobacillus kefiri, which is only present in kefir, is believed to inhibit the growth of bacteria that are known for their harmful nature. For instance, Salmonella, Helicobacter pylori and E. coli (Leech 2018). What is more, this bacterial strain in combination with others boosts immunity.
A polysaccharide- kefiran, found in kefir, can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It also fights against candida (Price 2017). “
HERTZLER, SR., CLANCY, SM., 2003. Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. [online]. Ohio: Medical Dietetics Division, School of Allied Medical Professions. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12728216 [Accessed 14 January 2019].
WARE, M., 2017. Seven benefits of kefir. [online]. United Kingdom: Medical News Today. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318353.php [Accessed 14 January 2019].
LEECH, J., 2018. 9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Kefir. [online]. San Francisco: Healthline. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-health-benefits-of-kefir#section10 [Accessed 14 January 2019].
PRICE, A., 2017. 7 Kefir Benefits and Nutrition Facts that Boost Immunity & Heal the Gut. [online]. Nashville: Dr. Axe. Available from: https://draxe.com/kefir-benefits/ [Accessed 14 January 2019].