Kefir is an ancient drink that's made a strong comeback in popular culture. A fermented dairy drink that's thinner than yogurt so you can drink it out of a glass, kefir is filling the shelves of health food stores and has become a buzzword in the health blogosphere.
Kefir is typically made by fermenting milk using kefir grains, which are not actually grains like wheat or oats, but are cultures of bacteria and yeast held together by a polysaccharide produced by the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus higarii.
Fermented and cultured foods provide your body with billions of beneficial of bacteria to cultivate your "gut garden," the microbiome, where trillions of bacteria regulate your immune system, hormones, brain and genetics. The ways your microbiome controls your health are truly fascinating.
So is all the hype around kefir warranted, or is this another health fad? Let's check out the health facts about this drink:
1. It's rich in vitamin K2.
Through the fermentation process of kefir, vitamin K2 is produced. Low levels of vitamin K2 are linked to all kinds of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Optimal vitamin K2 levels mean a better chance at a longer, healthier life.
2. It gives you B vitamins.
Kefir is a source of several B vitamins, which are needed for a wide variety of health purposes. Your brain, nerves, mood and energy levels all need B vitamins to function properly. B vitamins are also the key players in a biochemical process call methylation, which is needed for optimal immune function.
3. It contains tryptophan.
You know that sleepy, relaxed feeling you get after a big turkey dinner? That's thanks to tryptophan. This amino acid is also found in kefir. The word kefir actually stems from the Turkish word "keif" which id translated as "good feeling"!
4. It improves digestive health.
Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens M1, a specific bacteria strain from the kefir grain culture, has been shown to help in colitis cases by balancing the immune system and calming inflammation in the body. Research has also shown that kefir improves lactose intolerance. Kefir has a larger variety of beneficial probiotics compared to yogurt, so this will help promote healthy digestion and microbiome health.
5. It has antitumor properties.
Cancer beware. Kefir was shown in one study to reduce tumor growth and increase the body's ability to fight cancer.
6. Reduces cholesterol and blood pressure.
Kefiran, a unique sugar produced by kefir grains, was shown in a study out of the UK to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.
7. It balances the immune system.
Kefiran, the kefir sugar I just mentioned, also demonstrated the ability to decrease allergic inflammation and calm the immune system. See, not all sugar is bad!
OK, it's healthy, but which kefir should you get?
There are so many varieties of kefir on the market today, it can be confusing to pick the best one for you. As with most mass-produced food items, many kefir brands are made low in fat and high in sugar for broad appeal. This can make a healthy drink an unhealthy one.
Avoid the added sugars, as this will work against your motives for drinking kefir in the first place. Skip the low-fat kefir because, as with any dairy, the bulk of the nutrients are found in the fat, which is why they synthetically add them back in when it is labeled "low fat." I also suggest opting for grass-fed and organic kefir for higher levels of nutrients.
You also can skip buying kefir in a store altogether and make your own! Quality kefir grain cultures and starting kits are sold online, and come with simple instructions to start your own personal kefir at home!
If you're looking to get creative with kefir, here are five fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life:
Blend your kefir with berries, greens and some ice for a yummy kefir smoothie!
Freeze your kefir smoothie in a Popsicle mold for an icy treat that kids will enjoy. Keep in mind that the freezing may damage the beneficial bacteria, but the other health benefits will still be in effect.
Any dressing recipe where you would use yogurt as an ingredient will be great if you substitute kefir!
If you like cheese, many health food stores sell kefir cheeses, which gives you another form of this healthy food.
Even though fermentation makes regular kefir tolerable for most people, not everyone can or wants to have dairy. You can use the kefir grains to make your own water, coconut water or coconut milk kefir, all of which have benefits similar to the regular variety.