Kefir or kephir is a drink made of fermented milk and looks very similar to thin yogurt. Cow, camel, buffalo, sheep, or goat milk is inoculated with kefir grains to make kefir.
Even though it originated on the mountain slopes of North Caucasus, Eastern Europe amongst the nomadic shepherds, today it is one of the most popular fermented milk in Russia as well as all over the world. Flavoured and plain varieties of kefir are available in Europe, Australia, North and South America.
Kefir is derived from the word “kef”, which in Turkish means “pleasant taste”. It is extremely nutritious and loaded with probiotic health benefits (1).
What Is Kefir?
Milk kefir is tart and tangy and has a consistency like buttermilk.
Kefir is inoculated with kefir grains, which is a cluster of specific bacteria and yeast mixture that is bundled together with milk proteins and complex sugars. Kefir undergoes single or double fermentation as per the need, by kefir grains and results in the sour and fizzy kefir drink (2).
Kefir is usually prepared from milk, but nowadays fruit juices, coconut water, coconut milk, sugared water, or molasses are also used. This article will deal with kefir made of milk.
13 Proven Health Benefits of Kefir
Kefir is nutrient-dense and is high in both macro and micronutrients. It has a good amount of protein, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium that helps build strong bones and muscles, and keeps your heart healthy (3).
One cup of low-fat kefir gives you around 110 calories and contains:
- Protein- 11 grams (22 % RDA)
- Calcium-390 milligrams ( 30 % of RDA )
- Vitamin B12- 12 % of RDI
- Magnesium- 3 % of the RDI
- Vitamin D-17 % of RDI
- Vitamin A- 90 micrograms
It also contains around 8-12 grams of carbohydrate and 2-6 grams of fat depending on the milk that is used. Apart from these important nutrients, kefir contains bioactive compounds like organic acids, polysaccharides, and peptides that have excellent health benefits (4).
Summary: Kefir is a highly nutritious fermented drink with a very high amount of B-vitamins, proteins, vitamins A and D, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Powerful Probiotic Properties
Probiotics are viable microorganisms, which when consumed in an appropriate amount exert beneficial effects on your health.
Kefir is a potent source of these probiotic bacteria. Kefir grains contain around 61 strains of bacteria and yeast, making them one of the greatest probiotic sources delivering nearly three times the amount of probiotic cultures than found in yogurt (5). Kefir grains are not typical grains but are the culture of bacteria and yeast that produces kefir.
The promising probiotics include Lactobacillus bacteria, Bifidobacterium, Lactococcus, and Leuconostoc bacteria. It has yeasts like Saccharomyces and acetic acid bacteria like Acetobacter living in symbiotic associations (6).
A growing number of scientific studies have confirmed that these probiotic microorganisms secrete functional molecules that have enormous health benefits. Probiotics have shown DNA protection activity and antioxidant effects (7). They aid in digestion, help in weight management, produce vitamin B6, B12, and K2, and keep us healthy in other ways.
Summary: Kefir is very high in probiotic bacteria and yeast and benefits our health in many ways.
Strong Antibacterial Properties
A strain of bacteria, known as Lactobacillus kefir, which is very unique to kefir drink, has been believed to protect against infection and have strong antibacterial properties (8).
Several studies have demonstrated that this probiotic can inhibit the growth of other harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Helicobacter pylori, and E. coli.
A carbohydrate known as kefiran, that is present in kefir also has antibacterial properties. Studies showed that kefiran has the highest activity on Streptococcus pyrogenes and Candida albicans among others (9).
Summary: The good bacteria present in kefir has adverse effects on bad bacteria and helps protect your body from infection.
Important In Improving Bone Health And Lower The Risk of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by structural deterioration of bone tissue. The incidence of osteoporosis increases with age and has been a major problem amongst post-menopausal women (10).
Proper calcium metabolism is important to improve bone health and lower the progression of osteoporosis.
Full fat kefir is a great source of calcium and vitamin K2, which is important in calcium metabolism. Typically kefir contains around 300-400 mg of calcium per cup, making it an excellent source of this nutrient. Studies have shown that supplementation with K2 can reduce the risk of fractures by about 81 percent (11).
