So really what exactly is kefir?
Classic kefir is a cultured milk drink that contains dozens of beneficial microbes for your gut. It’s a sort of fizzy yoghurt drink that was accidentally invented by Turkish shepherds carrying milk around in leather pouches. A rough translation of kefir is “joyful milk/froth”.
The ferment (like a yoghurt or sourdough starter) is called kefir grains, but they aren’t a grain like wheat and rice. They’re gooey florets of bacteria and yeasts that then turn your milk healthily sour.
To make kefir, you add the grains to milk and then leave it for a couple of days, shaking regularly. You can use cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, coconut milk, or even water.
The bacteria and yeast feed on the natural sugars in milk. So if you want to use water, you need to add something like raw cane sugar or coconut sugar.
If you’re worried about the sugar content, then a simple taste test will assure you that most of the sugars have been eaten up by the microbes. It’s sour, like yoghurt, so people often add fruit for flavour.
Why is kefir so good for you?
Kefir contains a greater variety of beneficial bacteria than yoghurt – plus also beneficial yeasts, which may be particularly helpful for combatting candida overgrowth.
Cultured food and drinks such as kefir have been consumed worldwide for as far as records can tell. They play a key role in the strength of your immune system, your digestive health, how clear your skin is, and even your mood.
Immune system bugs
The colonies of microbes in your gut are usually your first line of defense against harmful substances you may have eaten. This includes pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli.
If your gut microbes meet something unusual, they alert your white blood cells for further assessment.
In addition, there is increasing research on the link between inflammation in your gut and chronic health problems in general. If your gut is inflamed, it seems more likely that your joints, lungs or even brain may be inflamed. Inflammation underpins heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Certain microbes even produce substances that control your fat cells, and can help prevent obesity that way too. Kefir has been shown to increase levels of these kinds of microbes.
The gut microbes in cultured food and drinks like kefir seem to be particularly helpful for IBS symptoms, diarrhea and constipation.
There are specific microbes in kefir that break down the lactose in milk. There are even reports of people with lactose intolerance being able to consume milk products again after regularly adding kefir to their diet.
How do I use it?
Much the same way as yoghurt. You can drink it, in smoothies and lassis etc. Add to dressings, use in dips, bake with it, soak your breakfast oats in it – there’s endless uses really – just have a google.
Kefir for a clear complexion
Your skin is often a reflection of your gut health, so vibrant intestines will equate to clear and glowing skin. Acne is a bacterial issue, so kefir can be helpful both as a drink and used topically. In fact, kefir has been shown to help cuts and burns heal faster too.
Research in recent years has shown how microbes in your gut produce chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that then impact your mood and behaviour. This has opened up whole new lines of therapeutic treatment for depression, anxiety and addictive behaviour, for example.
Can I drink too much?
Yes, you can. Beneficial microbes destroy harmful microbes – so the more you consume, the more harmful microbes will be killed. If you have a lot of pathogenic (“bad”) microbes, then you may turn your gut into a battleground of toxic waste, causing even more inflammation than before. So build up slowly, and limit yourself to small amounts daily.
Sussex-based Kirsten Chick has been talking nutrition for over a decade in workshops, on courses and retreats, and to the hundreds of people who come for one-to-one consultations. And then there are those she meets socially who open with, “Oh, you’re a nutritionist? Can I just ask what you think about…?” So here’s your chance to ask… email firstname.lastname@example.org with ASK KIRSTEN in the subject line and she’ll pick someone each month to respond to.