If you are into healthy living and incorporate superfoods in your diet, you must have definitely heard about Kefir. It is fast gaining importance as a probiotic and has become quite popular. Kefir is made from Kefir grains which resemble a cauliflower head and are a rich combination of beneficial bacteria and yeast along with sugars, proteins and lipids.
So what is Kefir like?
Kefir is not a new food and has been around for quite some time. It has its origin in the North Caucasian region and is popular in Russia. The word Kefir has its origin in the Turkish word “köpür” which means “feeling good” and is pronounced as “keh-FEAR”.
The health benefits of Kefir range from improving digestive disorders and bone health, having anti-bacterial properties, reducing allergies and asthma. It is something you would want to incorporate in your daily diet and get on a healthy life.
One of the most potent probiotic foods, Kefir is similar to Yogurt, prepared by using a starter culture. It is available in the form of grains, which can be used as culture in milk and water – the grains are different for both. The bacteria and yeast from these grains, feed on the lactose and ferment milk in 24 hours (depending on the room temperature) giving rise to a healthy drink. The fermented Kefir drink has a creamy texture, similar to that of yogurt, with a foam formed due to natural carbonation. It has a tart and tangy taste, given by the lactic acid formed by Lactobacillus.
Nutritional content of Kefir
Since it is a probiotic, Kefir has a lot of beneficial bacteria which are responsible for the numerous health benefits. Some of the important bacteria present in Kefir are:
Lactobacilli, Lactococci, Acetobacter, Streptococci
Enterococci, Leuconostoc, Bacillus, Micrococci
One serving of Milk Kefir (175 ml) would give the following:
Energy: 100 calories
Protein: 6 grams
Calcium: 21% of RDA
Phosphorus: 20% of RDA
Vitamin B2: 19% of RDA
Vitamin B12: 14% of RDA
Potassium: 8% of RDA
The type of milk used in making the Kefir, will have a direct impact on the nutritional content of the Kefir. For example, Kefir made from full fat milk will have higher fat content as compared to that from skimmed milk. Since the sugars from the milk (lactose) are used up by the Kefir grains, it has less calories from carbs. Besides these nutrients, Kefir is a good source of amino acids, peptides and organic compounds which help in maintaining good health. Also, since it is a fermented food, it is a good source of Vitamin K.
Is making Kefir easy?
Although ready to drink Milk Kefir is available widely in health stores, especially the organic ones, it is easy to make it at home as well. To get started on the Kefir routine, all you need are the Kefir grains. They are available in the dried form or as live cultures. And it would be good to remember that the grains are different for Milk Kefir and Water Kefir, but the process of making it remains the same.
Milk Kefir is considered as the original or traditional form of Kefir and can be made using cow or goat milk. To prepare it at home, start by taking a teaspoon of kefir grains in one cup of milk. Keep it loosely covered with cheese cloth in a warm place for 24 hours. The bacteria and yeast from the grains will ferment the milk and convert it into Kefir. The Kefir will have a thicker consistency than milk and will have a tangy flavour, somewhat like drinkable yogurt. All you need to do is strain the grains using a plastic sieve & wooden spoon and your cup of Kefir is ready. You can reuse these grains till they remain healthy, by making Kefir every 24 hours, or you can put them in a cup of milk and refrigerate.
These Kefir grains can be used in making Kefir from coconut milk and Almond milk as well. The process will remain the same, however, when storing you would need to store the grains in a cup of cow or goat milk.
– Glass jars are the best when making Kefir, since they do not react or leach in the product.
– A wooden spoon and plastic or stainless steel sieve with fine mesh are ideal.
– Use one tablespoon of Kefir for 1 cup of milk during winters
– Dried Kefir will need to be placed in a fresh cup of milk every day for a few days, to get it started
– Always leave space in the jar for carbonation to escape, else the jar might burst
Special water Kefir grains are required to make this Kefir and the water used has to be sweetened for the Kefir grains to feed on. For this purpose, sugar is added to water or fruit juice is used. The taste of water Kefir is subtle than milk kefir and is also lighter.
The process of making kefir remains the same. To reduce the sugar content you can choose to add natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, fruit juice and natural flavours like lime and mint.
What are the benefits for our health?
Although traditionally people have known the benefits of Kefir for many years, research on Kefir used in humans is still in infancy. There are few human studies while more animal studies done on the different benefits of Kefir. Here are some of the important health benefits of Kefir:
The most important benefit of probiotics is for the GI tract or the gut. Since Kefir contains lot of beneficial microorganisms, they have an impact on the digestion and various ailments associated with the gut. Research has shown that consumption of such probiotics during diarrhoea, helped in controlling it, especially antibiotic associated diarrhoea. Post antibiotic treatment, there is an imbalance in the gut bacteria which can be restored using foods or drinks made using Kefir.
