You may have heard of coconut kefir and wondered: What is kefir? Well, kefir is a unique cultured dairy product that’s one of the most probiotic-rich foods on the planet, and kefir benefits are incredible for healing issues like leaky gut.
Its unique name comes from the Turkish word “keif,” which means “good feeling.”
For centuries, it’s been used in European and Asian folk medicine due to the wide variety of conditions it’s been known to cure. When made correctly, it’s one of my favorite drinks and, after reading this article, I hope that you consider including it into your regular natural health regimen.
You can give your alimentary canal, or the main digestive passageway in the body, an easy boost with kefir. This nutrient- and probiotic-packed drink holds the key to helping improve many immune and digestive linked health issues. Tabbed as an “it” health food of the 21st century, kefir is a probiotic food that contains many bioactive compounds, including as many as 30 strains of good bacteria that help fight against tumors, bacteria, carcinogens and more.
Kefir is made using starter “grains,” which in reality are a combination of bacteria and yeasts that interact with the milk to make the lightly fermented drink that even lactose intolerant people can drink! It can be made from any source of milk, such as goat, sheep, cow, soy, rice or coconut. It can even be made using coconut water. Scientifically speaking, kefir grains contain a complex microbial symbiotic mixture of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a polysaccharide–protein matrix. Read on to see how this can benefit your health.
Top 7 Kefir Benefits
There are many benefits to probiotic foods, and kefir is no exception. Kefir benefits range from topical to systemic and can impact the state of your daily life and health dramatically. The following are some of the top kefir benefits around.
1. Boosts Immunity
Kefir contains many compounds and nutrients, like biotin and folate, that help kick your immune system into gear and protect your cells. It has a large amounts of probiotics, the special forces of the microbial world. One in particular that’s specific to kefir alone is called Lactobacillus Kefiri, and it helps defend against harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. Coli. This bacterial strain, along with the various others handfuls, helps modulate the immune system and inhibit many predatory bacteria growth.
Kefir also contains another powerful compound found only in this probiotic drink, an insoluble polysaccharide called kefiran that’s been shown to be antimicrobial and help to fight against candida. Kefiran has also shown the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
2. Builds Bone Strength
Osteoporosis is a major concern for many people today. The deteriorating bone disease flourishes in systems that don’t get enough calcium, which is essential for bone health. Kefir made from whole fat dairy has high levels of calcium from the milk.
However, perhaps more importantly it holds bioactive compounds that help absorb calcium into the body and stop bone degeneration. Kefir also contains vitamin K2, which has been shown to be vital in improving bone health, density and calcium absorption, while vitamin K deficiency can lead to bone issues. The probiotics in kefir improve nutrient absorption, and the dairy itself contains all of the most important nutrients for improving bone density, including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2.
3. Potentially Fights Cancer
Cancer is a serious epidemic impacting our country and the world today. Kefir can play a big role in helping your body fight this nasty disease. It can be a seriously effective weapon against the spread of these multiplying and dangerous cells. The compounds found in the probiotic drink have actually shown to make cancer cells in the stomach self-destruct.
Kefir benefits in the fight against cancer are due to its large anti-carcinogenic role inside the body. It can slow the growth of early tumors and their enzymatic conversions from non-carcinogenic to carcinogenic. One in-vitro test conducted by the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Canada showed that kefir reduced breast cancer cells by 56 percent (as opposed to yogurt strains that reduced cells by 14 percent) in animal studies.
4. Supports Digestion and Combats IBS
When it comes to bacteria in the gut, it’s a tricky balance. Kefir milk and kefir yogurt help restore that balance and fight against gastrointestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s and ulcers. Drinking kefir, loaded with probiotics, also helps your gut after taking antibiotics. The probiotic compounds help restore the lost flora that fight against pathogens. The probiotics also aid against disruptive diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects caused by these types of medications.
5. Improves Allergies
Various forms of allergies and asthma are all linked to inflammatory issues on the body. In certain studies with mice, kefir was shown to reduce inflammatory cells disrupting the lungs and air passages as well as mucus buildup.
The live microorganisms present in kefir help promote the immune system to naturally suppress allergic reactions and aid in changing the body’s response to the systemic outbreak points for allergies. Some scientists believe these allergic reactions are the result of a lack of good bacteria in the gut. Researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center performed 23 different studies with almost 2,000 people, and in 17 of those studies, test subjects taking probiotics showed improved allergic symptoms and quality of life.
6. Heals Skin
When your gut is out of whack, it can send signals to your skin that disrupt its natural balance and cause all sorts of problems like acne, psoriasis, rashes and eczema. Kefir helps bring good bacteria back to the forefront and level out the homeostasis for your largest organ, the skin. Not only does it help with systemic based skin issues, but kefir benefits skin as burn and rash treatment.
The carbohydrate found in kefir known as kefiran, aside from aiding in the immune system, has also been tested and shown helping improve the quality of skin wound healing. It’s even been shown to be protective for connective tissue.
7. Improves Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
The good bacteria found in many dairy products is essential for a healthy gut and body. However, there are many out there who cannot tolerate dairy because they have an adverse reaction to digesting lactose, the key milk sugar that’s active when it’s digested. The active ingredient in kefir helps break lactose down into lactic acid, making it easier to digest. Furthermore, kefir has a larger range of bacterial strains and nutrients, some only specific to kefir, that help remove almost all of the lactose in the dairy.
Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics even showed that “kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose malabsorption.”
Types of Kefir:
You’ll be happy to know that even if you cannot tolerate having any dairy, there are types of kefir that are still rich in probiotics and have plenty of healthy kefir benefits but are completely lactose- and dairy-free. There are essentially two main types of kefir, and they differ in multiple ways.
The two types of kefir are milk kefir (made from cow, sheep or goat milk but also from coconut milk) and water kefir (made from sugary water or coconut water, both of which do not contain any dairy).
While the base liquid used in different types of kefirs varies, the process for making kefir is still the same, and the kefir benefits are thought to be present in both types. All kefir is made using kefir “grains,” which are a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. All types of kefirs are similar to kombucha (another healthy probiotic-rich drink favorite) in that they must have sugar either naturally present or else added in order to allow the healthy bacteria to grow and for the fermentation process to take place.
However, the end result is that both kombucha and kefir are very low in sugar, because the live active yeast essentially “eats” the large majority of the added sugar during the fermenting process.
Here is more information about how the different types of kefirs are made and how their tastes and uses differ:
Milk kefir is the kind that’s most well-known and widely available, usually sold in most major supermarkets and nearly all health food stores. Milk kefir is most often made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk or sheep’s milk, but certain stores also carry coconut milk kefir, which again means it does not contain any lactose, dairy or real “milk” at all.
When buying milk kefir made from goat, cow or sheep milk, you want to always look for a high-quality organic brand to ensure you get the most kefir benefits and avoid any harmful substances found in conventional dairy.
Traditionally, milk kefir is made using a starter culture, which is what ultimately allows the probiotics to form. All probiotic-rich beverages use a starter kit of “live” active yeast, which is responsible for culturing the beneficial bacteria.
Once fermented, milk kefir has a tart taste that’s somewhat similar to the taste of Greek yogurt. How strong the taste is depends on how long the kefir fermented; a longer fermenting process usually leads to a stronger, tarter taste and even yields some carbonation, which results from the active yeast.
Milk kefir is not naturally sweet on its own, but other flavors can be added to it in order to boost the flavor and make it more appealing. While some people prefer to have kefir plain, many like to have vanilla- or berry-flavored kefirs, similarly to how you will find yogurts flavored and sold.
Most store-bought kefirs are flavored with additions like fruit or cane sugar, but you can sweeten and flavor your kefir yourself at home by adding pure raw honey, pure maple syrup, pure vanilla extract or organic stevia extract. Also try adding pureed fruit to your plain kefir (like banana or blueberries) to boost the nutrient content even more.
Beyond just drinking milk kefir, there are other ways to cleverly use it in recipes. Milk kefir can make a great base for soups and stews that would otherwise call for regular buttermilk, sour cream, heavy cream or yogurt. You can substitute plain or flavored kefir for any of these in ingredients in your favorite recipes for baked goods, mashed potatoes, soups and more in order to boost the nutrient content and get all the wonderful kefir benefits.
Coconut kefir can be made either using coconut milk or coconut water. Coconut milk comes directly from coconuts and is made by blending coconut “meat” (the white, thick part of the inside of a coconut) with water, and then straining the pulp out so only a milky liquid is left.
Coconut water is the clear liquid that’s held inside coconuts naturally, which would come out if you were to crack open the coconut.
Both types of coconut kefirs do not contain any dairy. Coconut water and coconut milk are said to be the perfect base for creating fermented kefir because they naturally have carbohydrates present, including sugars, which are needed to be consumed by the yeast during the fermentation process to create healthy bacteria.
Coconut kefir is made in the same way as milk kefir. It contains live active yeast and bacteria that combine to make a traditional starter culture.
It becomes more tart and also carbonated once fermented, and tends to be sweeter and less strongly flavored than milk kefir.
Both types of coconut kefir still taste like natural coconut and also keep all of the nutritional benefits of unfermented plain coconut milk and water (potassium and electrolytes, for example).
Water kefir tends to have a more subtle taste and a lighter texture than milk kefir, and it’s normally made using sugar water or fruit juice.
Water kefir is made in a similar way as milk and coconut kefirs. Just like milk kefir, plain water kefir can be flavored at home using your own healthy additions and makes a great, healthy alternative to drinking things like soda or processed fruit juice.
You want to use water kefir differently than you use milk kefir. Try adding water kefir to smoothies, healthy desserts, oatmeal, salad dressing, or just drink it plain. Since it has a less creamy texture and is less tart, it’s not the best substitute for dairy products in recipes.
If you’d like to drink water kefir on its own, make sure you buy a kind that’s low in sugar and then consider adding your own fruit or herbs to give it more flavor. Try having water kefir with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice, mint, or cucumber to flavor your water kefir naturally, or make a healthy soda alternative by combining water kefir with club soda or seltzer for a virtually sugar-free carbonated drink.
No matter the type of kefir you choose to consume, look for a high-quality brand that’s preferably organic. Choose kefirs that are low in sugar and added flavors, and then try flavoring it yourself at home where you have control over the amount of sugar being used. All types of kefir should be refrigerated, and it’s best to keep them in glass bottles, so that plastic or any BPA that might be present cannot leach into the kefir and offset kefir benefits with harmful toxins.