A Guide to Kefir: A Yogurt Alternative That’s 10 Times Healthier

Kefir milk and kefir grains in glass jars

Kefir is quickly becoming the go-to dairy superfood among foodies and health enthusiasts everywhere | iStock.com/juanmoro

If you stay current when it comes to fitness and nutrition news, you might’ve heard talk of kefir — or maybe you’ve even already tried it. Raising important discussions about probiotics, this superfood is a much healthier alternative to yogurt that’s quickly gaining popularity among foodies and healthy eating enthusiasts everywhere.

You might ask, “what makes kefir so great, though?” Well, you’ve come to the right place for that answer. We’re about to explain just what kefir is, why it’s considered to be a superfood, and how switching your daily yogurt cup for a kefir one will benefit you in the long run. Besides, we think yogurt makes for better skin and hair products than food products anyway.

What is kefir?

Milk kefir grains on a wooden spoon

Milk kefir grains on a wooden spoon | iStock.com/dulezidar

Kefir is a fermented milk product whose origins can be traced back to the Caucasus Mountains. By combining traditional milk (mostly cow and goat milk) with kefir grains, it creates a fermented, semi-solid beverage that’s extremely healthy. It’s been described as “drinkable yogurt” or “milk soda” because of the carbonation effects from the fermentation. As for taste, it’s a lot more tart than conventional milk.

What are kefir grains?

Kefir grains on a wooden spoon

Kefir grains are a mixture of yeast and bacteria | iStock.com/dulezidar

The real question isn’t “what is kefir,” but “what are kefir grains?”

For starters, they’re not grains at all — that’s just a name. Kefir grains are really just a mixture of yeast and bacteria that are used to culture the milk. Combined, they form a matrix of microbiota that seems grain-like, with an appearance similar to cauliflower. And when they’re mixed with milk, the kefir grains transform it into one of the healthiest probiotic foods we know of — at least in terms of nutrients per calorie and carbohydrate load.

Why is kefir so healthy?

Healthy breakfast of muesli with fruit, raw oats and yogurt

Among its numerous benefits, kefir promotes bone health and it is anti-bacterial | iStock.com/elena_hramowa

There are many health benefits to consuming kefir, so it’s probably best if we just list them for you.

  • Kefir is vitamin-rich: According to a study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, kefir provides a lion’s share of vitamin B-12, calcium, thiamin, folate, phosphorus, vitamin K-2, magnesium, and biotin, which actually helps the body process other B complex vitamins.
  • Kefir is anti-bacterial: The probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri, found exclusively in kefir, has been proven to fight Salmonella, E. coli, and other harmful bacteria.
  • Kefir is nearly lactose-free: The kefir grains actually break down most of milk’s lactose, turning it into lactic acid instead. The end result is a drink with all the beneficial properties of dairy that lactose-intolerant individuals can digest better than milk.
  • Kefir has immune system and anti-allergy benefits: Another study proves that kefir aids in suppressing allergic inflammation. This is a great advantage for those with asthma.
  • Kefir promotes bone health: Kefir has all the same benefits for your bones as other dairy products, but it also offers an excellent source of vitamin K-2, which helps with calcium metabolism.
  • Kefir works as a digestive aid: Like yogurt, kefir is a proven digestive aid that helps with ailments like diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as several gastrointestinal diseases. However, kefir does come with its fair share of side effects. When you first try it, you may experience constipation or intestinal cramping, for instance. We suggest drinking water or moving around to aid in digestion, bloating, and gas problems.
  • Kefir has anticarcinogenic properties: That’s right. Just when you thought kefir couldn’t do anything else for you, it could also help in preventing cancer! According to NCBI’s PubMed, kefir extract reduced breast cancer cells by 56% compared to 14% with yogurt.

Why is kefir better than yogurt?

Glass of yogurt with crushed flax seeds

Unlike yogurt, kefir delivers 20 to 30 strains of healthy bacteria into the human body | iStock.com/ch__ch

If the previous list of life-saving attributes hasn’t convinced you yet, let’s put kefir and yogurt head-to-head.

Yogurt — like most other probiotic foods currently on the market — is only a half-measure in action. You probably already know that we have healthy bacteria living inside our intestinal tract, which in turn help assimilate our food. What you probably don’t know, though, is that yogurt mostly feeds this bacteria by only introducing one to five strains into the body.

By contrast, natural kefir (made from live kefir grains) introduces between 20 to 30 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast into the body. That’s a much better arsenal for your body’s fight against bad bacteria! For this same reason, it’s recommended that you start light when introducing kefir to your diet. One spoonful a day for two weeks will slowly allow your body to adjust to the new bacteria. After that initial period, you should be able to consume bigger portions of it.

Where can you buy kefir grains?

A bowlful of kefir grains sits on a table

You’ll want to pay attention to quality and consistency when purchasing kefir grains online | iStock.com/vikif

If you’re going to buy kefir grains, do so smartly. Remember, kefir grains are a living community of bacteria and yeast, so you want to treat shopping for them with the same care as you would when shopping for fresh fish or vegetables.

For that reason, it’s best to avoid dehydrated or powdered kefir grains, as they only retain some of the health benefits, whereas “live” kefir has them all. Some online stores offer shipment tracking as well as advice on how-to handle your purchase once it arrives. For instance, if you order a culture online, you’ll want to be sure that someone will be there to pick up the package, as live cultures have some specific handling and storage requirements. For those who prefer to get their kefir grains in-person or locally, there are Facebook groups aimed at helping people find stores in their area.

Of course, if you’re looking for the easy route, you can also buy kefir at your local grocery store.

How to make kefir at home

Water kefir grains

Making kefir grains is a very easy process | iStock.com/portokalis

OK, now that you’ve got your kefir grains, it’s time to actually start enjoying the benefits of this superfood. Making kefir is a relatively easy process, and you can modify your technique to create the texture you want. But first things first, here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients:

  • Strainer
  • Milk
  • Tablespoon
  • Kefir grains
  • Quart size jar with lid and/or plastic wrap
  • Bowl

Directions: First you’ll want to take your quart-size jar, filling it up with fresh milk. It is recommended that you fill it only up to 3/4 of the way. Next mix in two tablespoons of the live kefir grains, and seal the jar with a lid or plastic wrap. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours at room temperature before pouring the contents through a strainer and into a bowl. You can use the contents from the strainer for your next batch.

That’s it! Now you can enjoy your healthier lifestyle.

Additional tips for making kefir

You can make a berry smoothie using kefir instead of milk

You can make a berry smoothie using kefir instead of milk | iStock.com/zefirchik06

Once you get the hang of the process, you can add your own unique variations to the recipe. Below are some additional tips that you might want to consider.

  • You can control how thick the kefir gets by the temperature. If you want a yogurt-like consistency, try placing it someplace colder so it ferments more slowly.
  • You can make 100% lactose-free kefir by using coconut milk.
  • If you get whey and curds in your results, don’t worry. It’s still safe to drink. Next time, try adding more milk or not letting it sit as long.
  • Alternatively, you can even skim the whey to use it as a spread or as an ingredient in a super-healthy dip.
  • Two words: kefir smoothie.

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