Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is kefir?
Kefir is fermented milk, which is produced from grains. The process involves a specific and complex mixture of bacteria and yeasts that live in a symbiotic association. Kefir is made from gelatinous white or yellow particles called as grains, which makes kefir unique, as no other milk culture forms grains. These grains contain the bacteria and yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk proteins) and complex sugars. These grains look like pieces of coral or small clumps of cauliflower.
The grains ferment the milk to create the cultured product. The grains are then removed by staining before consumption of the kefir and added to a new batch of milk. Time and temperature are two important factors that determine how thick and tasty kefir will be. When kefir is left to sit out too long at room temperature, it will become thick and eventually start turning into cheese and whey.
Perfect kefir should be creamy and drinkable and little thicker than milk. When kefir is refrigerated at the right time, it will thicken a little more since it is continuing to culture, but at a much slower pace. It has been known historically as a probiotic drink with health benefits, which is safe and inexpensive and can be easily made at home.
It is associated with many health benefits such as antibacterial, hypocholesterolemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant activity, anti-carcinogenic activity, anti-allergenic, healing effects, and control of plasma glucose.
Kefir is known as a probiotic due to the beneficial bacteria and yeast present in it. It contains minerals and essential amino acids, which help the body with healing and maintenance functions. The complete proteins are easily utilized by the body since they are partially digested. Tryptophan, which is one of the essential amino acids found in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system.
It also provides an abundance of calcium and magnesium minerals for a healthy nervous system. Consuming kefir can have a particularly profound calming effect on the nerves. It provides a rich supply of phosphorus, which is the second most abundant mineral present in our body. Phosphorous helps utilize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for cell growth, maintenance, and energy.
It is rich in Vitamin B12, B1, and Vitamin K. It is an excellent source of biotin (B Vitamin) which aids the body’s assimilation of other B Vitamins, such as folic acid, pantothenic acid, and B12. Benefits of maintaining adequate B vitamin intake include regulation of the kidneys, liver and nervous system to helping relieve skin disorders, boost energy, and promote longevity. We can find the approximate nutritional value of kefir below:
A 6-ounce (175-ml) serving of low-fat kefir contains:
- Protein: 4 grams
- Calcium: 10% of the recommended daily intake.
- Phosphorus: 15% of the recommended daily intake.
- Vitamin B12: 12% of the recommended daily intake.
- Riboflavin (B2): 10% of the recommended daily intake.
- Magnesium: 3% of the recommended daily intake.
- Moderate amount of vitamin D.
Dairy-free kefir can be made with coconut water, coconut milk, and other sweet liquids, but would have a different nutrient profile compared to dairy-based kefir.
Health benefits of kefir
Kefir is a nutrient-dense drink containing plenty of protein, B vitamins, potassium, and calcium. Calcium helps to build strong bones. Protein builds strong muscles. Potassium is essential for heart health.
Kefir is historically known for its probiotic effect, which is the strongest health benefit that kefir offers. Probiotics can help improve the healthy bacteria ratio in the gastrointestinal tract’s environment, treat or prevent diarrhea, especially following antibiotic treatment, treat irritable bowel syndrome and/or relieve symptoms, reduce and/or prevent gastrointestinal infections, prevent and treat vaginal infections, prevent and treat urinary tract infections.
Since kefir is safe to consume as food, it has fewer side effects than other probiotic supplements. Kefir is also more nutritionally dense than other probiotic supplements. Some of the important health benefits are discussed below:
Blood sugar control
Blood sugar is the concentration of glucose in the blood. Maintaining a normal blood sugar level is important. Abnormal blood sugar levels lead to a medical condition called diabetes, which can lead to many health problems. Kefir is known to reduce the fasting blood sugar level and HbA1c level because it is known to have low to moderate glycemic index and the lactic acid produced during fermentation lowers the pH levels in the blood, which favors the glucose entry into the cells and reduce the blood sugar level.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance, which is found in all the cells of our body. The body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help in digestion. Maintaining normal limits of cholesterol is important for a healthy lifestyle. Kefir drinks enriched with the plant-based compounds phytosterol and stanol are known to lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. The probiotics in kefir play an important role in the absorption of cholesterol from food.
