5 Proven Health Benefits of Kefir + 3 Tasty Recipes
Kefir is fermented milk and is seen as the healthier version of yogurt. It is rich in probiotics and nutrients.
More and more people are discovering kefir as a better alternative to regular milk or yogurt. A few years ago you had to make your own kefir or buy it in a natural store. Nowadays there is so much demand that you can even choose from multiple brands in the normal supermarket.
In this article, you will discover which (proven) health benefits kefir owes its popularity.
This is what you will learn:
- What is kefir
- What kinds of kefir there are
- Nutritional value of kefir
- What the health benefits of kefir are
- How you can make kefir yourself
Finally, we will give you a few delicious kefir recipes so that you can immediately discover how tasty it is.
What is kefir?
Kefir is a drink made from fermented milk. This fermented drink is produced by mixing a mixture of lactic acid bacteria and yeast in milk. This gummy-like mixture is called the kefir grains.
The lactic acid bacteria and yeasts live off the lactose (milk sugars) in milk. You can make kefir of all types of milk containing carbohydrates (sugars). This is usually done with cow’s milk but can also be done with goat, sheep, rice or soy milk.
The latest trend is to make kefir from coconut milk or coconut water. You can read more about how to do this yourself.
Origin of kefir
Kefir may be the last ‘fashion’ in the field of nutrition, the fact is that kefir has been drunk for thousands of years.
Presumably, kefir was first made in the northern part of the Caucasus Mountains. An area that lies between Russia and Georgia.
The tribes that lived here had kefir grains ferment in simple leather business with cow and goat milk. The bags hung at the door and everyone who went in or out was supposed to push the bag so that the milk would mix with the granules and the fermentation process would continue.
Milk was continuously added to the leather bag without completely emptying it in between. Making kefir was a continuous process that always went through.
She believed that kefir gave them powers that they would lose if the kefir grains fell into the hands of others. For centuries they kept their kefir grains secret from others and passed it on generation by generation.
It was not until the end of the 19th century that kefir was first produced industrially. This was because it was thought that kefir would help against tuberculosis. This happened in Moscow where kefir was produced on a large scale in the 1930s.
Kefir grew into a popular dairy product in Russia. Per capita, 4.5 liters of kefir are consumed every year in Russia. In the Eastern and Northern European countries, Russia is also drinking kefir.
A relatively large number of 100-year-olds live among the population in the Caucasus Mountains, which originate from kefir. Kefir therefore partly owes its popularity to this fact. It is not known whether these people are healthy thanks to kefir or that they owe this to other eating or lifestyle habits.
Because the lactic acid bacteria and yeast live from the lactose, the lactose content of kefir is lower than that of regular milk. Sometimes it is, therefore, said of kefir that it is lactose-free. However, this is not the case.
Kefir eventually contains 20% to 50% of the original amount of lactose after the fermentation process.
The lactic acid bacteria and yeasts largely convert the lactose into lactic acid, which gives kefir its sour taste.
Kefir and lactose intolerance
Because kefir contains (much) less lactose than regular milk, it is better tolerated by people who can not tolerate lactose.
Some types of kefir grains exhibit active β-galactosidase enzymes (lactase) that remain active even after consumption. This makes the kefir of these kefir grains suitable for people with lactose intolerance.
Lactase provides the hydrolysis of lactose into glucose and galactose.
I have not seen lactose-free kefir in the Netherlands yet but in California. Who knows, maybe it’s coming this way.
People with a lactose intolerance can better make a kefir based on a vegetable milk substitute such as almond drink, rice drink, soy drink or coconut milk. Another option is waterKefir.
Waterkefir is made from water containing (dried) fruit. These provide the sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can feed. Later you read how to make waterKefir.
Kefir grains are 1 to 10 cm in diameter and feel a bit rubbery. Kefir grains are growing and will continue to grow. The microorganisms grow from the lactose into milk.
If you are going to make kefir yourself, you will see that the amount of kefir grains that you have become twice as large after 2 weeks. You can then make someone else happy with half of your kefir grains.
Kefir grains look like small cauliflowers. However, they are not plants, neither yoghurt plants or kefir flowers as they are sometimes called. It is a form of society (symbiosis) in which the different micro-organisms live together in harmony.
Kefir grains consist of lactic acid bacteria that are anaerobic. This means that they can live without oxygen. They can therefore be dried or frozen without problems. They convert carbohydrates (sugars) into lactic acid.
