The benefits of kefir include more than just gut health

Gut health fermented products concept kefir
Gut health fermented products concept kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that looks like a thin yoghurt. It is traditionally made using cow’s milk, which naturally contains lactose, a milk sugar many people are intolerant or sensitive to. While fermentation reduces some of the lactose in the end product, this doesn’t make the product a lactose-free beverage unless made with non-dairy milk or water. Some popular brands of kefir include 365 by Whole Foods and Lifeway. Let’s look at the benefits kefir provides.

What does kefir do to your body?

kefir benefits
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The primary reason people drink kefir is its probiotic benefits. It was named after the Turkish word “keyif,” which suggests the “good feeling” or happy gut you get after consuming it. While there’s not a large body of research on the specific benefits of kefir, some studies indicate it may benefit bone, heart, and immune health and blood sugar regulation.

Gut health

The probiotics in kefir feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome, the community of microorganisms that live throughout your digestive system. The gut microbiome affects other areas of your overall health. For example, evidence suggests constant communication between your gut and your brain, which may play a role in the development of or protection from various diseases.

Antimicrobial properties

One study found that kefir may help your body respond to viral infections like COVID-19 because of its involvement in the immune response. A separate study observed it’s ability to inhibit certain strains of bacteria and fungi, which is attributed to certain good bacteria in the beverage.

Heart health

A study looking at women with obesity found that those who consumed a dairy-rich diet experienced significant reductions in total cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and LDL “bad” cholesterol after consuming four servings of kefir per day for eight weeks. More significant benefits occurred among the kefir group than those who only consumed two servings of low-fat milk daily.

Bone health

Kefir is a rich source of nutrients that support bone health, such as calcium. It also contains vitamin K2, which plays a crucial role in calcium metabolism and helps protect against bone fractures. Adequate calcium intake is essential for maintaining bone density, which naturally declines with age.

Blood sugar regulation

While more research is needed on kefir and blood sugar, some studies have observed its ability to influence diabetes-related markers. For instance, one study found that it helped reduce fasting blood sugar and insulin levels but did not affect haemoglobin A1c (HgA1c), a feature of long-term blood sugar control.



Is kefir better than yoghurt?

kefir yoghurt
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Kefir and yoghurt are very similar. While yoghurt is generally thicker, both have tart flavours and are available in various flavours. They are made from dairy or non-dairy sources.

Kefir tends to have more probiotic (healthy) bacteria strains than yoghurt, offering more overall benefits. It also contains beneficial yeasts that help reduce digestive tract inflammation and diarrhoea.

Yoghurt contains different probiotic bacteria, which benefit the gut and immune health.

Nutrition profile comparison

Below is a nutritional comparison between 1 cup (245 grams) of low-fat dairy yoghurt and low-fat kefir.

Product

 Low-Fat Yoghurt

 Low-Fat Kefir

Calories

150

100

Protein

13 grams

9 grams

Total Fat

4 grams

2.5 grams

Total Carbohydrates

17 grams

11 grams

Total Sugar

17 grams

11 grams

Side effects and interactions of kefir

Despite the many benefits of kefir, it is not suitable for everyone. Some evidence suggests that probiotics may not be safe for people with immune conditions. If this sounds like you, speak with your healthcare provider before adding it to your diet. While rare, there are some documented cases of probiotics triggering fungal and bacterial infections.

Avoid dairy-based kefirs if you have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy. Otherwise, kefir is likely to be low risk for side effects for most healthy people. However, some people may experience digestive side effects, like diarrhoea or bloating, if they aren’t used to consuming kefir, yoghurt, or other fermented foods.


Kefir probiotic recipe

If you’d prefer to make kefir yourself, below is an easy recipe for water kefir.

Supplies and Ingredients

You’ll need the following items to make kefir at home:

  • Large glass mason jar

  • Stirring utensil

  • Two 1/2-gallon-sized jars

  • Breathable cover for your mason jar, such as a paper coffee filter, cheesecloth, or paper towel, including a rubber band or a mason jar lid ring to secure it

  • Fine non-metal mesh strainer to separate kefir grains

  • 1/2 cup water kefir grains, divided (not milk kefir grains)

  • Eight cups water

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • Optional: 1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

  • Optional: 1/4 cup unsulfured dried apricots, raisins, or dates, cut into pieces and divided

Directions for using kefir

kefir yoghurt
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To make water kefir:

  1. Heat 1 cup of water in a small saucepan until it is hot. Then, pour it into a glass or plastic bowl. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

  2. Divide the sugar water equally into two 1/2-gallon jars. Add three 1/2 cups of room-temperature water to each jar. Then, add 1/4 cup of your water kefir grains to each jar and stir.

  3. Place a lemon wedge and two tablespoons of dried fruit in each jar. Position your paper towel or cheesecloth over each jar and secure it with either a rubber band or mason jar ring.

  4. Let your water sit at room temperature for 48 to 72 hours or until it becomes bubbly. Keep it out of direct sunlight but in a fairly warm environment. If your kitchen feels too cold, place it in the oven with the door shut.

  5. Using a non-metal strainer, strain out the grains. You can save these for making another batch of kefir.

  6. Refrigerate any finished product that you don’t drink right away.

Summary

Kefir is a popular fermented drink made with dairy, non-dairy, water, and kefir grains, yeasts, and healthy bacteria. While more specific research on kefir health benefits is needed, there is evidence that it may help support gut and heart health, offer antimicrobial benefits, and help support healthy bones and blood sugar regulation.

A word of wellness

Fermented foods like kefir may offer a variety of health benefits. If you are curious about trying it, it is available in many grocery stores, or you can make it at home. However, some people don’t enjoy the taste or texture of kefir. If that’s true for you, eating yogurt will give you similar health benefits.

This story first appeared on www.verywellhealth.com.

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