What is kefir?

This article was originally published in September 2014

I call kefir “supermilk” because it combines all of the nutritional benefits of milk (calcium, protein, potassium, B-12) with the numerous health benefits of probiotics, resulting in a highly absorbable (and delicious) beverage.

Kefir is similar to yogurt but consumed in a drinkable form instead of with a spoon. It is fermented for a longer time than yogurt and with a greater variety of bacterial species — this results in much greater probiotic support than yogurt provides. Kefir contains two to 10 billion colony-forming units (a unit of measurement for probiotic foods), much more than yogurt, which only contains 50 million CFUs.

Most brands of kefir will list the individual strains of “good” bacteria found in their product, and these long names can sound intimidating. With names like streptococcus thermophilus and candida kefyr, they actually sound like “bad” pathogenic bacteria. But do not fear — the “good” versions of these bacteria (and yeasts) found in kefir will actually fight off the bad versions of bacteria that make you sick. For this reason, kefir is an amazing food to support your immune system.


Kefir madness:

  • Kefir contains more probiotic bacteria than yogurt.
  • Kefir is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.
  • Kefir is 98% lactose free and can be safely consumed by many people with lactose intolerance. The probiotic bacteria in kefir break apart lactose into simpler sugars, which are easier to digest.
  • Kefir has more absorbable calcium than milk. Kefir also is a great source of phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B-12.
  • Organic, whole milk kefir is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, CLA and vitamin K because organic standards require that cows are fed grass and not just grains.
  • Kefir is gluten free even though it is often labeled as “made from kefir grains.” The “grains” refer only to the bacterial and yeast cultures.
  • Kefir supports your immune system. Kefir contains “kefiran” — a unique polysaccharide that may reduce inflammation and allergic reactions and help support immune function.
  • The name kefir originates from the Turkish word “kiefe” which means “good feeling.” This could be due to the high tryptophan content of kefir, which induces a good feeling of relaxation and calmness.

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