Nikki Yelton is an Integrative & Functional Medicine Registered Dietitian Nutritionist serving clients worldwide. She offers a personalized functional medicine approach to helping women with GI distress and autoimmune conditions to get to the root cause of the symptoms holding them back so that they can start living the extraordinary life they dream of with more energy, purpose, and joy!
There are so many health benefits from kefir to support a healthy gut and body. You can even easily make it at home using my favorite kefir recipe!
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You might think of kefir as a healthy buzzword, but this health drink has rightly earned its place in the health and wellness community. Due to the claimed health benefits of kefir which include reduction of lactose intolerance symptoms, stimulation of the immune system, lowering cholesterol, and antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties, research on kefir has increased in the past decade. Kefir is rich in nutrients and healthy bacteria to support a healthy gut and body. You can even easily make it at home using my favorite kefir recipe below!
WHAT IS KEFIR?
Kefir has been used for thousands of years in many different cultures, originating in Eastern Europe. Kefir is a unique cultured fermented milk drink combining lactic acid and alcoholic fermentation of lactose. It can be made from any milk and is produced by microbial activity of kefir grains which contains a specific balance of bacteria and yeast.
Think of kefir being like drinkable yogurt, but better! It’s naturally tart and tangy in flavor and creamy in texture. Through the fermentation process, beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and yeast in the milk grow and increase. This is why kefir is such a gut-healthy food!
Need to stay off grains? Don’t be deceived by the fact that kefir is made from kefir grains because it is actually grain (and gluten) free! Kefir grains simply refer to the culture of bacteria and enzymes found in milk.
11 HEALTH BENEFITS FROM KEFIR
Due to the fermentation process, when the bacteria and enzymes grow, kefir provides many impressive health benefits. In fact, kefir is known to contain more beneficial bacteria than your average probiotic supplement. A small glass of kefir contains about 1.5 trillion CFUs of probiotics! This is one of the reasons I love suggesting kefir to my clients once they don’t need a probiotic supplement anymore. Getting our nutrients from food first is always the goal!
In fact, some review studies show kefir has been demonstrated to have multiple additional properties to support overall health including antiobesity, anti-hepatic steatosis, antioxidative, antiallergenic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, constipation-alleviating, and antimicrobial properties
These are some of the most impressive health benefits from kefir:
1. Contains More Beneficial Bacteria Than Yogurt
Kefir is known to contain more beneficial bacterial strains that are not found in regular yogurt. These strains include, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, Saccharomyces kefir, and Torula kefir. This wide variety of unique probiotic strains increases the beneficial good bacteria in your gut microbiome that supports dysbiosis (bad bacteria).
2. Supports Sleep
Kefir contains tryptophan, which is most commonly known for causing your “Thanksgiving food coma,” is an amino acid that is found in abundance in kefir. It is a precursor to melatonin, which helps relax the body and promote restful sleep. Tryptophan is also beneficial for the gut since it can bring us into a calm and restful state. For this reason, drinking kefir before bed might help support sleep.
3. Reduces Inflammation
Drinking kefir on a daily basis may help reduce inflammation at the source. The live bacteria in kefir supports the immune system and reduces inflammatory reactions from occurring. This is great news for those with autoimmunity!
4. Rich in B Vitamins
Kefir is rich in multiple B vitamins, including B1, B12, and Biotin. Vitamin B1 is necessary for optimal heart health, brain function, and more. Vitamin B2 supports a healthy thyroid and nervous system. Biotin or vitamin B9 promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails, among other things. Overall, B vitamins support energy and a healthy stress and hormone response in the body.
5. Detoxifies Harmful Bacteria
The beneficial bacteria in kefir has been shown to fight off 8 pathogenic bacteria strains, including Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Enterococcus faecalis, and more. These pathogenic strains are associated with food-borne illnesses. When this “bad” bacteria stays in the gut for a while, it can lead to more imbalances and even autoimmunity.
6. Re-Colonizes Good Bacteria After Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics are known for killing off pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in the gut. And since antibiotics are sometimes necessary, consuming kefir can help encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, preventing the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.
7. Alleviate GI Issues + Supports Gut Health
Kefir, along with other probiotic and fermented foods, have been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS, Crohns and ulcers, like gas, bloating, and indigestion, caused by an H. Pylori infection. H. Pylori is the number one gut infection in the US and if left untreated can lead to stomach ulcers and stomach cancer in some individuals who are advanced in age.
