Kefir is a probiotic drink made by the fermentation of milk or water with kefir grains containing yeasts and bacteria. It may help modulate the gut flora and relieve constipation. Read on to learn more.

Contents

What Is Kefir?

Kefir is a fermented beverage made with milk and kefir grains, originally from the Caucasus mountains between Asia and Europe. The word “kefir” originates from the Turkish word “keyif,” which means “feeling good” .

Kefir grains contain several species of bacteria and yeasts. They are small, yellowish-white in color with the appearance of miniature cauliflowers .

Kefir is best known as a probiotic, which helps digestion .

However, kefir is under investigation for a number of other potential benefits, including:

How To Make Kefir?

Traditionally, kefir is made by adding kefir grains (which contain microbial cultures) to cow’s milk. It is also made by using other types of milk, such as goat, sheep, donkey, soy, rice, or coconut .

Water kefir is a probiotic drink containing water and kefir grains, similar to kombucha and ginger beer, whereas coconut kefir is prepared from coconut water and kefir grains .

It is fairly easy to make milk kefir at home by following the steps below :

  • Choose the type of milk you want: cow, goat, buffalo, sheep, donkey, or soy. The fermentation time and temperature may vary on the type of milk used.
  • Place a tablespoon of milk kefir grains in a medium glass jar.
  • Add 2 cups of milk in the jar and cover it with a towel or a cloth, but do not fully close it with a lid.
  • Place the jar at room temperature to ferment for 24-36 hours. During the fermentation process, the bacteria and yeasts in kefir break down the glucose and sugar into amino acids, lactic acids, and other substances.
  • Use a strainer to separate the kefir grains from the milk kefir.
  • The milk kefir is safe and ready to drink. Either you drink it directly or you can store it in your fridge (at 4°C) for later consumption.

The kefir grains can either be stored in the fridge for later use or can be used directly to make more milk kefir.

Kefir’s taste depends on the milk used, but it is usually slightly sour and creamy.

Nutrition Facts

The nutritional value of kefir varies depending on the milk or water used, kefir grains, and the way it is produced and stored. A cup of low-fat milk kefir is around 110 calories.

Milk kefir contains :

  • Proteins (3% – 6.4%)
  • Carbohydrates (3.8% – 4.7%)
  • Fats (0.2% – 2.3%)
  • Alcohol (0.48%)

Components

Since kefir grains come in different varieties, their components may vary from country to country and from grain to grain. Kefir can contain numerous probiotic bacteria and yeasts .

Kefir grains may contain a variety of bacteria, including:

The yeasts in kefir grains may include:

Kefir also contains :

How It Works

Researchers have investigated the effect of kefir and its probiotic bacteria in cell studies. They have observed a number of effects on the immune system, gut flora, and fat metabolism.

Kefir’s immune-modulating effects include:

  • Activating large white blood cells (macrophages) .
  • Increasing the breakdown of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms (phagocytosis) .
  • Boosting nitric oxide (NO) and cytokine production to decrease Th2 dominance (shifting the immune response to Th1 by decreasing IL-8 and increasing IL-5) .
  • Preventing an allergic response (reducing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody production) .
  • Reducing Th2 dominance, by increasing the cytokines produced by Th1 cells, while decreasing the cytokines produced by Th2 cells .

Kefir’s effects on gut bacteria include:

  • Increasing beneficial bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms in the gut, including Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, and Bifidobacterium .
  • Decreasing harmful bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms in the gut, such as Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium .

Kefir’s effects on weight and metabolism include:

  • Decreasing the levels of an enzyme that makes fats (fatty acid synthase), while increasing the levels of an enzyme that blocks fat production (p-acetyl-CoA carboxylase) .
  • Activating multiple pathways that block the production of new fats (such as AMPK and SREBP-1c) .
  • Increasing the release of proteins that break down fats (such as PPAR alpha) .

Potential Benefits of Kefir

Kefir is considered very safe for most people to consume as food, but it has not been approved for any health purpose or medical claim. If your immune system is compromised for any reason, talk to your doctor before drinking kefir.

Possibly Effective For

1) Gut Flora

In a study on 82 patients, kefir and triple antibiotic therapy (amoxicillin, clarithromycin, and lansoprazole) were more effective in killing Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach infections and ulcers, than the antibiotics alone .

In 76 children with gut infections, bifidokefir (kefir containing Bifidobacterium bifidum) restored the gut bifidobacteria in 73.4% and lactobacilli in 82% of patients to their normal levels within 7 days .

In mice, kefir increased the number of bacteria that are beneficial for gut health (lactic acid bacteria). It also reduced harmful bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridia) .

Kefir prevented the growth of Campylobacter jejuni in chicks, one of the most common causes of food poisoning .

Kefir protected mice against a gut infection caused by the parasite, Giardia intestinalis .