Kefir grains must not come into contact with metal. This ensures that the operation deteriorates because it affects the granules. If you are going to make kefir yourself then you should always use a plastic sieve and wooden spoons.
You have dozens of types of lactic acid bacteria. Some tribes live in our body; in the intestines and the vagina. They are important for healthy intestinal and vaginal flora. Some strains can cause tooth decay, the lactic acid that they produce in the mouth affects the teeth.
The strains used for kefir grains mainly come from the Lactobacillus genus. These strains give lactic acid right-handed. Right-turning lactic acid is well absorbed by the body because it is identical to the body’s own lactic acid.
These strains of the Lactobacillus genus are seen as ‘good bacteria’. Probiotics as it is called with a nice word.
In total there are about 30 bacterial strains including yeast species in kefir grains that together form the basis. All lactic acid bacteria from kefir have in common that they produce lactic acid right-handed.
For a good kefir, it is necessary that you let it ferment for at least 24 hours to a maximum of 4 days. How long you have to let milk ferment depends on the quality of the kefir grains that are used, the ratio between milk and kefir grains, the temperature and the season.
In addition to lactic acid, the bacteria and yeasts of the kefir grains also produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. Kefir is slightly tingling due to the carbonic acid.
The alcohol will not normally taste you. Kefir contains between 0.2% and 2% alcohol. The longer you let the kefir ferment, the higher the alcohol percentage will be.
The kefir you buy in the supermarket does not contain alcohol (unless indicated on the packaging). The kefir from the supermarket is actually no real kefir. No kefir grains are used in the production, but a mixture of bacteria is added to the milk without fermentation.
By omitting yeasts, the packaging can be prevented from becoming bulging and no alcohol is produced. However, due to the lack of yeasts, the ready-to-use kefir will have a different composition than kefir (traditionally made).
In addition to kefir, many more nutrients are obtained through fermentation. Think of yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, wine, beer, sourdough bread, dry sausage, tempé, kimchi, vinegar and pickles.
The fermentation of food, such as vegetables, meat and fish, has been going on for thousands of years and this has been done to keep food longer. The taste of the food also changes with this fermentation.
Fermenting what is still being done today is often due to the taste and not so much to be able to keep a product longer.
By eating fermented food you get good bacteria that are important for a balanced intestinal flora. Probiotics help the digestive system by clearing out bad bacteria. This provides health benefits and reduces illness.
Probiotics has the following health benefits (source):
- It improves digestion
- It regulates the microorganisms in the digestive tract
- It strengthens the immune system
- It protects against infections (inflammation)
- It ensures a better absorption of nutrients from food
- Lowers cholesterol
- Lowers the risk of colon cancer
- Helps the body to absorb calcium better
- Lowers the risk of allergies in some people
In order to keep dairy longer, it is pasteurized (heated). This not only kills the bad bacteria but also the good ones. And that is a big disadvantage of the way in which the food is processed nowadays.
This will give you less good bacteria and you will have to actively search for sources of good bacteria (such as kefir).
The difference between kefir and yogurt
Yoghurt is thick and you eat with a spoon. Kefir is thinner than yogurt but thicker than milk. Kefir can drink you as a drinking yogurt.
Kefir normally contains less carbohydrates than regular yogurt. This is because in kefir the lactose (milk sugars) are partly converted into lactic acid.
The most important difference between kefir and yogurt are the probiotic cultures. Kefir contains 3 times more probiotics than yogurt and moreover different types of good bacteria.
In kefir, there are normally 12 active and living bacterial cultures, whereas in yogurts there are no more than 6. This is the main argument for many people to replace yogurt for kefir.
These are the 12 probiotics cultures in kefir:
- Lactobacillus Lactis
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
- Streptococcus Diacetylactis
- Lactobacillus Plantarum
- Lactobacillus Casei
- Saccharomyces Florentinus
- Leuconostoc Cremoris
- Bifidobacterium Longum
- Bifidobacterium Breve
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium Lactis
- Lactobacillus Reuteri
An agreement between kefir and yogurt is that they both contain clockwise lactic acid.
Nutritional value of kefir
The nutritional value of kefir depends on the ‘raw material’, which can be milk, but also water or a vegetable milk.
The nutritional value found here is that of milk kefir, made from organic whole milk.