Studies have also associated high protein diets with decreased bone loss and fractures. One serving of kefir contains around 9 grams of protein which is more than an egg with 6 grams of protein and helps lower bone loss (12).
The high potassium in kefir which is 400 mg per serving boosts strong bones. It neutralizes the acid load in the body and reduces calcium loss from the bone (13).
So, kefir with the abundance of essential nutrients, improve bone health, and prevent or slow osteoporosis.
Summary: Kefir is rich in calcium, vitamin K2, protein, and potassium which are essential in boosting bone health and prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis.
May Have Anticancer Properties
Cancer occurs when the abnormal cells in the body start growing uncontrollably. Kefir is believed to reduce tumor growth. The bacterial strains in kefir can detect and degrade the potential carcinogens which can lower the growth of these cells inside the body (14).
The probiotic bacteria also boosts the immune system and prevents carcinogenesis (15).
These preventive roles of probiotic bacterias have been demonstrated in several studies. They have also shown to eliminate early-stage cancer cells (16).
A study published in 2007 in the Journal of Medicinal Food, stated that kefir extract reduced the number of breast cancer cells in humans by 56 percent. When compared with yogurt (which reduced it to 14 percent), it was very promising (17).
However, more studies on humans are needed to come to a firm conclusion.
Summary: The probiotic bacteria in kefir has shown to have anti-cancer properties. They reduce tumor growth, combat carcinogenesis, and boost the immune system.
May Be Great In The Treatment of Digestive Problems
Your stomach contains good as well as bad bacteria. The balance between them is what keeps the stomach healthy. Diseases, infections, certain medications as well as antibiotics can upset this balance anytime.
The probiotics in kefir are similar to the good bacteria that are found in your stomach. So when you drink kefir, the good microbes in it help maintain a healthy balance by colonizing in the gut.
A review in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology observed that kefir can help treat diarrhea that is caused by infection or antibiotics. It also aids in the treatment of peptic ulcers in the stomach and small intestine (18).
Summary: The good bacteria in kefir can colonize in the gastrointestinal tract and help maintain the gut microbiome balance promoting gut health.
Kefir May Lower Lactose Intolerance
Kefir is low in lactose as compared to the milk it is fermenting. The probiotic microorganisms break the lactose into simpler forms which make fermented milk products like kefir suitable for lactose-intolerant people (19).
Commercial kefir has proved to be extremely effective like yogurt in reducing flatulence in lactose-intolerant adults in comparison to the ingestion of milk.
A study conducted in 2003 in Columbus, USA showed that kefir consumption, over time, could improve lactose digestion and had the potential to help overcome lactose intolerance (20).
Summary: Kefir is very low in lactose as compared to other dairy products and can be the answer to the lactose intolerance without compromising on the other nutrients like protein.
May Be Great in Combating Allergy and Asthma
Dairy kefir is one of the promising food components that have the capability of preventing food allergy and avert G.I tract pathogen infection.
According to the study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, kefir was shown to suppress Immunoglobulin E (IgE) response (21).
Other allergic specific response immunoglobulins also decreased on regular kefir intake. The beneficial bacteria of the gut increased and the potentially harmful bacteria such as Clostridium spp. decreased (22).
Kefir has been effective in combating conditions like asthma in a holistic manner by keeping inflammatory issues on check (23). Several studies on mice have shown kefir to suppress inflammatory responses in relation to asthma. These findings support the possibility that kefir may be an effective way of alleviating asthmatic symptoms (24).
Summary: Kefir suppresses the allergic specific responses and can prevent allergies. It suppresses inflammatory responses related to asthma.
May Control Blood Sugar Level
It has been known for a long time that probiotic food has anti-diabetic properties. Studies have shown that kefir consumption causes a decline in fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels in comparison to fermented milk (25). HbA1c is the blood sugar measurement over 3 months.
Antidiabetic effects of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria have been investigated and confirmed. It’s been proved that probiotic treatment can indeed reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic subjects (26).
