The Health Benefits of Kefir Feature Image

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Introduction

Have you heard of kefir – a fermented milk drink which is widely praised for its impressive health-boosting qualities?

Have you tried it – or perhaps you’ve even become a regular kefir drinker?

Well, kefir is without a doubt all the rage right now! But the truth is, it isn’t news.

Kefir is actually an ancient drink which has been consumed for centuries in various parts of Europe and Asia – and now it is becoming more popular in the United States, especially among those interested in natural health.

And if you knew about the benefits kefir has for our health, you wouldn’t be at all surprised. Kefir has an array of health-boosting qualities which make it one of the healthiest dairy products out there (some even claim it is healthier than yogurt!).

So, what exactly is kefir, how is it made, and what are the evidence-based benefits of kefir? Read on to find out everything you need to know about this fermented milk product.

What Is Kefir?

For those of you who don’t know, kefir is actually a combination of bacteria and yeast fermentations (whereas yogurt is the fermentation of milk bacteria).

The combination of yeast and bacteria is referred to as “kefir grain,” and when stored in a warm area, it “cultures” and produces the kefir beverage.

Traditionally, kefir is made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk by adding kefir grains to it. Unlike cereal grains, these grain-like colonies of lactic acid bacteria and yeast actually look more like cauliflower!

The microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk over approximately 24 hours, turning it into kefir. The grains are then removed – and used again for the same process [1].

The lactic acid bacteria in the grains turn the milk’s lactose into lactic acid, making kefir taste sour (like yogurt) but without the thick consistency.

So, now that you know how kefir is made, what health benefits is it known for?

1. Kefir Is Loaded with Vitamins and Nutrients

This ancient drink which originated in parts of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia is highly nutritious. 100 grams of kefir contain:

  • 43 calories [2];
  • 77g of carbohydrates;
  • 70g of water;
  • 79g of protein;
  • 130mg of calcium (approximately 10% of the RDI) [3];
  • 12mg of magnesium (approximately 3% of the RDI);
  • 290mg of Vitamin B12 (approximately 12% of the RDI) [4];

In addition to its very impressive nutritional profile, kefir has many bioactive compounds such as organic acids and peptides, to which many of its health benefits can be attributed to [5].

For those who can’t or choose not to consume dairy, a dairy-free version of kefir is available. It can be made from coconut milk or water or rice milk. However, the nutritional profile will not be the same as dairy-based kefir.

2. Kefir Can Improve Your Bone Health

Kefir may also help protect against osteoporosis – a condition characterized by deterioration of bone tissue, which currently affects approximately 10 million Americans [6], according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. On top of that, 44 million have low bone density, putting them at high risk of developing osteoporosis in the future.

Since kefir is high in calcium, it is a great food product to consume for protecting your bones and slowing the development of osteoporosis [7]. On top of that, kefir isn’t only high in calcium but is also a great source of Vitamin K2, which helps calcium be metabolized – and has shown to significantly reduce the risk of fractures [8].

Some animal studies have shown that kefir helps increase calcium absorption in bone cells, improving bone density which may prevent fractures. A study carried out with rats showed that kefir has protective effects when it comes to bone health because it increased calcium uptake in the body [9].

3. Kefir is a Powerful Probiotic

Probiotics are healthy living microorganisms – also known as healthy gut bacteria –  which we consume through fermented foods or supplements.

Probiotics support our health in many ways – and can be particularly beneficial for achieving weight loss. Their health-boosting qualities include aiding digestion, supporting weight management, boosting the immune function, and even improving mental health [10, 11].

While yogurt is the most well-known probiotic food, kefir actually is a more powerful source of these beneficial microorganisms! Containing up to 61 strains of yeasts and bacteria, kefir is a very diverse and rich probiotic food [12].

Healthy gut bacteria is particularly important in determining body weight. Evidence shows that gut bacteria play an important role in the developing of obesity, insulin resistance, and obesity-associated inflammation [13]. In fact, many studies have shown that normal-weight people have different gut bacteria than those who are overweight or obese [14].

While the evidence is still limited, since probiotics help balance healthy gut bacteria, some studies suggest that they may support weight loss [15].

Therefore people who are aiming to shed some pounds may want to consider upping their probiotic product intake to help them achieve the desired result.

4. Kefir Helps With Various Digestive Issues

As mentioned above, kefir is a potent probiotic. Thanks to these healthy microorganisms it contains, kefir may help balance the friendly bacteria in the gut.

This makes kefir a highly effective treatment of many forms of diarrhea (including infectious, traveler’s diarrhea, as well as diarrhea caused by antibiotics) [16, 17].

There’s plenty of scientific evidence suggesting that kefir may also help eliminate other digestive problems [18]. For example, kefir may help treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers caused by H. pylori infection – and many other issues that often affect the digestive tract [19, 20].

Therefore, if you’re experiencing any problems with digestion, adding kefir into your diet may be beneficial for your health.

5. It Contains Powerful Antibacterial Properties

Kefir may also help your body fight various infections because of unique probiotic it contains, called Lactobacillus kefiri.

Lactobacillus kefiri is a probiotic that’s only found in kefir. Studies have shown that it helps inhibit the growth of various harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, as well as Helicobacter pylori [21].

Another beneficial antibacterial compound present in kefir is kefiran. A study carried out in 2005 showed that kefiran had antimicrobial effects against all organisms when applied topically [22].

6. Kefir May Protect The Body From Cancer

Did you know that consuming kefir may also protect your body against cancer, the second leading cause of death in the world [23]?

Research has linked probiotic products to reduced tumor growth because they appear to stimulate the immune system. Therefore, it could be suggested that kefir may also help your body fight cancer [24].

Several laboratory studies have supported this claim [25]. One particular study showed that kefir extract reduced breast cancer cells by 56% compared to only 14% for those who were given yogurt extract [26].

However, more studies involving human participants are needed before a link between cancer prevention, and kefir consumption can be established.

7. It May Provide Relief For Those Suffering From Allergies and Asthma

Allergy is caused by the body’s inflammatory responses to certain substances or foods.

Those with an over-sensitive immune system are also more prone to allergies, which may also sometimes lead to asthma signs and symptoms.

Various animal studies have found that kefiran, a major component of kefir, helps reduce inflammatory responses related to asthma and allergies [27, 28].

However, since most of the studies were conducted with animals, more human studies are needed to establish this claim.

Conclusion

As you can see, kefir has many health benefits and is justly considered to be one of the healthiest dairy drinks out there. Not only can it help alleviate digestive issues and provide relief to those suffering from allergies, but it may even protect your body against cancer!

The wide range of health benefits of this nutritious drink include providing relief to those suffering from allergies and asthma, and even protecting your body from certain types of cancers!

Because kefir is a potent probiotic, it could also be a great food product to add to your diet if you are aiming to achieve a healthy weight. Probiotics have multiple health benefits, such as improving your digestive health, and supporting weight management, to name a few. Some studies have shown that bacteria like the Lactobacillus family (found in kefir) may promote weight loss by helping you take in fewer calories from the foods in your diet [29].

Kefir is readily available to buy from many places – from specialist health foods stores to your local grocery store. It is safe for most people to consume – and, if consumed daily, could help create and maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut.

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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.