Kick bad health in the gut with Kefir!

What is kefir & why is it important?

So what exactly is this magical drink? Watch me explain what it is, how to make it at home, and learn how to make my favorite breakfast smoothie here.

Kefir is a yogurt-like, fermented drink, traditionally made using cow’s milk or goat’s milk. It originated in the north Caucasus Mountains.  The word “kefir” is derived from the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good” after eating.  

Kefir is made by adding kefir “grains” to milk.  Kefir grains aren’t actually grains, but small, gelatinous particles formed from milk cultures containing bacteria and yeast, mixed with milk proteins and complex sugars.

Over a period of 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir.  The grains are then removed from the liquid using a strainer, and can be used again.

So basically, kefir is the drink, but kefir grains are the “starter kit” that you use to produce the drink.

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Kefir tastes sour like yogurt, but has a thinner consistency.

A 175 ml (6 oz) serving of milk kefir contains (1,2):

  • 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.

This is coming with about 100 calories, 7-8 grams of carbs and 3-6 grams of fat, depending on the type of milk that is used.

Kefir is a probiotic & important to digestive health

The result of fermented kefir is a healthy beverage full of bioactive compounds, organic acids, and vitamins. Kefir is considered a probiotic which are helpful for digestion(diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping, and restoring gut flora, especially after antibiotic use).  PAUSE HERE. I suggest reading more information on gut health here.

Most people think of bacteria within the body as a cause of getting sick or developing certain diseases, but did you know that at all times there are actually billions of beneficial bacteria present within all of us? In fact, in 1 human gut there over 35,000 bacterial species (3,4).

Health benefits

Kefir grains:

  • More powerful probiotic than yogurt(Kefir grains contain about 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts that colonize the gut.
  • Promotes growth of good gut bacteria
  • Tolerated by those with lactose intolerance
    • The lactic acid bacteria turn most of the lactose into lactic acid
  • Improve bone health and lower the risk of osteoporosis
  • Kefiran, a sugar byproduct of kefir, may reduce allergic inflammation by suppressing mast cell degranulation and cytokine production
  • Supports detoxification
  • Help in treating colitis by regulating the inflammatory response of the intestinal cells
  • May be protective against cancerA study showed kefir inhibited tumor growth and induced the apoptotic form of tumor cell lysis(5)
    • Still needs more research done in this area

Additionally, kefir contains a wide variety of bioactive compounds, including organic acids and peptides that contribute to its health benefits (6). Kefir is especially important for maintaining a healthy digestive system.

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Probiotics are a great way to improve your digestive health. 

Probiotics:

  • Increase friendly bacteria in the gut
    • Restore proper ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes
  • Aids Digestive System
    • Constipation/Diarrhea
    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • Ulcers
  • Prevents growth of harmful bacteria & pathogens

Making kefir at home

Thanks to its numerous health benefits, fermenting and drinking kefir has gained popularity in the holistic world. The kefir drinks sold in health stores throughout the country, however, are often not fermented long enough. Thus, commercial kefir doesn’t contain as many probiotic microbes as it could. Luckily, the process of creating this nutritious drink at home is extremely simple and requires minimal supplies, time, and effort.

Preparation

The first step in fermenting your own kefir is obtaining kefir grains, as you cannot prepare them on your own. These grains are not difficult to obtain and are available for purchase online such as Amazon, KSL, Ebay, or Craigslist. You can also find kefir grains at your local health food store.

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Once you have obtained the grains, you need a container in which to ferment your kefir. A glass container such as a canning jar is the best option. I found this class container at the nearest Dollar Tree and bought it.  I wish that I would have bought 2 of them because it has a plastic lid. Since I didn’t, I use this container with the plastic lid to store my kefir grains while it ferments, and I use a mason jar to store my already fermented kefir.  Mason jars are durable, but if you use one make sure to place plastic wrap in between the lid and and glass so the metallic ions of the lid won’t come in contact with the grains that are naturally acidic. A ceramic or porcelain jar will also suffice.

The next steps are incredibly simple: add 1/2-1 cup of your choice of milk to the jar, add your kefir grains, and cover the jar with preferred lid.  Most commonly used are coffee filters, burlap, cheesecloth, or other light clothes that are secured with a rubber band. Personally, I place my plastic lid back on the top of the container and twist it so it won’t fall off, but it’s securely tight.

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Once you have covered the jar place it in a warm spot and allow the mixture to ferment for about 24 hours, or until it is slightly thickened.  If you don’t want the kefir to ferment as quickly, place it in a cooler spot to slow the process.  I store mine in the fridge until I need more, or it has fermented enough; usually about a month in the fridge and it has fermented on it’s own. If it hasn’t quite gotten thick enough i’ll simply move it onto the counter for a day or two until it’s to my liking.