Improved lactose tolerance
Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, which is a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products. Studies have shown that people having lactose intolerance can consume kefir without experiencing symptoms, as the bacteria present in kefir breaks down much of the lactose. Studies have concluded that consumption of kefir improved lactose digestion over time, and could potentially be used to help overcome lactose intolerance.
Improved stomach health
Maintaining a healthy stomach is important. The stomach contains both good and bad bacteria. Maintaining a balance between the good and bad bacteria is important and this can keep the stomach healthy. Diseases and infections tend to alter the natural process in the stomach and cause an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. There are cases when some medications, such as antibiotics can upset this balance. Due to these imbalances in bacteria, we need to supplement our stomach with good bacteria such as probiotics.
Probiotics are similar to the good bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and help maintain a healthy balance. Kefir is a well known probiotic, which is used historically for its probiotic effects. Studies have shown that probiotic foods, such as kefir can help treat diarrhea caused by an infection or antibiotics. Regular consumption of kefir has also shown to heal peptic ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
Antibacterial and Antifungal
Due to various disease and infections affecting the human body, people are quite often affected by these microbes. It contains lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, and yeast. During the fermentation process, organic acids such as lactic and acetic acid and alcohol are produced and play a physiological role in inhibiting gram-negative and gram-positive food-borne bacterial pathogens. It is beneficial against gastroenteritis and yeast infections.
Kefir vs. Yogurt
Kefir and yogurt are both cultured milk products but vary in nutrition as well as the beneficial bacterias. Kefir and yogurt both have similar creamy-but-tart tastes and are traditionally made from dairy. They both have plenty of protein, calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and probiotics. Kefir has more protein and more probiotics compared to yogurt. It is thinner and is best as a drink.
Yogurt has a thicker consistency. Yogurt keeps the digestive system clean and provides food for the friendly bacteria whereas Kefir can colonize the intestinal tract. Kefir contains Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species. These species penetrate the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside and clean and strengthen the intestines. This causes the body to become more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites.
Few minimal side effects of kefir
Kefir is known for its health benefits, but there are some minimal side effects of consuming kefir. Some of the side effects are listed below:
Calorie Count: A cup of plain kefir contains 150 calories. Fruit-flavored kefir averages about 140 calories per 1-cup serving, and the same amount of vegetable-flavored kefir has between 120 and 130 calories per cup. Due to the high amount of calorie content, it is a bit of a concern for people trying to cut on calories.
High Sugar: Flavored kefir contains added sugar in the form of cane sugar or cane syrup. Due to people opting for taste, these flavored kefir drink adds up to the sugar content, which is not helpful for people following a diet.
Saturated Fat: Kefir contains varying amounts of saturated fat, depending on milk which is used such as whole or low-fat milk. A cup of whole milk plain kefir contains 5 grams of saturated fat. Dieticians have recommended limiting the intake of saturated fat to 7 percent or less of total caloric intake for a heart-healthy diet.
Probiotic Content: Kefir is widely known for its probiotic effects. Probiotics in kefir can be beneficial for many people to maintain a healthy bacteria balance in the gut, but probiotics are not for everyone. Some people do not accept probiotics well and could end up with side effects such as gas, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Probiotics are strictly not recommended for people undergoing chemotherapy or experiencing bowel problems. People who are seriously ill are also not advised to consume probiotics.
Why should you start drinking kefir?
A single serving of kefir is rich in vitamins and probiotics. Consuming daily may help create and maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. It is associated with many health benefits such as antibacterial effect, hypocholesterolemic effect, and control of plasma glucose, anti-hypertensive effect, anti-inflammatory effect, antioxidant activity, anti-carcinogenic activity, anti-allergenic activity, and healing effects.
Research has been positive and has shown that kefir has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It is always advisable to get the right amount at the right time and to avoid it immediately when the body does not accept it and consult a medical professional for additional help.
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