Nutritional value kefir Per 100 ml
Energy 67 kcal
Fat 3,75 gram
Of which saturated 2,35 gram
Of which unsaturated 1,40 gram
Carbohydrates 4,58 gram
Of which sugars 2,92 gram
Protein 3,75 gram
Calcium 120 mg
Phosphorus 90 mg
Zinc 0,4 mg
Potassium 150 mg
Magnesium 11 mg
Sodium 40 mg
Iron 0,1 mg
Vitamin A 0,03 mg
Vitamin B1 0,03 mg
Vitamin B2 0,15 mg
Vitamin B6 0,04 mg
Vitamin B12 0,2 mcg
Vitamin C 1 mg
The nutritional value of different brands of kefir that you find in the supermarket may differ.
Differences caused by the milk used to make the kefir and the bacterial cultures that are used.
Health benefits kefir
Everyone who follows this blog knows that I am not a fan of milk. Milk has a number of health benefits. There are, however, serious health disadvantages.
In summary, milk has the following health problems:
- Contributes to bone loss
- Increases the risk of thrombosis
- Increases the risk of type 1 diabetes
- Skimmed milk increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease
- Increases the risk of certain types of cancer
- Contributes to the development of acne
- Can cause psychological symptoms because it slows down the action of endorphins
- Drinking a lot of milk increases the risk of premature death
You can read the substantiation of these health problems in my critical dairy review.
The best thing to do is make your kefir from organic whole milk. A number of health disadvantages of milk are specifically incinerated with skimmed milk. This while a number of health benefits are only attributed to whole milk.
Because cow’s milk is the basis of kefir as it is sold in the supermarkets, I am not entirely enthusiastic about it.
The disadvantage of this supermarket kefir is that it is made from skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and that lactic acid bacteria are added without adding the important yeasts (at least for the brands that I have researched). In addition, the kefir in the supermarket is not organic (but can be bought in organic stores).
Milk kefir has a number of health benefits (which are discussed below). All in all, I am therefore neutral with cow milk kefir (which you make from organic whole milk).
I am positive about kefir that you make yourself based on goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or vegetable milk such as almond, coconut milk or coconut water. Your body benefits fully from the probiotics without the health disadvantages and risks of cow’s milk.
Another option, of course, is the waterefir that you make from water with some dried fruit in it. However, this is not a source of protein, but rather intended as a source of probiotics and therefore does not fully fit the list of comparative material.
Eventually, everyone will have to decide for themselves whether they opt for kefir on the basis of cow’s milk or another basis. Whatever your preference is, it is always better than regular milk or yoghurt.
Health benefit # 1: lowers the risk of osteoporosis
A recent study showed that kefir improves the absorption of calcium by the bones (source). This ensures strong bones which is important to prevent bone fractures. This can be an issue, particularly for women of age. This study has also been done with rats.
Kefir made from whole milk is a good source of vitamin K2. This vitamin plays an important role in calcium metabolism. Research shows that vitamin K2 can reduce the risk of fractures by up to 80% (source, source).
Health benefit # 2: extremely good source of probiotics
Kefir and probiotics are inextricably linked and these good bacteria are the reason for many to drink it. Because kefir contains 30 cultures of bacteria and yeast, it is one of the best probiotics (and perhaps the best).
PDS is common and includes abdominal complaints for which no visible abnormalities can be found by doctors. These are complaints such as abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, upsetting, diarrhea or disruption.
The probiotics in kefir also help against infection with Helicobacter pylori (source, source). It is estimated that 15% of Western European people are infected with this bacterium that lives in the mucous membrane of the stomach wall. This bacterium can lead to gastric mucosal inflammation or a stomach ulcer.
Health benefit # 3: antibacterial effect
Kefiran, an insoluble polysaccharide, in kefir also has antibacterial properties. It would also fight Candida Albicans (source). This has been tested by smearing the skin with a 70% kefir gel.
Health benefit # 4: kefir may help with allergies and asthma
A meta-study (of 23 studies with a total of almost 2000 participants) showed that probiotics improved the quality of life and reduced the allergic reactions (source). Some researchers assume that allergic reactions are the result of a lack of good bacteria in the intestines.
Health benefit # 5: possibly prevents certain types of cancer
A study showed that the probiotics in kefir cancer cells in the stomach destroyed themselves (source).
In other studies too, there are indications that probiotics of fermented dairy products (such as kefir and yogurt) can delay or prevent the development of certain tumors (source).
Which kefir do I recommend and where do I order these?