In mice, kefir reduced gut inflammation by increasing immune defense (boosting immunoglobulin A antibodies) and reducing inflammation (by increasing IL-10 and decreasing IFN-γ and IL-1β). Thus, it could be used to combat gut infections .

In fact, the bacteria and yeasts in kefir stopped bacterial growth that causes gut infections, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Bacillus cereus .

A complex sugar (polysaccharide) produced by a bacteria in kefir decreased nitrogen oxides (high levels can cause gut issues), and increased free fatty-acids (control cytokine production), improving the gut microbiota. Tibetan kefir grains also contain Lactobacillus plantarum and acts as an antioxidant in cells .

One major issue with probiotics is that stomach acid kills some strains before they can reach the intestines, rendering them inactive. But the probiotics from kefir were able to survive in a stomach-like acidic environment .

2) Constipation

In a pilot study on 20 adults with constipation, kefir increased the frequency and consistency of stools, reduced the use of laxatives, and improved bowel movements when consumed for 4 weeks .

In 42 adults with mental and physical disabilities, 2g of kefir (lyophilized) for 12 weeks provided complete relief from constipation in 9 participants and reduced symptoms in most. Kefir could be used as a safe remedy to prevent constipation .

Kefir can also increase digestive enzymes. It helped to break down and digest proteins in rats .

Insufficient Evidence For

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of kefir for any of the below-listed uses. Kefir is considered very safe for the majority of people, but it should never be used to replace something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

3) Immune Function

In 18 healthy adults, 6-week kefir consumption reduced blood IL-8 (a chemokine) levels and raised IL-5 levels. This results in increased gut immune function .

In mice, kefir boosted protective immunity and increased resistance to gut infections. It increased the number of cells with immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies in the small and large intestine, as well as the number of cells with IL-4, IL-10, IFN-γ, and IL-6 in the small intestine .

4) Lactose Intolerance

In a study of 15 adults with lactose intolerance, kefir improved lactose digestion and tolerance as well as yogurt did. It also reduced bloating and stomach pain. Raspberry-flavored kefir has a weaker effect than the unflavored kefir .

A beverage made of eggshell and milk kefir had less lactose and more calcium than regular milk. Thus, milk kefir could be easier to digest by lactose-intolerant people – both because of the lower lactose content and the beneficial probiotics .

The fermentation process in milk kefir decreases the lactose content in the milk, which makes it easier to digest. Kefir made with soy or coconut milk, or even water, is lactose-free .

5) Weight Management

In an 8-week study on 75 obese or overweight women, kefir reduced the weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist size. Low-fat milk also led to similar results .

In obese mice, kefir reduced body weight, body fat, liver weight, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol, thus preventing obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease .

Kefir peptides decreased fat accumulation and increased breakdown of fatty acids in obese rats. Complex sugars (polysaccharides) from kefir also decreased body weight, body fat, and cholesterol (VLDL) blood levels in obese rats .

In mice with the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kefir peptides reduced body weight by decreasing fat storage and increasing fat break-down .

6) Heart Health

Kefir reduced the blood levels of total cholesterol, cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides in an 8-week study on 75 obese or overweight women. Soy-goat milk kefir also raised HDL cholesterol in rats .

However, kefir did not lower cholesterol or triglyceride levels in 13 men with high cholesterol levels in a 4-week study .

Kefir decreased blood pressure levels, high heart rate (tachycardia), and heart enlargement (cardiac hypertrophy) in rats with high blood pressure. Kefiran, a complex sugar extract from kefir, also decreased blood pressure in rats with high blood pressure .

In mice with high cholesterol, kefir decreased fat buildup in the arteries. This reduces the risk of clogged, hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) .

In mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kefir reduced body weight, blood levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids, reducing the risk for heart diseases .

7) Bone Health

In a 6-month pilot study, kefir consumption increased the hip bone density, the blood levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH), and calcium in 40 patients with osteoporosis .

Kefir consumption for 12 weeks increased bone mineral density and thickness in rats with osteoporosis .

8) Diabetes

In a study of 60 patients with type 2 diabetes, milk kefir decreased hemoglobin A1c (HbA1C), and glucose blood levels. Hence, it could be added to the diet to help with diabetes .

In one study on mice with diabetes, a combination of soy and goat milk kefir reduced blood glucose levels and increased antioxidant enzymes (glutathione). In fact, the combination has a stronger effect than kefir made just from soy or goat milk. Goat milk-soy kefir may also increase the activity of the pancreas to improve glucose control .

9) Tooth Decay

In 22 healthy adults, kefir blocked the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that causes tooth decay, as effectively as the typical fluoride rinse .

Animal & Cell Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of kefir for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

10) Inflammation

11) Skin Health and Scars

Kefir gel reduced wound size and scar tissue in rats with burn wounds .

A 70% kefir gel sped up the wound healing and protected the skin connective tissue in rats infected with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria is one of the most common causes of skin infections .

Milk kefir also protected cells from UV damage. Aside from preventing skin cancer, this may reduce skin aging .

