When it comes to kefir benefits, there are more than you can shake a well populated gut microbiome at. Because the drink – typically made from cow, goat or sheep milk, that gets the funky, fermented treatment – is resplendent in potential wins for your health.
But it can be a bit of a, erm, challenging concept. Why? Well, the texture can wind up somewhat lumpy, and the taste is distinctly sour. It's fermented by adding kefir grains, which are colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that look like tiny gel-like beads, similar to those used for sourdough, to milk and leaving for 24 hours, allowing the microorganisms to multiply and ferment the lactose to lactic acid. Bang: you've got DIY kefir.
Though — shocker — is isn’t vegan, it is possible to make from non-dairy milks or drinks, like coconut water, but the benefits proven in the same way. It is however low in lactose (the natural sugar in the milk), as the process of making kefir turns the lactose into lactic acid, so often lactose intolerant people can drink it.
The word is translated from Turkish and roughly means ‘good feelings’, referring to the effect of the drink on the body.
As for the benefits of kefir? This is what registered nutritionist, Jenna Hope has to say.
1. AIDS GUT HEALTH
Kefir boasts strong probiotic properties, containing over 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, which can help with gut health and therefore for many it can help to improve digestion. ‘Now well-known as a superfood, Kefir contains probiotics and fibre, which are both known to contribute toward a healthy gut,’ says Jenna.
2. SOURCE OF B12 VITAMINS
Vitamin B12 helps to keep our nerves and blood cells healthy. Most commonly found in animal and dairy products Jenna says kefir can contain a good source of B12 - especially for the omnivores among us.
‘Many kefir drinks are fortified with nutrients such as vitamin B12 so it can be a great option for those following a vegetarian diet. The fermentation process of kefir may also increase the availability of its nutrients meaning that we may be able to gain even more of the nutrients from kefir than from regular milk’
3. HELPS TO PROMOTE STRONG BONE HEALTH
Consuming calcium is widely known to promote the development of strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It’s a good thing then that traditional Kefir is a highly useful source of calcium. In fact, 1 cup of kefir can contain over half of our recommended daily intake of calcium.
4. SOURCE OF PROTEIN
‘Kefir is a great source of protein and amino acids’ says Jenna, which help our muscles to grow and repair. With one drink containing around 10g of protein it’s not hard to see why some athletes have swapped their coconut water for a post-workout kefir.
5. IT’S LOWER IN LACTOSE
Thanks to its fermentation process, Jenna says kefir by in large has a lower lactose content than other dairy products such as milk. ‘Some people with lactose intolerance therefore may be able to tolerate kefir much better than a glass of milk.’ However, Jenna says this does depend on your degree of intolerance so it’s often a great idea to gain personalised advice with regard to this.
And Some Kefir FAQs...
HOW MUCH KEFIR SHOULD YOU DRINK A DAY?
It’s recommended you drink about one cup of kefir a day, which is around 200-300ml.
IS IT SAFE TO DRINK KEFIR EVERYDAY?
It’s fine to drink it every day, just be conscious not to have more than the recommended amount.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH KEFIR NUTRITION?
One cup of low fat kefir contains 110 calories, 11g protein (22% RDA), 2g fat, 12g carbohydrate, 12g sugar and 390mg calcium (30% RDA)
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF KEFIR?
It’s been linked to bloating, diarrhoea, gas, cramps and constipation, but they vary, depending on brand or if you made your own batch, as levels of probiotic bacteria will differ.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF KEFIR?
Kefir can be problematic if you make it yourself, but also be conscious if you have milk allergies as the base is usually dairy or if you’re diabetic as some of the shop-bought brands can contain high levels of sugar. It’s best to avoid if you have a weakened immune system and, if you’re on medication or have a long-term illness, speak to your doctor before drinking.
WHAT ARE KEFIR BENEFITS FOR SKIN?
Not only good for the bod, kefir has been shown to put good bacteria into the skin, not just the gut, reducing inflammation, which can help conditions like rosacea, eczema and acne.
There are also now kefir skincare products, which promise similar benefits, as well as exfoliation, hydration and dullness.
WHAT ARE KEFIR BENEFITS ON HAIR?
As well as skincare, kefir has been praised for its hair-boosting properties, including stimulating follicles and nourishing the hair, with protein, calcium, yeast and vitamins.
DOES KEFIR HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
As it’s rich in protein, kefir can help you feel fuller which can lead to eating less, though it’s high in fat so too much can have the contrasting effect.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES WATER KEFIR HAVE?
Water kefir is similar, but it’s made with sugared water instead of milk and specialised grains. It has similar benefits, but less calcium and protein due to lack of dairy.
KEFIR VS YOGHURT
Kefir has higher levels of probiotics, fat and protein, and is a thinner consistency, but yoghurt also has its benefits.
From Harper's Bazaar U.K.