Kefir (pronounced kee-fer) is a fermented beverage that can be made with various liquids such as milk, coconut milk, water or coconut water. Its main claim to fame is that it is rich in probiotics, and it is very beneficial for the digestive system. While doing some research I found plenty of other good reasons for its reputation as a health drink. Before we dive into the health benefits, let’s look briefly at how kefir is made.
What are kefir grains?
To make kefir – kefir ‘grains’ are added to the liquid of choice (milk, water, coconut water or coconut milk) that contains some sugar, and then allowed to ferment at room temperature for about 48 hours. The grains are then removed and the beverage can be consumed.
The name ‘grains’ is somewhat misleading because they don’t look like a grain and they are not related in any way to grains such as wheat or spelt. According to Wikipedia, “Kefir grains are a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix, or SCOBY, forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower.” (SCOBY stands for ‘symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast’)
Kefir grains are not “manufactured” or “made from scratch” – they grow as a result of the fermentation process in a liquid (milk, coconut milk or water can be used). A starter community of grains is used, and the grains grow during fermentation usually doubling in quantity. Kefir grains can be obtained from a person that makes kefir and has extra grains to share, or they can be purchased from specialty online businesses such as Cultures for Health. Kefir grains can be used over and over again, and will last a long time if they are treated properly.
There are two different kinds of grains. Milk kefir grains are fermented in dairy products, and they contain lactose. Water kefir grains are lactose free because they are fermented in water. The grains can be white or yellow in color and contain kefiran, a water soluble polysaccharide.
The nutritional value of kefir
Kefir has a surprising list of nutritional components. The exact nutrient content depends upon the liquid the kefir is fermented in, and how healthy the grains are themselves. Water kefir is slightly different in nutritional value than milk kefir. In general, kefir contains:
- Lactic acid bacteria, yeasts
- Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6, K2, D, folic acid, niacin and the amino acid tryptophan
- Proteins from milk (if using milk to ferment)
- Minerals: iodine, iron, calcium and phosphorus
- Bi-products of the fermentation process: carbon dioxide, and a small amount of ethanol (alcohol)
8 Reasons why kefir is healthy:
- Kefir (both water and milk) has significantly more probiotics than yogurt – up to three times the amount. Kefir contains many more types of healthy bacteria than yogurt.
- The calcium content in kefir is particularly beneficial for healthy bones and teeth.
- Kefir is very beneficial for the digestive system because the probiotics help to provide a healthy balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut. This enables the body to properly digest food and assimilate the nutrients.
- Because water kefir does not contain any dairy, it is a healthy probiotic alternative for people who are lactose intolerant. Interestingly enough, some studies even suggest that milk kefir may be a safe alternative for those who are lactose intolerant because lactose is broken down during the fermentation process – but more studies and documentation would be required to confirm this.
- The polysaccharide kefiran could have beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol – studies are being done on this.
- Kefir is a good way to balance the bacteria in your digestive system after taking antibiotics, as antibiotics are designed to destroy all bacteria – both good and bad.
- Kefir is rich in B vitamins. B vitamins are crucial for our health. They have many functions, including supporting our mental processes, helping our cells burn glucose and fats for energy, helping with cell formation and in the repair of our DNA.
- Kefir helps keep the immune system healthy.
Not only is kefir a very healthy fermented beverage, it is quite versatile as well. Kefir can be consumed as an individual beverage or incorporated into smoothies. Milk kefir is not as thick as yogurt, but can be used in place of yogurt in recipes or eaten the same way yogurt is eaten. Water kefir can be made into flavored healthy ‘sodas’ that have a very low sugar content (the sugar is actually used up by the bacteria in the fermentation process).
I have been successfully making water kefir for several months, and I have found it to be very beneficial for my digestion. If you would like more information about brewing your own kefir – please contact me. If you are located in Calgary, Alberta and would like to have water kefir grains, sometimes I have extra grains. Water kefir grains are also available at The Light Cellar.
Wikipedia – kefir
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