Holistic Approach to Wellness

Benefits of Keifer

Kefir is a unique cultured dairy product that is one of the most probiotic rich foods on the planet and has incredible medicinal benefits for healing GI disorders  like leaky gut and Candida.

Its unique name comes from the Turkish work “keif”, which means “good feeling”.

Amongst the people of the northern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains there is a legend that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. The ‘Grains of the Prophet’ were guarded jealously since it was believed that they would lose their strength if the grains were given away and the secret of how to use them became common knowledge. Kefir grains were regarded as part of the family’s and tribe’s wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. So, for centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone else they came into contact with.

Other peoples occasionally heard strange tales of this unusual beverage which was said to have ‘magical’ properties. Marco Polo mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East.
However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis in sanatoria and for intestinal and stomach diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. However, kefir was extremely difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible without first obtaining a source of grains.

Kefir Nutrition Facts

Kefir is a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like a drinkable yogurt.

Kefir contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics.  Because kefir does not have a standardized nutrition content, the content values can vary based on the cows, cultures, and region where it is produced. Yet even with the range in values, kefir has superior nutrition. I suggest making your own for more benefits such as higher grade probiotic strains.

Because of kefir’s unique set of nutrients it has been show to benefit the body in 7 main ways:

  • Boost Immunity
  • Heal Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Build Bone Density
  • Fight Allergies
  • Improve Lactose Digestion
  • Kill Candida
  • Support Detoxification

And these are just a few of the benefits of consuming kefir daily.

Kefir Probiotics Are Powerful

Since the beginning of time, every culture has pickled and fermented foods primarily to preserve them. Unknowingly, they were magnificently creating superfoods jam-packed with healthy microorganisms (also known as “probiotics”) and regularly enjoyed healthy, long lives because of them. Today fermented foods are gaining popularity as we learn more and more of their amazing benefits.

A list of the more common probiotics that we regularly see in fermented foods include:

  • Bifidobacteria species
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus caucasus
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Acetobacter species
  • Leuconostoc

Kefir is one of the highest probiotic foods you can eat with several important probiotic strains. And homemade kefir far outranks any store-bought variety hands down:

Why would we want to eat foods with bacteria in them? Is our society all about killing all bacteria?

Living in the American “antibacterial” culture, where hand sanitizer is over used For some, knowingly eating foods or drinking beverages filled with microorganisms is dangerously crazy. However, nothing could be further from the truth! The key to understanding this is to learn a little bit about your GI Tract.

Kefir Grains For Your MicroBiome

Did you know that 75% of your immune system is housed in your digestive system?  Essentially, trillions upon trillions of “good” bacteria and fungus kill the “bad” microorganisms, which keeps you alive and well. To give you a good picture, we have more bacteria than living cells.

So what happens when you take antibiotics or regularly use antibacterial lotions and soaps?

You literally kill the good bacteria and the bad ones take over. This, in turn, disturbs the symbiosis (balance) of your microbiome which will lead to digestive issues and immune reactions.

Studies have linked everything from autism to most chronic diseases to leaky gut syndrome to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Bottom line is that if you can’t absorb the nutrients in your food because you don’t have the proper bacteria balance in your gut, your body will never run on all cylinders because it lacks the fuel. Gut bacteria dictates our health. In fact, Hippocrates said death starts in the Gut.

Kefir Health Benefits Proven By Medical Studies

First described by tribes in Russia, “kefir grains” are actually not grains at all, but are a delicate balance of yeast and bacteria.

Able to ferment milk in around 24 hours, kefir grains can transform raw milk into a Superfood probiotic drink (kefir), a naturally-carbonated, refreshing beverage that has several key medicinal benefits.

Rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, kefir also provides significant amounts of lactic acid bacteria and beneficial yeast. In fact, the cocktail of beneficial microbiota within kefir makes it one of the most powerful probiotic foods on the planet! Note, contrary to what you might think with the yeast and bacteria feeding candida, Keifer grains actually kill candida.

  1. Fights Cancer – Consumption of fermented foods has been shown to kill several different types of cancerous tumors. A 2012 study conducted at the University of North Carolina showed that orally administered probiotics reduced the establishment and growth of colorectal cancer cells in mice. Growth of secondary tumors was also inhibited following tumor resection.
  2. Supports Detoxification – “Mutagens” are various agents that can literally alter your DNA and can be found everywhere in our environment.

