There seems to be a drink that promotes gut health for every day of the week. Whether it's a prebiotic shake or probiotic regime, or even kombucha, there's something out there for you. But have you heard of kefir? You searched for it, so you're probably not sure.
Kefir, which is pronounced "kuh-feer," is a cultured and fermented milk drink that is very similar to yogurt (though it is not the same thing) that is known for its tart, sour, and fizzy taste. The fizzy finish is caused by carbon dioxide that is created through the fermentation process.
Kefir originated in an area in Eastern Europe known as the Caucasus, which falls between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea as well as in Russia, where it is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains.
With high levels of protein, calcium, vitamin B, and probiotics, Kefir has often been associated with improved digestion and decreased inflammation.
You first need to get ahold of kefir grains, a specific type of mesophilic symbiotic culture, if you wish to make your own kefir drink, but they can be purchased at a number of online retailers as well as health foods stores in your local area.
Milk kefir is made by combining the active grains with milk before allowing the mixture to ferment to up to 24 hours. The grains are removed from the milk following the fermentation process and you are left with an almost sour tasting milk, though the exact taste will differ based on the type of milk you use and the length of time you allowed the milk to ferment.
The natural taste of milk kefir might be off-putting to some people so manufacturers will often add sugar to the drink. If you are trying to avoid adding a lot of calories to your daily intake, you can always make your own or buy plain kefir and add your own flavorings at home.
Even though kefir and yogurt are both cultured dairy products, the two are not at all the same. True, yogurt and kefir are both great sources of probiotic cultures and protein, but there are some differences between the two.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the cultures in yogurt are all bacteria, whereas kefir is produced by yeast in addition to a variety of bacterial cultures, which has the potential to produce larger amounts of probiotic cultures than yogurt.
Water kefir is very similar to its milk counterpart, at least as far as the fermentation process is the same. While the milk might taste like a tangy, sour milk, water kefir is more of a bubbly alternative to sugar.
While water kefir and milk kefir both offer ways of loading up on probiotics, the water form won't give you any of the protein that you get from milk.
As much as people tout the power of milk and water kefir, there is another form of kefir out there, one that is taking the health community by storm.
Coconut kefir is created through the process of fermenting coconut water with kefir grains. This combination takes many of the health benefits of both milk kefir and water kefir and combines them into a probiotic powerhouse.
Due to its spike in popularity over the past few years, kefir — in all forms — can be purchased at most grocery and health food stores. Stores like Trader's Joes, Whole Foods Market, and even Amazon will have both the grains and the prepared liquids for sale, so the choice is really yours.
One of the biggest benefits of kefir is found in the presence of bacteria that help reduce flatulence. That news gets even better when you learn that the yeast and bacteria in kefir can actually colonize within the gut and stay there for an extended period of time.
Kefir also contains kefiran, a polysaccharide that has been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol in animal studies (human studies have yet to be conducted). The presence of B vitamins also helps fight stress while also producing a calming effect.
Those suffering from lactose intolerance should take note in kefir's ability to remove lactose from milk during the fermentation process.
Although kefir possesses some health benefits, the drink does have some known side effects as well. There have been noted side effects following long-term use of kefir, including bloating, nausea, intestinal cramping, and even constipation in some cases.
People suffering from weakened immune systems, especially those with AIDS, might be more likely to develop infections from the bacteria and yeast found in kefir and should consult with a doctor before adding it to their diet.
And while kefir has been seen as a way to prevent cancer from forming, medical professionals believe it might increase the side effects for people undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. This can include everything from stomach and intestinal issues to mouth sores and even hair loss.
A 1-cup serving of kefir contains the following:
It might be easier to purchase a bottle of milk kefir, water kefir, or even coconut kefir at the store, but those who are more adventurous, or those who want to learn how to make it on their own, can do so in the comfort of their own homes. It's actually not that hard of a process.
Once you have the active kefir grains, you will need to add them to 4 cups of fresh milk (cow, goat, sheep milk all work fine, just make sure they are pasteurized), cover with a coffee filter, and place in a warm spot (68 to 85 degrees) to culture for around 24 hours or until the cultured milk is slightly thickened and gives off a pleasant aroma.
Once the process is complete, remove the kefir grains from the milk and set aside or use for another batch. Store the kefir milk in the refrigerator until time of use.
Water kefir is made in a very similar fashion as milk kefir, the main difference being the addition of water in place of milk.
If you really want to try making kefir on your own, here are a few recipes that will have you more than on your way to great gut health.
This simple milk kefir recipe is a simple, yet effective, way of making the basic milk kefir drink that can be used in a variety of ways. The no-frills approach will serve as a great introduction to the world of kefir.
Once you have the basic recipe down, you can try your hand at this blueberry kefir recipe that incorporates, you guessed it, blueberries for an extra kick of flavor and nutrition.
But you can do just about anything with kefir, well, as long as you stick to the fermentation process, so knock yourself out and try it out some time or another.