Straining the kefir grains

When the kefir has finished fermenting, the next step is to separate the kefir from the kefir grains, which you want to remove and save for future use. As with a sourdough starter, the grains can be reused. The best way to remove the grains is by pouring the fermented milk through a strainer.

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Avoid using a metal strainer. The best option, undoubtedly, is a fine mesh plastic or nylon strainer.  While a plastic strainer is the preferred method, rubber (or even wooden) strainers are suitable for straining your grains. Just be sure to wash the strainer well between uses.  You can buy strainers online made specifically for straining kefir. However, nearly any standard strainer will be sufficient.  I bought this nylon one here because it was cheap and small.

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Storage

Once you have finished straining your grains, you can save them for future use. Simply repeat the process above that you do when you first receive your kefir grains. Add them to your container and add 1/2-1 cup of fresh milk (depends on how much grains you have) and store this combination in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The grains can be continually reused.

Pour the strained kefir into your container assigned just for the kefir, like stated before, I use a canning jar with plastic wrap in between the lid and container. Now the kefir is ready to drink and use.  You can keep the kefir in the fridge for use for about 2-3 weeks.  After that I would recommend pouring it out and using fresh kefir.  Hopefully though you are using it enough that throwing it away will never happen. 🙂

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Kefir Recipes

Kefir can be drank plain, but the taste is quite sour so I prefer to add it into my recipe.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Smoothies
  • Ice cream
  • Parfaits
  • Salad Dressing
  • To tenderize meat
  • Cold soups
  • Substitute for buttermilk or yogurt

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My Favorite Breakfast Kefir Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup mixed berries
  • 1/4 ripe avocado flesh
  • 1/4 cup kefir
  • 1/4 cup raw spinach pressed tight into measuring spoon (I freeze mine & throw it in my smoothie)
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla protein powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp coconut sugar,  1 tsp stevia/truvia, 1 Medjool date, or 1/2-1 banana*(see below). Adjust to desired sweetness.

Optional Add-ins

  • Frozen Veggies (steamed then frozen cauliflower, spiralized frozen zucchini)
  • Frozen Banana (Although I’d only add 1/4-1/2 banana, *could add more if were substituting for the sweetener)
  • Almond Milk (if needed for desired consistency)

Optional toppings:

  • 1 Tbsp hemp seed hearts
  • 1/2- 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 1-2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 2 Tbsp granola (found here)
  • 1/3 protein bar (broken up)
  • Chopped nuts and/or seeds
  • Fresh fruit (ex sliced bananas, raspberries, blueberries, etc)
  • Coconut flakes
  • 1/4 tsp nutritional yeast

Instructions:

  1. Place mixed berries, avocado, and kefir in blender. Mix together until broken up.
  2. Add spinach, protein powder, flaxseed meal, chia seeds, and choice of sweetener.  Mix together.  If the consistency is too thick for your liking then add almond milk to the smoothie.
  3. Pour into a cup; add desired toppings. Enjoy!

Comment below if you end up using kefir! I’d love to hear! 🙂

Resources:

  1. Purchiaroni F, Tortora A, et al. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2013;17(3):323-333. http://www.europeanreview.org/article/1333.
  2. Cryan J, Dinan T. Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of gut microbiota on brain and behavior. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience. 2012;13:701-712. http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/nrn3346?r3_referer=nature.
  3. Marchesi, Julian R., David H. Adams, Francesca Fava, Gerben D A Hermes, Gideon M. Hirschfield, Georgina Hold, Mohammed Nabil Quraishi, James Kinross, Hauke Smidt, Kieran M. Tuohy, Linda V. Thomas, Erwin G. Zoetendal, and Ailsa Hart. “The Gut Microbiota and Host Health: A New Clinical Frontier.” Gut. BMJ Publishing Group, Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  4. Jandhyala, Sai Manasa. “Role of the Normal Gut Microbiota.” World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG. Baishideng Publishing Group Inc, 07 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  5. Cheng H., Chen Y., Hong W., et al. Effects of kefir supernatant and lactic acid bacteria isolated from kefir grain on cytokine production by macrophage. International Dairy Journal. 2009;14:(4)244-251. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958694608001969
  6. Musso G, Gambino R, et al. Obesity, Diabetes, Gut Microbiota. American Diabetes Association: Diabetes Care. 2016; 39(11): http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/10/2277.
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