I’m sure by now you’ve heard some mention of the magical food that is kefir. Kefir comes in two forms - milk kefir and water kefir. Milk kefir and water kefir are unique in their own ways. They look different, they taste different, they have different nutritional values. But one thing they have in common is that they are extremely beneficial to your health. Let’s take a look at milk kefir.
What is Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir is a fermented milk beverage similar to yoghurt. This enzyme-rich food is filled with good micro-organisms that help balance your digestive system and keep your gut healthy while supplying you with complete proteins and essential minerals and vitamins.
Kefir isn’t a new invention though, dating back roughly 2,000 years ago, it’s one of the oldest milk ferments in existence and originates from the Caucasus Mountains between Europe and Russia. In order to make kefir, you need a starter community of kefir grains, which are actually cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria and not actual grains in the conventional sense. These grains are added to milk and left to ferment for around 24 hours or more, after which they’re removed and kept aside as a starter for a new batch of kefir. This simple process produces ready-to-drink kefir, or kefir that can be used in a specific recipe or even kept aside for several days to undergo a secondary fermentation.
What kind of milk you use matters because different milks (and how it is processed) can result in variations in texture and thickness.
Choosing the type of milk for making milk kefir
Cow milk has been a popular choice for many types of culturing, and kefir is no different. Kefir made out of cow’s milk is thick and smooth and much like yoghurt.
Next on the list is the ever more popular goat milk. The structure of goat’s milk differs from that of cow’s and produces kefir that is thinner.
Sheep’s milk is popular for cheesemaking but it can be made into kefir as well. Since it’s sweeter than cow’s milk and contains more protein, kefir from sheep’s milk is also thicker and creamier.
While unconventional, this is growing in popularity and some people have successfully produced kefir using non-dairy milk. Using kefir grains in milk made of seeds and nuts however, produces inconsistent results.
Benefits of Kefir
High concentrate of probiotics compared to yoghurt
It has been a long time coming, but we’re slowly coming to realise just how important gut health is to our overall wellness. Probiotics play a very important part in our gut health. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that help keep your health and digestive system in working order and kefir is a natural source of important vitamins, minerals, proteins and probiotics.
Some people take yoghurt as their source of probiotics, but kefir has yoghurt beat when it comes to probiotics. Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yoghurt (e.g. Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, Streptococcus species, Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir).
Kefir also keeps the colon environment clean and healthy because its active yeast and bacteria provide more nutritive value than that of yoghurt. However, if you’re buying cultured milk drinks in the store, please also be aware that these contain very little actual probiotics and are full of sugar instead. So making your own kefir is best.
A 175 ml (6 oz) serving of milk kefir contains:
- Protein: 6 grams.
- Calcium: 20% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 20% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B12: 14% of the RDA.
- Riboflavin (B2): 19% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 5% of the RDA.
- A decent amount of vitamin D.
*RDA - Recommended Daily Allowance
Other than probiotics, kefir is also highly nutritious and is a good source of calcium, protein and vitamin B. A 175ml serving is only 100 calories, contains 7-8 grams of carbs and 3-6 grams of fat, depending on the type of milk that is used.
Helps with digestive disorders and protects against harmful bacteria
Gut infections are no joke - as anyone who’s ever had an infected gut can testify. Gut infection in children can prove to be deadly. Sadly it is babies, children and the elderly and those with poor immune systems that are at risk for infection. Kefir contains the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri and this probiotic has been found to inhibit the growth of various harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Helicobacter Pylori and E. coli. Kefiran, a type of carbohydrate present in kefir, also has antibacterial properties. In short, kefir not only fights infection it also protects your gut by activating the immune system during an infection.
Optimises your gut health
Gut health is slowly being taken seriously in the medical community as more and more studies are emerging on how an unhealthy gut can affect our health, energy levels and body weight. The ideal balance of beneficial to pathogenic bacteria in your gut is about 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad. In order to maintain this, you need a diet consisting of enough fermented food such as kefir. Kefir will give you a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria, far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement.
Great for those who are lactose intolerant
Kefir is a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant because the lactic acid bacteria in it turns the lactose into lactic acid, making kefir lower in lactose than milk. Kefir also contains enzymes that can help break down the lactose even further.
When to use Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir may also be helpful to those with these conditions:
- Children's colds
- Urinary tract and vaginal health
- Allergies and asthma
- Childhood stomach and respiratory infections
- Sleeping problems
- Mouth health
- Joint stiffness
- Traveller's diarrhea
In short, milk kefir is a superfood that should be a part of your daily diet. Its benefits protect and enhance your health. To read about Water Kefir click here.