8. Improves Bone Health
Kefir is agreat natural source of calcium and vitamin K2– both of which promote calcium absorption in the bone, instead of vessels and arteries. This can help prevent osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, and other heart/bone-related diseases. The key is to make sure you are choosing high quality kefir. More on that soon!
9. May Protect Against Cancer
Several studies have shown kefir consumption to be correlated with reduced tumor growth. Kefir contains compounds that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. These compounds include kefiran, which is a type of carbohydrate found in kefir grains, and a variety of probiotics. Studies have shown that regular consumption of kefir may help to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, and stomach cancer. This makes drinking kefir a preventative measure or as a part of cancer treatment.
10. Safe for Those Who are Lactose Intolerant
Despite being made primarily from cow’s milk, kefir is typically safe for those who are lactose intolerant. This is due to the fermentation process that reduces lactose content and increases the production of lactase. Together, these actions make kefir much easier to digest.
11. Clean protein source
1 serving of kefir provides 8 grams of complete protein. Unlike many health foods, kefir can be easily made at home with cow’s milk or coconut milk. The most impressive benefit of homemade kefir is that it is free from preservatives and additives. Also, store-bought kefir typically contains about 10 probiotic strains, while homemade kefir can contain closer to 40-60 probiotic strains!
HOW TO CHOOSE QUALITY KEFIR
As with most foods and supplements, quality always matters. When looking for store-bought kefir, always opt for grass-fed, organic kefir. This ensures it was produced without antibiotics and contains the highest amounts of nutrients. This helps decrease our toxic load, instead of creating more toxicity within the body. My favorite store-bought kefir that is organic, grass-fed, and packed with nutrients is Nancy’s Organic Kefir. I also love and recommend the plain Maple Hill Creamery Kefir made from grassfed cows and clean ingredients.
When possible though, I always suggest opting for raw kefir, which contains the highest amounts of nutrients, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. Raw milk actually contains bioactive components that kill any pathogens in the milk itself, prevents pathogen absorption across your gut wall, and strengthens your immune system. The benefits far outweigh any risks (which are very low when choosing a reputable farm). To find a quality farm near you with different raw kefir options, try adding your zip code to Farm Match in the “Find Food” category. This is personally how I found my farm for raw dairy, produce, eggs, and meats.
Another helpful resource for raw milk near you, is to search through Weston A. Price Foundation for a local farm that sells raw kefir straight from their local grass-fed and pasture raised cows. Realmilk.com is a great resource for quality dairy!
For those who have a true dairy (cow’s milk) allergy, you can still reap the benefits of kefir by making or finding dairy-free kefir made with coconut milk. Unfortunately, dairy-free kefir is lower in protein, but it still offers similar probiotic benefits. My favorite store-bought dairy-free kefir is Coyo Natural Kefir. I also love and recommend Redwood Hill Farms Plain Goat Milk Yogurt which is goat milk based and very easy on the digestive tract.
HOMEMADE KEFIR RECIPE
Kefir is a powerhouse of nutrients, bacteria, and enzymes that promote a healthy gut and overall body. By drinking it on a regular basis, you can reap these amazing health benefits! Making your own kefir might sound intimidating, but it is really easier than it sounds. Follow my basic homemade kefir recipe to get you started:
What you need:
Milk of choice
Put a teaspoon of kefir grains in a pint-sized mason jar and fill with your milk of choice.
Cover with a coffee filter and rubber band. Let sit at room temp for 24 hours.
Once you see air bubbles and pockets in the milk, it’s ready to be strained.
Stir the kefir and grains together. Then, strain into a clean jar and refrigerate.
You can reuse the strained grains to start another batch of kefir!
To enjoy kefir on a regular basis, you can drink ½ cup on it’s own, like drinkable yogurt every day. While it is tart and tangy in flavor, some prefer to add seasonal fruit, honey, flaxseeds, or chia seeds for additional flavor and nutrients. You can also add it to your favorite smoothie (my personal favorite way to enjoy it), as a base for salad dressing, sauces, etc.
While my homemade kefir recipe is a great foundation, this is a simple way to utilize kefir into a recipe and jazz it up a bit.
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Kefir is rich in nutrients, including enzymes and bacteria, to support a balanced gut microbiome and strong immune system. While packed with protein, it also makes a great snack or addition to many recipes. If you are looking to improve your gut health and health overall, kefir can be a great addition to your diet!
Have you tried kefir or made it at home before? Let me know in the comments!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
a note from nikki:
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.
are you ready?
Ready to resolve your GI distress, reverse autoimmunity, and live your extraordinary life?