Aflatoxins, for example, are food-born toxins created by mold and can be found in many ground nuts (which is why peanut butter causes allergies and immune reactions), crude vegetable oils (like canola, soybean, and cottonseed), and grains (wheat, soy, and corn).

Being rich in lactic acid bacteria, kefir can literally bind (kill) aflatoxins and other funguses, which helps preserve healthy genetic expression.

  1. Boosts Immunity – Next time you get sick, think twice about taking an antibiotic and drink kefir instead. A study out of University College Cork in Ireland compared Lactobacillus probiotic preparations, and compared them to conventional antibiotics in three animal models that are similar to humans. They discovered that, “In all three animal diseases we observed a positive effect in that the animals were significantly protected against infection.”

In fact, the researchers discovered that probiotics worked as well as or even better than antibiotic therapy in not only eliminating the infectious agent, but in resolving symptoms!

  1. Builds Bone Density– A 2014 study published in the journal of Osteoporosis International found that consuming kefir benefits bone density and can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.  The researchers found kefir works by increasing the absorption of bone building minerals of calcium and magnesium.

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.

  1. Heals IBS and IBD– Because of the high doses of probiotics including the strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium kefir is also an effective natural treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in a Canadian medical journal found that probiotic rich foods, including yogurt and kefir, can help heal IBS and reduce bowel inflammation.
  2. Allergies and Asthma– In a recent study published in the Journal of Immunology, kefir was found to have both positive effects on allergies and asthma. In the study, kefir significantly suppressed inflammatory markers of interleukin-4, T-helper cells and IgE immunoglobulins. The researchers stated that kefir has strong anti-inflammatory properties that could prove useful in the prevention of asthma.
  3. Improves Lactose Intolerance  – It may sound crazy, but yes fermented milk products like kefir can help people with milk-related lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar in milk not to be confused with casein which is the protein in milk. Think of it this way; fermentationchanges the chemical make-up of foodsand, as in the case of fermented milk, kefir is relatively low in lactose.

Additionally, if you struggle with lactose problems, you may want to try adding kefir to your diet in small amounts because a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that, “Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose malabsorption.” If you are super sensitive you might try  goat’s milk kefir a small percent of people may still have issues with dairy. Coconut is also used as a dairy free alternative.

If you do want to try keifer with cow dairy try it first by placing a small drop of the kefir on the inside of your arm or wrist and let it dry. Then wait 24 hours and see if you have any inflammation. If you do, then steer clear of it as it shows a true allergy. But if not, then try adding just a drop or two to a beverage or some food and see if you have any reaction. You can then increase the amount until you are certain that you are not reacting to it. Again, if you want to play it safe, try dairy free alternatives such as coconut (as long as that is not an allergen for you) or goat milk. Coconut water is also used for making Keifer so there are lots of options to get those good probiotics in your system.

As with any food or diet, make sure to listen to your body and work with a nutritionist who can guide you.

NOTE: Consider getting tested for food intolerance and/or allergies to be safe.

Types of Kefir

As mentioned, there are types of kefir that are still rich in probiotics and have plenty of healthy kefir benefits, but that 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 vary, the process for making kefir is still the same and the health benefits are thought to be present in both types. Check out Keifer recipes. 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 fermentation.

Here is more information about how the different types of kefirs are made and how their tastes and uses differ:

Milk Kefir (made with goat, cow, or sheep’s milk)

Milk kefir is the kind that is normally 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 are getting the most benefits and avoiding 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 creating the beneficial bacteria.

Once fermented, milk kefir has a tart taste that is somewhat similar to the taste of Greek yogurt. How strong the taste is depends on how long the kefir fermented; longer fermentation 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 will be flavored with additions like fruit or cane sugar, but you can sweeten and flavor your kefir yourself at home by adding pure honey (preferably raw), 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.

Coconut Kefir

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 you can purchase in the store in a can) with water, and then straining the pulp out so only a milky liquid is left.

Coconut water is the clear liquid that is 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, using a traditional starter culture that contains live active yeast and bacteria.

Coconut kefir becomes more tart and also carbonated once fermented, and tends to be sweeter and less strongly flavored than milk kefir is.

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

Water kefir tends to have a more subtle taste and a lighter texture than milk kefir does. Water Kefir is 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 will want to use water kefir differently than you would 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 is 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 is 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 is 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.

If possible switch things around. I go between coconut and goat keifer to get a variety of benefits while staying away from cow dairy.

 

Sources: Dr. Axe, Fermented Foods for Health Book