A lot of gastrointestinal disorders like peptic ulcers, gastric cancer are caused due to the presence of Helicobacter pylori, which can remain in the gut of an infection person, for life. Due to its anti-bacterial property, Kefir helps in cases of gastric ulcers caused by H.pylori.
Some other GI disorders where Kefir can be helpful are Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Bottom Line: Although the research carried out is in nascent stages, Kefir has shown to be beneficial in various health ailments associated with the digestive system. This is mainly attributed to its probiotics.2. Anti-Bacterial Properties
As a potent probiotic, Kefir has lot of beneficial bacteria. Some of these bacteria are responsible for providing protection from infections caused by other harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus kefiri is the particular strain of bacteria, found in kefir, responsible for inhibiting the growth of E.Coli, H.Pylori and Salmonella.
The production of aflatoxin is inhibited by Kefir, which shows that it has anti-fungal properties as well. Besides the probiotics, a poly-saccharide present in Kefir, called as Kefiran also has anti-bacterial properties, especially against Streptococcus pyogenes, which are responsible for causing skin infections to some life-threatening diseases as well.
Bottom Line: The beneficial bacteria in Kefir, along with the carb – Kefiran make it a very good anti-bacterial substance, which can protect humans from harmful, disease causing pathogens.3. Good for the Bones
One of the leading problems affecting the bones is Osteoporosis. It mainly affects the elderly, especially women. It can increases the chances of fractures as well. Calcium supplements are usually recommended, along with good intake of Calcium rich foods.
Including Milk Kefir in the diet can ensure adequate intake of calcium in the diet. Another nutrient present in Kefir, which helps in calcium metabolism is Vitamin K2. The bacterial fermentation, which happens in Kefir, helps in generating the Vitamin K2. A study has shown that supplementation of Vitamin K2, reduces the risk of bone fractures and bone loss.
Bottom Line: The calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin K2 from Kefir, make it an excellent choice for improving bone health.4. Cancer Protection
One of the most dreaded and feared diseases is Cancer, and it is quite widely occurring as well. There are various types of cancer which can affect anyone, sometimes without any known causative factor. Cancer occurs when there is an abnormal growth of cells in any part of the body. The treatment for cancer takes a toll on the health and it is important to have nutritious food. Certain foods have cancer fighting properties and Kefir is one of them.
The probiotics in Kefir help in boosting the immune system, as well as cause a reduction in the formation of carcinogenic compounds. This helps in inhibiting the growth of the tumour and has been supported by research studies as well.
Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, has found that Kefir is more potent probiotic as compared to yogurt, and helps in inhibiting the growth of human breast cancer cells.
Bottom Line: Kefir is a promising super foods when it comes to giving cancer protection and can be easily incorporated in the diet.5. Allergy
When the immune system gets hyper-sensitive, we develop allergies, which can be towards food, medicine or environmental factors. The body reacts with an inflammatory response towards allergens and causes symptoms like itching, redness, inflammation, hives and can be life-threatening like anaphylaxis.
Kefir has an anti-inflammatory effect and can thus play an important role in preventing allergies. This effect has been attributed to the polysaccharide – Kefiran.
Animal studies have shown beneficial effect of Kefir on allergies as well as asthma, by supressing inflammatory markers. Another study has found that a particular strain of lactobacillus present in Kefir has anti-allergic effect and thus can be used as a functional food.
Bottom Line: As a health drink, Kefir in milk or water can help in improving the body’s allergic response and reduce inflammation caused by allergens.6. Replacement for Lactose Intolerance
Dairy products contain carbohydrate in the form of Lactose, which is a combination of glucose and galactose. When the body is unable to break down or synthesize the lactose, due to absence of the enzyme lactase it is known as being lactose intolerant and is fairly common across the world. When people suffering from lactose intolerance consume milk, they exhibit symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. However, sometimes they are able to digest fermented dairy products like yogurt.
In a study, people suffering from lactose mal-digestion were given Milk, Kefir and Yogurt, it was found that Kefir reduced the severity of flatulence by 71%, yogurt by 54% relative to that of milk. It also improved digestion of Lactose, absorption and tolerance.
Since the bacteria and yeast in Kefir feed on the lactose, they break it down during fermentation, thus, decreasing the lactose concentration in the milk. The other option is to have Water Kefir or Coconut water Kefir.