Kefir has pre- and probiotic effects to improve the intestinal flora. The kefir capsules that I use are specifically highly concentrated and can be ordered here.
To improve your intestinal flora, you can also opt for regular pro-biotics. NATURELO Probiotic Supplement is one of the best regular pre- and probiotics.
Side effects of kefir
Some people who start with kefir suffer from side effects. This involves constipation and abdominal pain. This usually changes over time. If you start kefir, you start with half a glass and see how your body responds to it and then build it up.
People who have weakened the immune system, as is the case with AIDS, must first consult their doctor before they start kefir (or probiotics in general). If an immune system is already out of balance, probiotics can further unbalance this.
From 1 year it is safe to give kefir to children (in case of doubt, ask the health center). Children under the age of 1 give you the best breast milk or bottle feeding.
Make kefir yourself
You make Kefir the best possible quality yourself.
You can make the following types of kefir:
- Cow’s milk kefir
- Goat milk kefir
- Sheep milk kefir
- Coconut milk kefir
- Coconut water kefir
- Almond drink kefir
- Soy drink kefir
- Rice drink kefir
- Oatdrink kefir
- Cashewdrink kefir
- Water kefir
Kefir grains always need sugar to live on. That is why you should add a little sugar to the water for water kefir. With milk or vegetable milk as a basis, this is usually not necessary, which already contains sugars.
Making milk kefir
Cows that eat grass give more omega 3 fatty acids and more fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins K1 and K2. For example, organic milk contains more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins because these cows get more grass to eat and no ‘concentrate’.
Whole milk is preferable to skimmed milk because certain health problems are specifically associated with skimmed milk.
It does not matter if you use pasteurized, sterilized or raw milk. Kefir has a strong preservative effect.
Whether you go for kefir from cow, goat or sheep milk; the best you choose is for an organic and full variety.
What you need to make milk kefir:
- Milk kefir grains
- A weck pot
- A plastic sieve
- A wooden spoon
- Paper coffee filter
- Rubber band
With these kefir grains, you do 10 times as much milk as there are kefir grains in the weck pot. If you have just bought new kefir grains you can not make as much kefir. These kefir grains will grow quite quickly every time you make kefir so that you can make more kefir in 1x.
If it is pretty cool in your home in the winter, you can use more kefir grains in the winter months. You can then maintain a ratio of 1 to 7 instead of 1 in 10. Due to the cooler temperature, the fermentation process will go a bit slower.
After you have added the milk to the kefir grains, seal the weck pot with a paper coffee filter (or an air-permeable cloth) and an elastic band.
Leave the weck pot at room temperature for 24 hours. Do not put the pot in the sun.
In the meantime, you can stir up the contents of the weck pot with a wooden spoon or shake the pot a little bit so that the granules mix well with milk that has not yet been fermented.
After 24 hours the kefir is ready and the kefir grains have to be filtered out. You can immediately use these kefir grains for your next batch of kefir. Put the contents of the weck pot in a plastic sieve that holds you above a large scale. To speed up the leaking of the kefir through the sieve, you can use a wooden spoon to stir through.
It is important that you do not use a metal sieve or spoon. This will affect the lactic acid bacteria as a result of which the quality of your kefir grains can deteriorate more and more.
When all kefir has run out of the sieve, the kefir grains remain behind. You can rinse these under the tap with running water before you use them for your next batch. Rinsing is optional, this is not necessarily necessary. If you rinse the kefir grains often, they can be disturbed too much.
The kefir that you have collected on the large scale is immediately ready to drink. Personally, I find it better to cool the kefir in the fridge first. You can store the kefir in a sealed glass bottle or weck pot in the refrigerator.
The kefir is naturally fresh acid in taste. To make the kefir sweet you can add honey, coconut blossom sugar or pure stevia extract. For a taste, you can add a few drops of vanilla extract or some pureed fruit such as mashed raspberries.
Making coconut kefir
Coconut milk and coconut water are two completely different drinks. Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut and is thick and creamy.
Both coconut milk and coconut water are naturally lactose-free and to make kefir you do not have to add anything extra to it. They naturally contain sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria can live and convert into lactic acid.
Coconut kefir is made according to the same procedure as ‘regular’ milk kefir.
Both coconut milk and coconut water retain their nutritional value by fermenting it, but with the addition of probiotics.
Making coconut ‘yogurt’
The higher the fat content of the coconut cream, the better and preferably not a coconut cream from a can, but from a cardboard or plastic packaging.