12) Allergies

In mice, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens bacteria in kefir decreased IgE production, pointing to its allergy-reducing effects .

In fact, the effects of Kefir on reducing inflammation and boosting gut immunity cannot be isolated from its ability to combat allergies. Kefir shifts the immune response from Th2- to Th1-dominant, which is key in reducing allergic response .

13) Antimicrobial Activity

Microorganisms in kefir grains stop the growth of the following bacteria:

Microorganisms in kefir grains kill fungi, including Candida, Saccharomyces, Rhodotorula, Torulopsis, Microsporum, and Trichophyton species .

Cancer Research

In one clinical study of 40 patients with colorectal cancer undergoing chemotherapy, kefir reduced sleep difficulties. However, it didn’t reduce gut complaints .

Milk kefir delayed tumor growth and decreased tumor size of breast cancer in mice. Water kefir also blocked tumor growth and increased immune cells that kill cancer (T helper and cytotoxic T cells) in mice with breast cancer. It also stopped tumor growth in other mice studies .

In rats, milk kefir prevents stomach ulcers caused by radiotherapy .

In multiple cell studies, milk kefir blocked tumor growth and caused cancer cell death in leukemia, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, and breast cancer .

Milk kefir protects cells from UV damage, which causes skin cancer .

Kefir’s effects on cancer cells in the lab include:

  • Reducing the release of growth factors of cancer (TGF-α, TGF-β, and Bcl2), while increasing a protein that triggers cell death (Bax), resulting in cancer cell death .
  • Increasing the release of interferon-β, a cytokine which blocks the growth of cancer cells .
  • Increasing the level of an enzyme that prevents DNA damage (glutathione peroxidase) and decreasing a chemical that causes DNA damage (malondialdehyde) .

Limitations and Caveats

Most studies investigating the benefits of kefir are performed on animals and cells, while the human studies included a small number of participants.

More human studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Kefir vs. Yogurt

Although both kefir and yogurt are probiotics with many health benefits, there are some differences and similarities between them.

Yogurt contains bacteria (Eubacteria, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacteria) and yeasts (Debaryomyces hansenii, Kluyveromyces marxianus, Yarrowia lipolytica, Issatchenkia orientalis). But, kefir contains more species of bacteria and yeast than yogurt, making it a more broader-spectrum probiotic .

Health Benefits

More studies have investigated the potential benefits of yogurt than kefir for bone health .

Both kefir and yogurt have produced benefits in heart disease and diabetes .

Although yogurt is beneficial for gut health and the immune system, kefir has been more effective in improving gut microbiota, fighting infections, and boosting immune function .

Yogurt improved memory and brain function in men. No studies have yet examined the effects of kefir on the brain, except for one study in which kefir improved sleep in chemotherapy patients .

Side Effects & Precautions

Kefir consumption may cause :

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

However, most participants did not report any side effects .

Make sure your kefir is adequately fermented before you consume it. Although well-fermented milk kefir reduces lactose intolerance, you may wish to avoid dairy kefir altogether if you are lactose intolerant. Rather, you can choose kefir made from soy, coconut, or other non-dairy sources .

Drugs Interactions

Although kefir contains some bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics (especially kanamycin and tetracycline), antibiotics (especially taken orally) may still kill some of the bacteria in kefir. This would reduce the beneficial effects of kefir. The yeast in kefir is not affected by the antibiotics .

Since kefir balances the immune response, it should be used cautiously with immunosuppressive drugs, including :

  • Azathioprine
  • Cyclosporine
  • Biologic drugs like Muromonab-CD3 or Basiliximab
  • Mycophenolate
  • Tacrolimus
  • Sirolimus
  • Corticosteroids

Although kefir may help balance the gut microbiome during chemotherapy, it should be taken cautiously. Some lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria in kefir are resistant to chemotherapy drugs. Other strains in kefir may be killed by chemotherapy .

Kefir may contain small amounts of alcohol (0.5%, similar to non-alcoholic beer). People who take Disulfiram for alcohol dependence may want to avoid it. Concurrent use could cause adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, and heart problems .

Safety Considerations

When kefir drinks are prepared industrially, the fermentation processes are generally safe with a very low risk of contamination .

Too much washing or improper processing can change the microbiota of the kefir grains and cause contamination by harmful bacterial species (Bacillus or Micrococcus) .

Supplementation

Dosage

Based on clinical trials, kefir is safely consumed at a daily dose of 200-600 mL .

If you aren’t used to consuming fermented foods and drinks, you may want to start with a small amount (about 100 mL) and then increase the amount once your body adjusts to drinking it.

User Experiences

Many kefir drinkers report improved gut health, digestion, reduced constipation, better mood, and health in general.

People with lactose intolerance and acid reflux disorders (Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD) experienced benefits with kefir consumption.

However, some users reported side effects such as infections, rash, constipation, sore throat, and nausea when using kefir.