A possible mechanism is the effect of the probiotic on the gut bacteria. It boosts them to produce polypeptides which induce uptake of glucose by muscles.
Summary: Like other fermented products, kefir has the potential to lower the blood sugar level, both fasting and HbA1c.
May Lower Cholesterol
Studies have shown that kefir has the ability to reduce cholesterol levels in the body. However, this is only possible when the drink is enriched with phytosterols or stanols, plant-based chemicals that are known to lower the LDL level (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides on their own.
In 2017, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology observed that kefir caused a significant improvement in the lipid profile and reduced the LDL cholesterol level. The probiotic effect of kefir may be the reason behind it. These affect how the body produces, processes, and uses cholesterol (27).
Summary: Kefir may lower cholesterol and significantly reduce the bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the body.
Can Help In Controlling Weight
Several studies over the years have shown that protein increases satiety and boosts your metabolism. One cup of kefir contains 8-11 grams of protein, specifically dairy-based whey, and casein. Casein digests slower than other forms of protein. This maintains satiety for a prolonged period reducing food intake.
A study that was published in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that women who took four servings of a dairy including kefir daily showed a significant decrease in weight, BMI, and waist circumference than the women who consumed only two servings of low-fat dairy products daily (28).
Summary: The high protein content of Kefir increases satiety and reduces the food intake aiding in weight loss.
Kefir Can Lower Skin Problems
Kefir has Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, high amount of lactic acid and yeast in it. This unique combination with vitamins, fats, organic acids, antioxidants, and protein can retain moisture of the skin and reduce wrinkles and fine lines. Kefir has shown to work best when used as a night mask.
Kefir also has anti-inflammatory components that reduce inflammation. For those who suffer from facial redness or rosacea, the application of kefir on the affected area reduces the inflammation by affecting the blood vessels close to the skin’s surface (29).
The high probiotic content of kefir helps to get rid of toxins and free radicals. Daily consumption of this drink provides the body ample amounts of vitamins and minerals that give the skin that youthful glow. It also aids in digestion and influences your overall health which ultimately improves your skin (30).
Summary: The vitamins and organic acids in kefir reduce inflammation, clear up toxins, and improve the overall health of your skin.
Kefir Lowers Hair Fall And Promotes Growth
Kefir is one of the secret hidden foods that has been used by women in Middle Asian countries for their hair care regime.
Kefir contains protein, calcium, yeast, lactobacilli, vitamins B, and E which nourish and strengthen hair (31). This unique food helps keep moisture in hair and creates a tiny film on the hair. This protects the hair from aggressive shampoo or hair styling products.
Riboflavin present in kefir protects the weak, tired, and lifeless strands, and niacin activates hair growth. It also works as a remedy against gray hair (32). Vitamin B12 promotes hair growth and prevents dandruff, and split ends. Calcium gives hair volume and strength and potassium in kefir help retain water in the cells preventing dry and brittle hair (33). The most effective way to use kefir on hair is as a mask that implies spreading the mixture on clean hair and scalp.
Summary: The bouquet of probiotics and nutrients in kefir nourishes the hair, protects it from aggressive chemicals, prevents dandruff, maintains moisture, and activates hair growth.
How to Make Kefir at Home
Kefir can be bought at the store or can be made at home easily.
The main component that is needed to make kefir is the active kefir grains. They are easily available online or supermarkets. There are several blogs and videos showing the kefir making process.
- Take a clean glass jar and put one to two tablespoons of kefir grains in it. Pour your milk in the jar and leave a little space on top. Whole, organic milk from the grass-fed cows is the healthiest.
- In case you desire thicker kefir, you can add some full fat cream in it.
- Close the jar tightly with the lid.
- Store the jar in a warm place for about 12-48 hours, depending upon how tangy you want it. The temperature of the place should be nearing 70-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Never cross 90 degrees as that will spoil the milk.