The beauty of a thick coconut milk kefir is that you can use it as a base for your muesli or can eat as dessert with some fruit in it.
The procedure for making thick coconut milk kefir is the same as for making milk kefir.
Making Kefir from a vegetable milk
You can make kefir from:
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
- Coconut milk
- Oat milk
- Cashew milk
The kefir grains live on sugars (carbohydrates). Sugars are already in most vegetable milk replacements that you can buy in the supermarket. So oat and rice milk are already rich in carbohydrates, you do not have to add anything.
Cashew milk and (unsweetened) almond milk do not contain so many sugars. To this, you can add some sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria can live. What you can use as a carbohydrate source in your kefir you can read below when making water kefir.
To make water kefir you will have to make the water sweet. The lactic acid bacteria need sugars to live.
What you need for 1 liter of water kefir:
- 1 liter of water (preferably mineral water because the chlorine from the tap water can affect the kefir grains over time)
- 100 grams of kefir grains
- 30 to 80 grams of sugars (according to taste); organic maple syrup, organic sugar, organic coconut blossom sugar or organic thick juice. Note: use organic sugars so that there is no contamination that can be harmful to the lactic acid bacteria. Never use honey, this is antibiotic, which the lactic acid bacteria do not like.
- 2 or 3 dried fruit such as dates, apricots, figs or a handful of raisins (always use sulfur-free fruits without flavorings)
- A half to a whole organic lemon
The lemon is not necessarily necessary for making water kefir, but this is usually done because it adds an extra dimension to the taste.
- Put the water in a weck-pot with the sugar. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved.
- Cut the lemon and put it in the weck pot
- Add the remaining ingredients and close the weck pot. Place the pot in a place out of direct sunlight.
- Leave the weck pot for 2 days
- Remove the dried fruits from the waterefir and discard them. These have lost their taste
- Squeeze half the lemon over a plastic sieve over the waterefir
- Pour the kefir grains on a plastic sieve. The granules can be rinsed under running water and can be reused right away for your new batch of waterfir
The waterfir is best when you keep it in the refrigerator as soon as it is ready.
Kefir is a delicious fresh drink that can also be used well in recipes. We will give you a number of recipes here so that you get an idea of the possibilities and inspiration.
Recipe 1: piña colada salad with kefir dressing
I love the combination of coconut and pineapple and in this fruit salad, these flavors come into their own. This salad is ideal for a BBQ and the fresh kefir dressing completes this piña colada fruit salad.
- 1 fresh pineapple
- 1 ripe banana
- 100 grams of dried coconut flakes
- 200 ml of kefir
- 50 ml of coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- Peel the pineapple and cut it into cubes of an inch
- Peel the banana and cut parts of it
- Put the pineapple, banana and coconut flakes in a large bowl and mix them together
- Put the coconut milk in a saucepan with the honey and heat it just enough to allow the honey to dissolve well in the coconut milk
- Turn off the heat and add the kefir and stir well
- Pour the dressing from the saucepan over the fruit and let everything cool down in the fridge for half an hour before serving the salad
Recipe 2: Eastern dip
This is a delicious, fresh, oriental dipping sauce for your raw vegetables or Lebanese bread based on kefir.
- 250 ml of kefir
- 2 tablespoons of freshly cut dill or 1 tablespoon of dried dill
- 2 cloves of freshly pressed garlic
- A pinch of Cayenne pepper
- A pinch of ground dried chili pepper
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Put the ingredients in a bowl with the exception of the olive oil and mix well
- Put the dish in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving so that these flavors can easily withdraw
- Sprinkle the dip with olive oil (to taste) before serving
Recipe 3: gluten- and lactose-free pancakes
By using buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour you make these pancakes gluten free. By using kefir of a vegetable milk substitute you also make these pancakes 100% lactose-free.
- 150 grams of buckwheat flour
- 250 ml of kefir
- 10 grams of baking powder
- 10 grams of sourdough starter
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- A few tablespoons of butter
- Put the buckwheat, kefir, sourdough starter in the food processor and mix
- Cover the dish and leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight
- Beat the eggs and add the salt, baking powder and cinnamon
- Add the eggs to the dough and mix the whole
- Melt some butter in a frying pan and add a ladle of dough into the pan as soon as it is hot. Fry the pancakes on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes.
Enjoy your meal!
In short, focus on nutrition if you want to stay healthy!
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