One user felt that kefir did not help with his lactose intolerance.

4 Health Benefits of Kefir, Plus 5 Recipes

Kefir is a traditional food, originating in Eastern Europe and Russia in the Caucasian mountains. Derived from the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good,” kefir became a tonic that was enjoyed beyond Eastern Europe.

Kefir is a slightly more-liquid version of yogurt. Often recommended for its impressive probiotic levels, kefir both does well as a stand-alone fermented beverage as well as a main ingredient in many yummy recipes.

A fermented drink, kefir is usually made from cow, goat, nut, or coconut milk. What makes kefir different from its cousin, yogurt, is the way in which it is made. Kefir is fermented with kefir grain—a combination probiotic bacteria and yeast. The kefir grains feed on the lactose in the milk, making it lower in lactose (if using cow or goat milk) and easier for those to digest who have lactose intolerance. When kefir is made with nut milk or coconut milk the process is similar except requires just a bit of sugar instead of the lactose (in the milk) for the fermentation to occur.

Its potent nutrient profile lends to its popularity and widespread uses for health and well-being. Kefir is especially high in vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, folate, and a diverse array of probiotics.

The fermentation process enhances many of the health benefits of foods, due to the high and diverse range of probiotics and increased bioavailability. As a fermented beverage, kefir is a wonderful example of a probiotic superfood. Kefir benefits range from digestive support to immunity; it has earned its place as a hearty probiotic food you can include in your health regimen. The following are four of the main health benefits of Kefir:

1. Gut Health

Ancient and traditional diets were once primarily made up of homegrown food that grew in healthy probiotic-rich soil and were then often fermented for safekeeping—increasing the good bacteria people once naturally ate. Today’s typical foods are more processed and refined, and the soil is not as healthy.

While it may take a bit more effort to eat a diet rich in fermented foods such as kefir, it is well worth the effort for your gut health and overall wellness.

According to the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health ), 60 to 70 million people struggle with digestive issues in the U.S. Some of the common digestive issues include IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), candida overgrowth, constipation, and Crohn’s Disease.

When your microbiome (the delicate ecology of microbes living in your gut) is well balanced, you experience a healthier digestive process. Research shows that symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and various forms of IBD improve with a diet high in probiotics. Foods high in probiotics have also been shown (in children) to repair candida overgrowth (an imbalance of yeast in the microbiome), help heal leaky gut syndrome, and decrease digestive inflammation.
Including kefir in your diet may be a way to improve and/or repair your digestive health.

2. Bone Health

Research shows that kefir improves bone mass (in rats). As mentioned, kefir is a great source of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K. These specific nutrients (especially when working together) are a wonderful way to ensure your bones are able to stay strong and healthy.

  • Calcium is a mineral that is often associated with bone health. While calcium is imperative in bone density and strength, an increase in calcium alone is not always enough to ensure a large increase in bone mass density.
  • Magnesium is another mineral that is crucial for bone health. For example, magnesium deficiency has been shown to contribute to osteoporosis—a condition of weakened bone density. A diet high in magnesium is helpful in maintaining bone integrity.
  • Vitamin K helps calcium transport and absorb into the bones. In fact, many mechanisms of bone metabolism are recognized to be reliant on vitamin K, including bone mineralization and calcium balance in the bones.

Kefir is a robust source of these significant nutrients, making it a wonderful food to include in a diet to support bone health.

3. Immunity

Especially during cold and flu season, it is important to keep your immune system strong by sleeping more, taking extra vitamin C, washing your hands frequently, and eating foods rich in probiotics.

Research has shown that probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir, elevate immune function through supporting the strength and integrity of the intestinal lining, keeping the bad bacteria from crossing into the bloodstream and, therefore, creating more overall health for the immune system.

A strong immune system is priceless when you seek to feel your best. Adding in a food like kefir is a wise choice for a strong immune system.

4. Skin Health

Your skin health is often said to be a reflection of your overall health. Radiant skin comes from a strong well of internal health –– including your digestion and your microbiome. Repairing skin issues is often influenced by diet along with a strong digestion and microbiome balance. Probiotic therapy can have a wonderful impact on many common skin issues.

While many dermatologists recommend probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir, for skin health (especially acne) more research is needed in this area of study, to confirm exact protocols and treatment types.

One thing you can be sure of is probiotic foods such as kefir, are a great way to enhance your diet, support your digestion, and, hence, your skin health.

How to Incorporate Kefir into Your Diet

You may have enjoyed a swig of kefir from your local health food store or even tried it at one of your favorite restaurants in a tasty sauce or dressing. Getting comfortable with the many uses of kefir is a sure way to increase your appetite for this versatile food. Check out a few simple ways to explore kefir in your meals and benefit from this source of probiotics.

1. Drink Smoothies with Kefir

Try adding kefir as a protein and probiotic boost to your morning smoothie. Kefir adds a tangy and bright flavor to almost any smoothie profile.

