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What is Kefir?

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while now, but I've been putting it off. This week I got into a discussion with several in the IBD community about probiotics. Many of us have tried so many different forms of probiotics, VSL#3, yogurt, acidophilus, etc., etc. There are several, however, who have never tried an ancient drink called kefir.

What is Kefir?
Kefir (commonly pronounced KEY-FUR) is a Turkish word that literally means “good feeling.” It originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe. Nomadic shepherds found that their wineskins, carrying milk, would often ferment and turn into a tart, creamy drink. This was caused by what we call kefir grains. These grains, which aren’t actually grains at all, are made up of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a cluster of proteins, lipids and sugars. These bundles of bacteria resemble tiny popcorn kernels or cauliflower. Kefir grains (which range in color from white to yellow) contain a substance known as kefiran, which is a polysaccharide that is rope-like in appearance. 

Nutritional Value of Kefir
There are also many nutritional benefits in kefir. Many nutrients and minerals can be found in kefir including, but not limited to calcium, iron, zinc, copper, B12, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. You can also find several amino acids, like cysteine, tyrosine, lysine, valine, etc. 

The Probiotic Component of Kefir
A wide variety of probiotics can be found in kefir milk. These include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgarcus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc species. The concentrations of these beneficial bacteria may be upwards of 1 billion. 

The Mystery of Kefir
How kefir grains formulate is still a mystery and despite endless research and many attempts to produce kefir grains from pure or mixed cultures, no successful results have been recorded. 

What does kefir taste like?
It tastes almost just like plain yogurt, only with a more yeasty flavor. It is also a lot more tart than yogurt. One of my friends once said of kefir, "It's not for the faint of heart!" And she was right. I myself am not a big fan of yogurt at all so getting used to drinking kefir was a bit difficult. It is definitely an acquired taste. In time, however, I've grown to love it. Even crave it.

Does it help digestion?
This is a difficult question for me myself to answer. Mostly because I have Ulcerative Colitis and a j-pouch. This means that my BM's are far from normal. I do believe, however, that it helps with gas. My husband (who suffers from IBS) believes he sees a real improvement when he drinks it, too, and often says he can definitely tell when he's skipped a dose!

How to Drink Kefir
There are many ways you can drink it. Usually I pour some into a shot glass and drink it that way. But you can also add flavors and sweeteners to it. I've mixed it in my smoothies and even made ice cream with it. You can also use it as a replacement for buttermilk in recipes. But keep in mind, cooking it will destroy the live cultures. It will not, however, destroy the nutrient content.

When you first begin drinking kefir raw, you want to start one tablespoon at a time and gradually work your way up to more. Too much at once when your body is not accustomed to it and it may cause you to experience diarrhea. I personally drink 3-4 tablespoons a day and am satisfied with that. I also prefer to drink it early in the morning before I eat anything. 

Kefir vs Buttermilk and Yogurt
Kefir has more benefits than both yogurt or buttermilk. Kefir has more live active cultures than either yogurt or buttermilk. Yogurt has an approximate culture strain content of 7 and up to about 100 million cultures. Buttermilk has one of two different strains. Kefir on the other hand has approximately 27 different strains and in some instances can have even more. Kefir also have billions upon billions of live cultures.

Lactose Intolerant
For those lactose intolerant, take heart! Kefir has been shown to improve digestion of lactose (view the study here). Still wary? Kefir can be made with nut milks and soy milk. There is also a kefir grain specifically for water.

How Can I Start Making My Own Kefir?
If you are interested in making your own, you'll need to acquire some starter grains. You can purchase them by emailing me ( I only charge $6 for starter kefir grains, instructions and shipping. On top of that, you can contact me anytime on Twitter, Facebook or via email if you have any questions. I also offer a Ninja Kefir Kit that includes everything you need to start making kefir (email me for the price). This kit includes a wooden spoon, plastic mesh strainer, glass measuring cup, fermenting jar, cloth cover with rubber band, kefir grains and basic instructions. ALSO, if you are interested in learning more about kefir, I am hoping to do a Google Hangout about the basics of making kefir. If you think you might be interested. Please email me and let me know.

How do I care for my kefir grains?
I've got a section on this blog for that. Please click here for information.

Dr. Axe's Kefir Benefits

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