- In case, it starts to separate while in-store, shake it. After 24 hours, you can strain your kefir with a plastic colander and it is ready to consume. In case you want your kefir to be more tangy and fermented, you can keep it for another 24 hours. That is the double fermentation and will increase your probiotic and B vitamins to a significant amount.
- If you want fruit-flavored kefir, you may chop up some fruits and add it to the strained kefir and let it sit for 24 hours. You can then restrain it. The original kefir grains that are left behind can be reused again.
- Cover tightly and store up to 1 week.
This delicious and nutritious drink is ready to be consumed.
Kefir can be used in many ways. You can drink it like a beverage, use it in a smoothie, or can have it with your oats and cereals. It can also be incorporated in baked foods, soups, dips, and salad.
Keep in mind, heat may reduce its probiotic concentration so be careful while using.
The Differences Between Kefir and Yogurt
As milk kefir and yogurt are both cultured dairy products, people tend to assume that there are not much differences between the two.
However, this isn’t quite correct and there are many differences, which include the process by which it is made, the types of bacteria they contain, and their flavor and consistency (34).
- For yogurt, a bit of the previous batch is used for culturing. But milk kefir is cultured continuously using the kefir grains. Milk kefir grains are needed to be transferred to a fresh batch of milk about every 24 hours.
- Kefir has more protein and fat than the usual yogurt.
- Kefir contains a larger range of bacteria along with yeast in comparison to the yogurt. The beneficial bacteria found in yogurt help to keep the digestive tract clean and promotes the growth of gut bacteria by providing food for them but kefir bacteria can actually live and colonize the intestinal tract.
- Yogurt and milk kefir differ in flavor as well as consistency. Milk kefir is tart and has yeast flavor. It is more sour than yogurt. It is like a cross between cultured buttermilk and yogurt, though yogurt has a mild tangy flavor which is very familiar. Consistency can be thin and pourable or thick and creamy. Most varieties of yogurt are thicker than kefir.
The Side Effects of Kefir
Kefir is safe for consumption and has very few side effects. It may cause bloating, nausea, and intestinal cramping and constipation (35). Chances of them are more when you first start consuming it.
With continued use, these side effects may go eventually. For people who are not used to probiotics or fermented products, it is better to start with a small amount.
Anyone who has histamine intolerance or a compromised immune system should take the advice of their health professional before incorporating kefir in their diet.
While the bacteria in kefir is beneficial for people who have a strong immune system, it may increase the chances of infection or aggravation of conditions with people with a compromised immune system. When made traditionally, kefir may contain a small amount of alcohol.
FAQs Related to Kefir
When Should I Drink Kefir, at Night or Morning?
The bacteria from kefir can colonize the gut irrespective of the stomach being full or empty. So it can be taken at any time of the day in accordance with your suitability and convenience.
How Long Does it Take for Kefir to Start Working?
People have complained of a little gastrointestinal discomfort while starting kefir. It totally depends upon you and your habit of probiotic intake. Once you get used to it, the uncomfortable symptoms will go away. This should happen in 2 weeks and you will start feeling the benefits of kefir. But you must drink kefir daily for that.
How Much Kefir Should I Drink Each Day?
For maximum probiotic health, one to two 8 ounces servings of kefir daily is recommended. Some people drink a few ounces while others drink 32 ounces or more.
How Do You Know if Kefir has Gone Bad?
Like all the other dairy products, milk kefir can also spoil. While the shelf life may be a bit longer than the other products which are milk-based, it is not that long enough.
The first sign is mold or fuzzy growth on the surface. There can be a change in color as well. If that happens, do not consume and throw it out. Even though kefir smells sour, if it is really sour or too smelly it is better not to consume.
The Final Note
Kefir is a fermented drink that is traditionally made from dairy milk but nowadays many non-dairy options are also available.
Rich with probiotic bacteria and yeast, it lowers your blood sugar, triglycerides, and bad cholesterol, boosts your immune system, aids in digestion, improves bone health, and can even combat cancer.
Kefir is tasty, inexpensive, and packed with healthy benefits making it truly a miracle drink. If you think it is time to bring a positive change in your diet, get started with this tangy, zingy drink from today.