Try this one:

Green Goddess Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 leaves of romaine lettuce
  • 2 large kale leaves (de-stemmed)
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup broccoli sprouts
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 16 oz coconut water
  • 1/2 cup kefir
  • Squeeze of lime (to taste)
  • Ice (optional)

Directions:

Add these tasty high potency ingredients to your blender and BLEND!

2. Make Your Own Salad Dressing with Kefir

Do you like a creamy salad dressing? Just as yogurt can accentuate the creamy (and slightly sour) properties of many dressings, so can kefir. With its slightly more liquid consistency, kefir can act as a great base to explore in dressings and sauces.

Try this:

Probiotic Avocado Ranch Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups kefir
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 3 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Mix all of the ingredients in a blender. Let the dressing set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour.

Drizzle on your favorite mixed green salad or use for a vegetable dipping sauce.

3. Substitute Buttermilk with Kefir

You may agree that there is nothing like the homemade taste of buttermilk, but kefir is a wonderful and tasty substitution. Kefir has a similar consistency, flavor, and reaction in traditional baking, helping the dough or batter rise.

Try this:

Kefir Paleo Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2–3 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup kefir
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup cassava flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups fruit of choice to top
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

Directions:

Melt 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, kefir, and vanilla extract until well combined. Add cassava flour, sea salt, and baking powder and mix well. Sift in the coconut flour and mix again, making sure there are no lumps.

Drop 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto the heated pan. Allow to cook 3–4 minutes until the underside is golden brown and they start to fluff up, then flip and cook another 2–3 minutes. Repeat with remaining pancake batter, using a little coconut oil as needed for each batch.

Serve with fresh fruit, chopped nuts, and maple syrup, honey, or coconut cream.

Probiotic Popsicles

Need a little sweet treat this summer? Try these simple kefir popsicles. You can play with your favorite fruit combinations (it’s hard to go wrong) and delight in a healthy, sweet, and probiotic-rich summertime treat.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups kefir
  • 1 cup frozen fruit
  • 1/2 cup raw honey

Directions:

Place all the ingredients into your blender. Blend to desired consistency (sometimes chunky can be fun!).

Pour the mixture into popsicle holders and pop into your freezer for approximately eight hours. Serve and enjoy.

Make Your Own Kefir

Making your own kefir may sound daunting, but it is actually about as easy as fermenting gets. Follow the instructions below and give it a go.

Ingredients:

  • 1–2 teaspoons of active kefir grains
  • 4 cups milk of choice

Directions:

In a large glass mason jar, mix together the kefir grains and the milk.

Cover with either a coffee filter or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.

Set on the countertop in a warm spot for approximately 24 hours. Note: This may take longer depending on the temperature in your kitchen. The kefir is ready (and cultured) when there is some thickening and a pleasant aroma.

Strain the remaining kefir grains from the finished kefir.

Store the finished kefir in the refrigerator.

You can re-use the kefir grains in a new batch of milk.

As you can see, aside from drinking kefir, it is a powerful health food, a tasty ingredient, and a fun-to-explore food to check out. Kefir has potent array of nutrients, a diverse culture of probiotics, and a tangy flavor, making kefir a smart and easy food to include in your diet. Next time you have the chance, give kefir a try!

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center’s Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.

Discover Deepak Chopra’s secrets to stay energetic and balanced all year long with our self-paced online course, Secrets to Vibrant Health. Learn More.

Seven benefits of kefir

Kefir consumption is still being researched, but the potential benefits include:

1. Blood sugar control

In 2015, a small study compared the effects of consuming kefir and conventionally fermented milk on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Participants who consumed the kefir had significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels than those who consumed the conventionally fermented milk.

Participants in the kefir group also had decreased hemoglobin A1c values, which are a measurement of blood sugar management over 3 months.

2. Lower cholesterol

A 2017 study looked at changes in cholesterol levels among women drinking low-fat milk or kefir. The participants drank either 2 servings a day of low-fat milk, 4 servings a day of low-fat milk, or 4 servings a day of kefir.

After 8 weeks, those who drank kefir showed significant decreases in their total and their “bad cholesterol” levels compared to those who drank only 2 servings per day of low-fat milk. Participants who consumed 4 servings per day of low-fat milk also had lowered cholesterol levels.

The probiotics in kefir may play a role in how much cholesterol the body absorbs from food. They may also affect how the body produces, processes, and uses cholesterol.

3. Increased nutrition

The nutrients in kefir depend on the type of milk used to make it. Generally, it is a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium. Some store-bought brands are fortified with vitamin D, as well.

4. Improved lactose tolerance

People with lactose intolerance may be able to consume kefir without experiencing symptoms, as the bacteria present in kefir break down much of the lactose.

The leading brand of kefir in the U.S. claims to be 99 percent lactose-free.

A small study in 2003 concluded that the consumption of kefir improved lactose digestion over time, and could potentially be used to help overcome lactose intolerance. It noted that flavored kefir produced more adverse symptoms that plain kefir, probably due to added sugars in the flavored product.