Bottom Line: If you feel terrible leaving out dairy because of lactose intolerance, you can start having Kefir which will definitely improve the symptoms and give all the benefit.7. Detox
The foods we eat get metabolised in the body during digestion giving out by-products. These accumulate in the body over a period of time and can become toxic, which can cause symptoms like headaches, fatigue and even allergies. Detoxification process is where a special diet or certain food is consumed which removes the toxins from the body. One of these toxins is Aflatoxin (fungi by product) which comes from peanuts, grains and oils.
A study published in Journal of Food Protection, found that when yogurt, buttermilk and kefir were made from milk contaminated with aflatoxin and allowed to ferment, there was a decrease in the aflatoxin content in kefir as compared to yogurt and buttermilk. This can be attributed to the anti-fungal characteristic of Kefir.
Bottom Line: When you have Kefir in your diet, you ensure there is detoxification happening on a regular basis.8. Heart Health
The gut flora is responsible for maintaining good health and is essential for the proper functioning of many processes. Changes in the diet can affect the quality of the gut bacteria. These bacteria also play an important role in conditions like diabetes and metabolic syndrome. When foods like Kefir are consumed they ensure that the balance of gut flora is maintained.
Vitamin K2 which is present in Kefir helps in prevention of plaque build-up in the arteries as well as heart disease. Kefiran also is said to help in lowering blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. All these benefits ensure that there are less chances of heart attack or stroke.
Bottom Line: A healthy gut is necessary for a healthy heart and Kefir is one of the foods to have to ensure that!9. It can be Vegan too!
Although traditionally Kefir is made from milk, vegans can avail the benefits of Kefir by opting for Water or Coconut water based Kefir. Besides these, it can also be prepared in various non-dairy products like –coconut milk, nut milk like almond milk etc. The starter or Kefir grains are different for water and milk. When opting for Vegan Kefir, it is important to choose the water-based kefir grains, which look like translucent jelly.
Although Vegan Kefir may not have the same nutritional benefits as milk based Kefir, it is rich in probiotics and all associated benefits. It has to be prepared in pure water along with sugar, which will feed the kefir grains. You can use dry fruits to give flavour to the Water Kefir.
Bottom Line: You need not worry if you are a Vegan, go ahead and try the water kefir in variety of flavours.6 Interesting Kefir Recipes:
Purple kefir Smoothie
This healthy and royal coloured smoothie is very appealing and can be modified to your liking. Using Kefir milk as the base, it has berries, which imparts the beautiful purple colour, along with another superfood – chia seeds. The coconut milk gives it a nutty flavour and richness. It can be topped off with berries, nuts or even more chia seeds. You can dip a spoon and enjoy it like a berry flavoured yogurt. Chia seeds are good source of magnesium and manganese, besides being very rich in fibre, and the berries are loaded with anti-oxidants.
If you want to devour some of the softest, fluffiest and yummiest pancakes, you must try out this recipe. Using Kefir instead of buttermilk, it gives you the goodness of kefir in delicious pancakes form. The heat will destroy the probiotic microorganisms, but the nutrients derived from Kefir, along with the polysaccharide – Kefiran are all available to the body. You can adjust the amount of Kefir used by either replacing the entire milk in the recipe or use them both equally. The pancakes can be served with natural syrups.
Lemon Kefir Soup
What can be more tempting than a piping hot bowl of chicken soup with the benefit of kefir in it? This recipe combines chicken with kefir made from either cow or goat milk, which lends the soup a unique flavour. Chicken soup has always been known to help during illness and this has been proven by studies. Lemon gives the right amount of tanginess to the soup.
Strawberry Lemonade Water Kefir
For someone who is lactose intolerant this particular lemonade would be perfect. The probiotic goodness of Kefir is present in this strawberry flavoured lemonade. It is also rich in Vitamin C which comes from the lemons as well as the strawberries. The fermented Kefir makes it naturally carbonated, making it a very refreshing drink. It has an interesting flavour combination as well, tartness of the kefir, sweetness from the ripe strawberries and a sour tanginess from the lemons. Come summers, this mildly pink coloured lemonade can act as the best cooling drink.
Buttermilk Pie with Kefir
Kefir has been used instead of buttermilk to make this delicious and healthy pie. Instead of sugar, you have the option of using honey as well. It tastes as good as regular pie, if not more tasty. The flavor of Kefir in the filling along with the crumbly crust makes this an excellent choice for dessert. This is one dessert you can devour guilt free. Try it out and dig in with friends and family.
You need not restrict the goodness of the probiotic rich Kefir to only milk based drinks. You can use it to make your own bread, where the fermentation of the bread happens with the help of the bacteria present in the Kefir. This bread is made from soaked flour and is definitely a better choice nutritionally. It is one of the best options to utilise any leftover or excess Kefir. Using whole wheat can give a denser bread, but will have more fibre.