Kefir is another superfood that is very much getting a good reputation and commonly promoted on blogs and elsewhere in the ‘natural health’ community.
However, just because kefir is being recommended by everyone with access to their own blog, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy or even necessarily safe to consume. The unfortunate reality is that there is a lot of misinformation out there and you need to be very careful who you listen to.
Some of these health panaceas – such as coconut oil – are everything that they’re cracked up to be and more. Others are somewhere on the fence – like apple cider vinegar. And others still are plain overhyped.
So where does kefir weigh in?
Well the early signs are certainly pretty good for kefir. Among the many benefits of kefir is the simple fact that this is a type of food that is packed with nutrients.
For those that aren’t familiar with it, kefir is a form of fermented drink that is made using either cow’s milk or goats milk. This is accomplished by adding what are known as ‘kefir grains’ to the milk. Rather than being regular grains, these are cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria which give the milk a kind of cauliflower appearance.
That’s right, you’re taking milk and then adding cultures of bacteria until it looks like cauliflower. This process takes about 24 hours, during which the microorganisms will multiple and ferment the sugars in the liquid to turn it into kefir. The grains are then removed before the milk is ready to drink. What’s left is a kind of sour tasting drink that is a little like yogurt but with a much thinner consistency.
So, runny yogurt then…
Only tastier than that sounds!
Sounds like the worst thing you could drink right? Except what is key to recognize here is that these are healthy ‘good’ cultures of bacteria. Not all bacteria is bad and in fact, the bacteria found in fermented foods such as kefir are very good for you.
Your gut is filled with ‘good’ bacteria (called gut flora) which serves a wide range of different purposes. For one, this bacteria helps to break down food by releasing digestive enzymes and thereby helps to prevent digestive complaints. Further, this process helps the body to absorb more of the crucial nutrients from food.
At the same time, the bacteria in our gut also produces important nutrients, fights unwanted ‘bad’ bacteria to prevent infections and illness, and even helps us to produce a range of important hormones and neurotransmitters – helping to regulate our moods, appetites and sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have enough healthy gut flora in our stomachs. That’s because we don’t consume enough fermented food – like yogurt or sauerkraut – and it’s because some modern medicine actually kills off this bacteria along with the bad kind. In particular, if you undergo a course of antibiotics then you can be left without the healthy bacteria you need. This is a perfect time to consume more fermented foods – just like kefir.
So, consuming kefir will help to restore your gut flora and thereby reduce your likelihood of stomach infections, improve your digestion and absorption of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of gas or other stomach complaints.
On top of that kefir is also highly nutrient dense. That’s because milk is already nutrient dense and when you consume kefir, you’re putting it through a process that adds even more goodness.
In particular, kefir is high in protein (6 grams per 175ml), calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B12, riboflavin, magnesium and vitamin D.
These important nutrients have a wide range of important roles in the body. Protein is important for muscle mass and recovering from injury for example, calcium and magnesium are crucial for bone strength as well as for muscle contractions and connective tissue. Magnesium may help sleep and appears to boost ‘brain plasticity’ for faster learning. Vitamin B12 is important for your nerve health and energy levels, while vitamin D is hard to come by in the diet and can help to regulate your hormones as well as fortifying the immune system!
So, it’s good news so far! It should come as no surprise though, really kefir is just like turning milk into yogurt. Seeing as milk and yogurt are both very good for you, you’re getting the benefits of each! That said, consuming those two things would also be very good for you. Kefir is a more potent probiotic with all things being equal though.
Kefir also has other benefits though. It contains a lot of bioactive compounds for example which include peptides and organic acids. Kefir also contains kefiran which has antibacterial properties. Studies have shown that it can help to inhibit the growth of many harmful bacteria, including salmonella and e. coli. That means that kefir is packed with good bacteria and also able to kill off the bad kinds – making it a perfect tonic for those that need to fix their gut health.
Finally, kefir has the advantage of being an option for those who are lactose intolerant or even vegan. For vegans, the option is to consume kefir made from coconut milk or other alternatives. For those that are lactose intolerant, it appears that the fermentation process helps them to better digest the lactose. The bacteria in kefir actually helps to convert lactose into lactic acid, which neutralizes much of what causes the problem in the first place! Kefir is ideal for those that can’t drink milk but still want to enjoy its many benefits then.