In today’s modern world we tend to think we’re pretty smart. We see ourselves as advanced and scientifically savvy on most things that involve medicine and health. While it’s true our modern society knows many things concerning health and healing, it’s also true that the world is sicker that it’s ever been, especially in the United States. Americans are overweight, tired, diseased, and over medicated. Business is booming for Big Pharma and Americans see their doctors almost as often as they see their families and friends. Our food supply is becoming more compromised as GMO, nutrient deficient soils, pesticides, and over processing robs it of most of its nutritional value and our bodies become more diseased in the process. Thankfully some things never change. Kefir, an ancient fermented probiotic drink described in writings over two thousand years ago is still working its healing magic today and is one of the most potent natural super foods you can eat. Kefir (pronounced Kuh-feer) is packed with nutrient dense vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. With over 50 strains of powerful, good for the gut bacteria and several varieties of yeast that work together to clean the intestines and increase the efficiency of your digestive system, you can’t afford to not take advantage of milk or water kefir if you want to give your fettle a massive boost.
The most beneficial way to enjoy all of the wonderful gifts kefir can bring to your system is by making it yourself. While you can find milk kefir in most grocery stores, authentic kefir is made with what are called kefir grains; small resilient cultures of an almost rubbery consistency that resemble small cauliflower pods. Commercial kefir is produced using regulatory standards that kill most of the good bacteria and probiotic benefit produced by the grains before you can consume it, so producers reintroduce only a fraction of the good bacteria strains found in the original kefir batch. Sugar is typically added to the drink and the production process effectively negates most of its original value.
What’s in kefir?
The nutritional makeup of homemade milk kefir is nothing short of miraculous. It’s loaded with Vitamins B1, B12, and Vitamin K. It’s an excellent source of biotin, a B Vitamin that helps the body assimilate other nutrients including other B Vitamins such as folic acid, B12 and pantothenic acid, (also known as vitamin B5) which is an essential nutrient that your body needs. Homemade milk kefir contains fats and proteins that your body uses for cell growth and typical body functions. It helps your system carry out important metabolic activity such as the processing of carbohydrates and protein synthesis. Kefir also contains high levels of calcium and magnesium for a healthy nervous system, and it contains a healthy dose of phosphorus to assist your body in filtering out waste in the kidneys and energy storage. Some of the beneficial strains of bacteria found in most homemade versions of kefir include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis, and Leuconostoc species. Kefir strains of bacteria, unlike the strains typically found in yogurt are resident and not transitory. That means they tend to take up residency in your gut and stay awhile rather than moving on in a few hours the way yogurt strains do. Because of this the benefits kefir brings to your health are longer lasting. Milk kefir also contains several strains of beneficial yeast that assist in digestion and overall health including Candida humilis, Kazachstania unispora, Kazachstania exigua, Kluyveromyces siamensis, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Saccharomyces martiniae, to name a few.
How can kefir help me?
Kefir is a combination of live bacteria and yeasts that exist in a symbiotic matrix on a surface of a complex polysaccharide culture with a casein core. Simply put, kefir grains are a living organism of yeast and bacteria that work together to impart health to your body. Milk kefir cleans your intestines and coats them with a clean mucus layer that encourages the proper balance of good bacteria in your system. Most people have an imbalance in their gut chemistry that supports the bad bugs that cause harmful cravings and other issues that can hurt the gut lining and possibly cause disease. Kefir works to correct the microbiome of your gut (your gut garden) to lower inflammation and boost your immunity. It also helps the body produce serotonin, which can relieve anxiety and affect your mood for the better!
What if I’m lactose intolerant?
If you have a hard time digesting milk and dairy, you might still be successful with kefir. The bacteria in kefir predigest the lactose that typically gives some people a hard time. In kefir, the lactose in the milk is turned into lactic acid giving it its typically tart taste. Proteins are also metabolized by the bacteria in kefir which can aid in its absorption by the body. The water version of kefir has nearly all the bacteria/yeast nutrient benefits of the milk based version that you can try if you absolutely can’t tolerate milk kefir. You can also use milks other than animal milk to make kefir such as coconut milk, but eventually the kefir grains must have an animal based milk to really thrive.