5. Improved stomach health

Share on PinterestKefir may be able to help treat digestive issues, such as diarrhea or lactose intolerance.

The stomach contains both good and bad bacteria. Maintaining a balance between them is an important part of keeping the stomach healthy. Diseases, infections, and some medications, such as antibiotics, can upset this balance.

Probiotics are similar to the good bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and may help maintain a healthy balance.

There is some evidence that probiotic foods, such as kefir, can help treat diarrhea caused by an infection or antibiotics.

One review cited the use of kefir to aid the treatment of peptic ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.

6. Healing properties

Laboratory studies have shown kefir may have antibacterial and antifungal properties, although more investigation is needed.

Research shows that kefir has the potential to be beneficial against gastroenteritis, vaginal infections, and yeast infections.

A 2016 review reported that kefir lessened the severity of symptoms in mice infected with a parasite. Another review demonstrated beneficial effects of kefir on mice for wound healing and reduced tumor growth.

7. Weight control

Another study reported that kefir consumption reduced body weight and total cholesterol in obese mice. However, more research on people is required.

6 Reasons to Start Drinking Kefir

Kefir is one of the most underrated sources of probiotics, usually overshadowed by its close cousin, yogurt. But while kefir is considered a drinkable yogurt, its benefits far outweigh its spoonable counterpart. Kefir is made by combining milk with kefir grains, which are a mix of bacteria and yeast, yielding a drink that contains up to 30 strains of gut-healing bacteria.

Probiotics are essential for maintaining a healthy and flourishing microbiome, which plays a significant role in keeping our digestive systems chugging smoothly, immune system on its A-game, weight in check, and our hormones balanced. After you’ve read up on these six solid reasons to start drinking kefir, jump on the bandwagon by stocking your fridge with these 9 Best Probiotic-Rich Kefirs for Your Gut. While the tart drink is super refreshing when sipped on its own, you can also add it to high-fiber cereal, smoothies, homemade salad dressings, and even use it as a base for chia pudding.

1

It’s Lactose-Friendly

If you suffer from lactose intolerance, getting your daily probiotic fix likely requires you to venture outside the dairy aisle. However, adding kefir to your diet is a smart move considering the drinkable yogurt has been found to improve lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports. The lactic acid in fermented dairy foods (such as kefir and yogurt) helps break down the lactose, which makes it easier on the digestive system.

2

It Can Rev Weight Loss

Study after study has shown that protein increases satiety and helps rev the metabolism: two key factors that spur weight loss. A one-cup serving of kefir typically packs in about 8–11 grams of protein, specifically a mixture of dairy-based whey and casein. Casein digests slower than other forms of protein, which helps maintain satiety and muscle synthesis for longer. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that women who ate four daily servings of dairy including kefir showed significantly greater reductions in weight, BMI, and waist circumference than women who ate only two daily servings of low-fat dairy products.

3

It Can Alleviate Allergies

Whether you choose dairy kefir or soy milk kefir, both options have shown promising results in terms of preventing food allergies. According to a study in the journal Science of Food and Agriculture, kefir was found to suppress the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) response, an antibody produced when the immune system overreacts to an allergen. Not only that, the fermented drink showed a significant decrease in meat-derived bacteria Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens), one of the most common sources of food poisoning.

4

It May Prevent Cancer

A study in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology sheds light on the finding that fermented dairy products, such as kefir, can suppress early-stage tumors by delaying enzyme activities that convert pro-carcinogenic compounds to carcinogens. The study suggests that kefir potentially contains anti-tumoral properties and promotes resistance to intestinal infections.

5

It Can Keep Your Gut In Check

Carissa Gan/Unsplash

Probiotics are notorious for their ability to improve and maintain gut health—including protecting against certain gastrointestinal diseases. While H. pylori is closely associated with peptic ulcers, chronic atrophic gastritis, and gastric cancer, a meta-analysis in the World Journal of Gastroenterology shows that probiotics may eradicate symptoms of this bacteria. In fact, Lactobacillus species (found in kefir) relieved adverse side effects associated with H. pylori therapy, resulting in an increased number of patients who completed their eradication therapy as well as total bacteria eradication success.

6

It Maintains Strong Bones

Most kefirs contain about 30 to 40 percent of your daily value of calcium, a nutrient essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones. While kefir can certainly help you reach your daily calcium goal, a study in the Osteoporosis Journal found that the drink can also help your body better absorb calcium to help improve bone mass. For more skeleton-friendly foods, don’t miss The 20 Best Calcium-Rich Foods That Aren’t Dairy.

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Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink, originally from the mountainous region that divides Asia and Europe. It is similar to yogurt – but thinner in consistency, making it more of a drink. Kefir has a tart, sour taste and a slight ‘fizz’, due to carbon dioxide – the end product of the fermentation process. The length of the fermentation time determines the flavour. Kefir is a good source of calcium and is rich in probiotic bacteria.

