Kefir is not new; it’s been around for thousands of years. The oldest known milk kefir was found in a tomb in the Xiohe region of China. That tomb was 4,000 years old, making it a part of the ancient world!1
Kefir has recently grown in popularity in the UK, becoming regularly available in most supermarkets. Due to its increased popularity, we thought it was about time to tell you what kefir is and what it’s good for. Keep reading to find out all about kefir!
What is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented food or drink that usually comes from milk; it has the consistency of yoghurt yet a more sour, tangy flavour.2 It is traditionally made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, but can be made with other animal milk, too.
It is usually made by culturing milk with kefir grains, a mixture of bacteria and yeasts - otherwise known as probiotics.3 The microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and can ferment the sugars in the milk over approximately 24 hours. Those grains can then be removed from the kefir mixture and used again.4
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are either good bacteria or yeast and can be derived from cultured food products. They can be consumed in food form, supplementation or put into skincare.
For a food to be considered probiotic, it must have sufficient living bacteria that survive food processing and benefit human health.5
There are over a hundred trillion good bacteria in the gut microbiome, and probiotics mimic the good bacteria that are already present in the body and help to improve the diversity of the microbiome.
Probiotics add new species of good bacteria into the gut microbiome whilst feeding the existing good bacteria, allowing them to grow stronger and repopulate. The types of bacteria, the ratio of good to bad bacteria and any unwanted pathogens in the gut can significantly impact overall health.6
What are the Gut Health Benefits of Kefir?
Kefir is a highly potent source of probiotics, as kefir grains contain up to 61 strains of bacteria and yeast. This can improve the diversity of the gut microbiome quite significantly.7
Kefir can have a particularly good impact on the immune system, helping to protect the body against infectious pathogens. The probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri is unique to kefir and has been shown to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, including salmonella, Helicobacter pylori, and E. coli, which can be extremely beneficial to overall health.8,9
Kefir can be really useful in reducing diarrhoea and other digestive issues due to its high concentration of probiotics.10 Repopulating the gut microbiome with new strains of live bacteria can limit bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, excess gas, cramping and stomach pain.
Are there any Risks of Consuming Kefir?
Firstly, it’s important to note that adding probiotics to your diet can cause temporary digestive discomfort for anyone not used to consuming them. Nausea, constipation and excess gas are all side effects that can come from consuming probiotics.11 Once your body has adjusted, these symptoms will subside.
For most people, consuming kefir is considered safe and beneficial to their overall health. However, there are a few groups of people who should be careful about how much kefir they consume, if any.
Kefir is high in carbohydrates, so people with diabetes should limit their kefir intake to ensure it does not impact their blood sugar levels negatively. Those on low-carb or keto diets should also limit kefir consumption to fit their dietary requirements, as 240ml contains 13 grams of carbohydrates.12
Kefir can be a great addition to your diet - just go easy at first if you aren’t used to consuming probiotics! Drinking kefir on an empty stomach first thing in the morning is the best way to consume it, as this is when your stomach acid is at its lowest point, making it easier for the probiotics to reach the intestines.
If you don’t want to drink kefir straight, you can use it as a milk replacement in foods you enjoy. Why not try swapping out milk for kefir on your breakfast oats? You can also bake, cook or blend kefir however you like. Get creative and enjoy new food!
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