How does kefir compare to other probiotic foods and supplements?
Homemade milk kefir is among the most potent probiotic foods available and is incredibly good for your health. Combining the nutrient properties of whole, or raw milk with the culturing ability of the kefir grains makes it an extremely powerful choice to support your gut flora and overall health. Homemade kefir is up to seven times more nutrient dense than yogurt, and when made at home you can control what’s in it and avoid the added sugars and other ingredients typically found in store bought versions. Homemade kefir offers other advantages as well such as you being able to flavor it with anything you’d like. Oranges, apples, herbs, cinnamon, vanilla, flavored creamers, and many other types of ingredients are often used to enhance or mellow the tart taste of kefir. Kefir is also light years ahead of any probiotic pill or powder you can buy. It’s estimated that up to 50% of all non-refrigerated probiotics on the market today are useless and contain dead bacteria culture that doesn’t survive the shelf.
What does this all mean?
It means that kefir can potentially help your body achieve greater balance, which can lead to better absorption of nutrients and better attenuation of your immune system for good health. In other words, better fettle! Kefir is all about balance. Because of its ability to improve your gut flora, kefir has been known to help with digestion, constipation and diarrhea, skin issues such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, anxiety, allergies and asthma, yeast infections, high blood pressure, bone health, IBS and Crohn’s disease. (1) Homemade kefir can possibly aid in fighting cancer due to its large anti-carcinogenic role inside the body. In a study conducted at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Canada, results showed that kefir reduced breast cancer cells by 56 percent in animal studies. (2)
So how can I get my hands on kefir?
The best way to take advantage of kefir and all of its wonderful benefits is to make it yourself with actual kefir grains. The grains are best obtained from a friend who’s already making it, but if you don’t know anyone with fresh grains you can purchase them on line. The process of making milk kefir is simple: Place the grains in a clean container, preferably made of glass or some other material that won’t leach into the liquid. Pour cow, goat, or sheep’s milk over the grains, gently stir, and then place them in an area that’s not too hot or too cold. Kefir grains like a temperature range of between sixty-five and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. You can use raw milk if desired, but pasteurized milk is fine as well. I recommend not using UHT or “ultra high temperature” processed milk since that type of milk has been altered to provide none of the health benefits true milk can give you. Seal the container with a loose lid or even a coffee filter and rubber band to keep out any undesirable elements. The key is to let the liquid breath and the carbon dioxide that’s produced during the fermentation process to escape.
After 24 hours or so your kefir should be cultured. It becomes much thicker and you should be able to see the curds on top. Stir the milk and then strain it into a clean container using a non-corrosive strainer (plastic, nylon, or stainless steel) capturing the grains for reuse. You now have good, nutritious kefir to drink! Some people place the fresh kefir in a second container and seal it tight at room temperature for another 4-48 hours before refrigerating it. This is called a “second ferment” and it allows the kefir to develop further producing ultra high levels of vitamins and other fantastic nutrients. It can also develop a nice effervescence due to the added carbon dioxide that’s produced.
There are other ways to make and enjoy kefir such as purchasing a “starter” to ferment your milk, however starters are only good for a few batches and are typically not as potent as kefir made with fresh grains. While the manufactures of kefir starter will tell you it’s better because they control the bacteria and yeast cultures contained in the starter mix, this is mostly just a sales pitch. I know of know cases in history where traditional kefir grains became compromised internally to produce any harmful effects.
Kefir and your health
Homemade kefir is really one of the best ways to get your gut in shape and improve your health. It beats out most all other fermented foods as a probiotic food addition to your diet, and when it comes to competing with the pills, powders, and potions that are on the market today there’s really no comparison. Both milk and water kefir are light years ahead of any commercially produced probiotic supplement, and homemade kefir is better than the store bought versions by a long shot. It turns out that our ancient ancestors had it right when they insisted on the regular consumption of milk or water kefir.