How is it made?

The method of making kefir is one of the main differences between kefir and yogurt. Traditional milk kefir uses kefir grains and whole cow’s milk – although now you can find it made from goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and coconut milk as well as from rice and soy milk alternatives. Kefir grains are not actually grains at all – they are small gelatinous beads that look like grains and contain a variety of bacteria and yeasts. The grains are placed in a glass jar or bowl, soaked in milk, covered and left at room temperature for a minimum of 24 hours. This enables the bacteria and yeast to ferment the lactose (natural sugar in milk) into lactic acid, activating the bacteria to proliferate and grow.

After around 24 hours at room temperature, the grains are strained from the kefir and transferred to a fresh batch of milk and used again to enable them to keep reproducing – this cycle can be carried on indefinitely. The strained kefir is now ready to drink.

The grains will multiply as long as they are kept in fresh milk at the right temperature (ideally about 22-25C). When the product is put in the fridge, the cool temperature inhibits the fermentation process.

Is it safe to make kefir at home?

As kefir is a fermented product, strict guidelines must be adhered to in order to ensure that it is safe for consumption – if made incorrectly it has the potential to make you ill. Therefore, if you are fermenting at home, make sure you follow the recipe instructions closely. Incorrect temperatures, fermentation times, or unsterile equipment can cause the food to spoil, making it unsafe to eat.

Nutritional benefits

Milk is a good source of protein and calcium, and kefir is no different. However, it has the added benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are known as ‘friendly bacteria’ that may ease IBS symptoms such as bloating and digestive distress in some people.

Enjoying kefir regularly has also been associated with benefits for blood pressure, cholesterol balance and blood sugar management. Plus, depending on the variety that you use, kefir grains may contain 30 or more strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. Some of the major strains include the lactobacillales – or lactic acid bacteria (LAB).

Does kefir improve digestion?

Some people find that kefir improves their digestion, potentially due to its probiotic content. Probiotics may help restore balance in the gut, thereby improving digestion.

The fermentation process also helps to break down the lactose in milk, so there is some evidence to suggest that kefir may be tolerated by those who suffer from lactose intolerance. However, you should speak to your GP if you think you may be lactose intolerant.

Those with a diagnosed condition such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) should consult with a GP or dietitian before introducing fermented foods because, in some cases, they can make symptoms worse.

Does kefir help you to lose weight?

Obesity has been linked to an imbalance in gut bacteria. However, which strain of bacteria has an effect is less clear. Some evidence suggests that the lactobacillus species, or LAB group, like those found in kefir are associated with changes in weight, but more robust evidence is needed before recommendations can be made.

However, other evidence contradicts these findings, suggesting instead that probiotics do not decrease body weight or affect weight loss/BMI. Clearly this is an area for further research.

Does kefir promote better bone health?

Traditional kefir made from cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin K, nutrients which are both important for bone health. As we get older, our bones become weaker, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially in post-menopausal women. Kefir, along with other dairy products, is a useful source of dietary calcium.

Does kefir reduce inflammation?

Inflammation is involved in a number of diseases such as IBD or rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of probiotics have been reported in some studies, although this is an emerging area of research. It does appear that the LAB bacteria are anti-inflammatory but whether that translates directly to kefir is still unknown.

Are there any side effects?

As the process used to make kefir can vary between brands, it is hard to monitor its potency, so some products may be richer sources of probiotic bacteria than others. For those who are not used to probiotics or fermented foods, it is sensible to start with a small amount and increase slowly. Some people report digestive symptoms such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea when introducing fermented foods to the diet. Anyone with a compromised immune system or a histamine intolerance should speak to a health professional before introducing or increasing their fermented food intake.

What about water kefir?

Water kefir is made in a similar way to milk kefir. The kefir grains are placed in sugared water and the same fermentation process occurs (as in milk). The fermentation produces beneficial bacteria while reducing the sugar content of the drink. It’s important to note that the grains are different –water kefir is made with specific grains that rely on water, and will not work in the same way if put in milk or milk substitutes. Cane sugar or fruit juice can be used to sweeten the water. Water kefir is a great alternative source of probiotic bacteria for those who are following a dairy-free diet but does not contain the same protein and calcium content that’s provided by milk.

Kefir was recently featured in BBC’s Trust Me I’m A Doctor.

More healthy guides…

Health benefits of lemon water
Health benefits of green tea
Health benefits of coconut milk
Health benefits of bananas
Health benefits of ginger

This article was reviewed on 1st November 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit UpPath where Jo is a Health Coach or follow her on Twitter at nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Yogurt has long been a staple of the average American diet—but its fermented cousin, kefir, has only recently started gaining popularity on this side of the Atlantic.

Now that it’s popping up in mass grocery stores like Whole Foods, there’s no denying that the tart drink is starting to go mainstream. You can thank the buzz behind probiotics for that. Like many other fermented foods, including kimchi and kombucha, kefir is a powerhouse of “good” bacteria for your gut. Here’s a closer look at the major health benefits the creamy beverage has to offer.

Back up: what is kefir, exactly?

Kefir grains tend to resemble cottage cheese or small pieces of cauliflower. istockphotoluisGetty Images

Traditionally, kefir was made from cow’s milk and kefir grain, which contains a combo of live bacteria and yeast to spur fermentation. The process has been around for centuries, according to a 2016 review published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. The result? A rich, smooth consistency with a tangy taste (think of it as a drinkable yogurt).

Now, mass-manufacturers tend to use a starter microbe culture instead of the kefir grain. And in addition to kefir made from cow’s milk, you can now find kefir made from goat’s, sheep’s, almond, coconut, or soy milks.

KEFIR NUTRITION FACTS: 104 calories, 9 g protein, 2.5 g fat, 11.5 g carbs (0 g fiber), 11 g sugar in 1 cup (lowfat and plain)

The health benefits of kefir

Kefir is great for your digestion

Kefir gets its superstar status from its probiotics, which can be worth adding to your diet if you struggle with bloating or irregular bowel movements, says Dawn Jackson-Blatner, RDN, a Chicago-based dietitian and the author of The Superfood Swap. It’s thought that probiotics boost your digestive health and bolster your immunity by colonizing your gut with beneficial microorganisms that help drive off other harmful bacteria, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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“I tell people that are eating yogurt for probiotics to make the switch to kefir,” she says. “Kefir has more types of actual bacteria and a higher amount of good bacteria than yogurt.”

In fact, most traditional yogurts only contain a few strains of probiotics, she says—kefir, however, contains up to 12 strains. In all likelihood, the more strains of probiotics you eat, the better, says Jackson-Blatner. Although researchers haven’t pinpointed which bugs you need, or how many you should try to consume each day, some commonly studied strains include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which you can find in some supermarket varieties.

Kefir is rich in calcium

There’s no understating the importance of calcium, a mineral that’s crucial to the formation of strong bones. Both men and women aged 19 to 50 should aim to get 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day, but a 2014 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that 42 percent of Americans don’t eat enough of it. The typical kefir contains between 300 and 400 mg of calcium per cup—making the drink an “excellent” source of calcium, says Jackson-Blatner.

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Kefir contains more protein than an egg

We need protein to build bones, muscle tissue, and new skin cells. Plus, this key macronutrient can also keep you fuller for longer, which can aid in weight loss.

Kefir contains about 9 grams of protein per serving, which is more than what you’d find in traditional yogurts, but less than the amount found in Greek varieties, says Jackson-Blatner. Still, 9 grams of protein is a pretty impressive dose, especially when you consider that a large egg contains about 6 grams.

Kefir is loaded with potassium

Despite the numerous health benefits of potassium—like lowering your blood pressure and possibly easing muscle cramps—many women are falling well short of the recommended 4,700 mg per day. According to a 2017 report from the USDA, women aged 20 to 69 only consume anywhere from about 2,200 mg to 2,400 mg of potassium.

One reason: The nutrient is largely found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods, says Jackson-Blatner—and about 90 percent of us don’t eat enough produce. A serving of kefir contains about 400 mg of potassium, so drink up if you’re sick of bananas.

You can drink kefir even if you have lactose intolerance

About 65 percent of people have trouble digesting lactose, a sugar that’s found in milk and other dairy foods. But even if you’ve shelved the milk carton years ago, there’s a good chance that you can still stomach kefir. “Although kefir contains some lactose, there are bacteria in there eating that sugar, so kefir has a lower lactose ,” says Jackson-Blatner.

That’s not the case for people with milk allergies, however—in that case, it’s better to opt for a kefir made from a plant-based milk.

How to add kefir to your diet

One of the best things about kefir: “It’s super easy to use,” says Jackson-Blatner. “It’s like a drinkable yogurt.” Kefir makes an excellent base for a smoothie or smoothie bowl; you can also use it in place of regular milk in a bowl of cereal.

GREEN GODDESS KEFIR SMOOTHIE Lisa Hubbard

Just be sure to buy the plain varieties—not the flavored kinds. Yes, plain kefir can be a little sour-tasting, but as with yogurts, fruity-flavored options can have a lot of added sugar, says Jackson-Blatner. (And remember: Vanilla is a flavor, too.)

“I like people to use the 2 percent kind,” she says, since it helps neutralize the tartness of the kefir. “Just like cream in coffee takes the bitterness away, a little bit of fat makes dairy less sour and easier for people to eat,” she says. Plus, if you actually enjoy the tartness of kefir, you can drink it straight, or just pair it with a few berries for a satisfying snack.

Maria Masters Maria Masters is an experienced health journalist with more than a decade of experience interviewing doctors, nutritionists, and other experts for publications such as Prevention, Men’s Health, and Everyday Health.

Milk kefir health benefits

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