What is Kefir?
Kefir is a cultured dairy drink that is probably one of the most probiotic rich natural foods available and has been recognised around the world for its remarkable health benefits. Kefir or kephir is a cultured, fermented milk drink that originated in the Caucasus Mountains made with kefir “grains”, which are a form of a yeast/ bacterial fermentation starter. Also known as búlgaros it can be produced with cow, goat or sheep milk and tastes like a form of yogurt.
The name Kefir is derived from the Turkish work “keyif”, which literally means “good feeling” and has been used for centuries as a form of medicine and elixir of youth.
Why Take Kefir?
Kefir is rich in nutrients, easily digestible complete proteins, and vitamins – containing high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, and folate – although these will vary according to the type of milk, cultures, and region where it is produced. However some of the more notable benefits are due to the enzymes and probiotics it contains. Milk kefir is also generally suitable for the lactose intolerant.
Kefir has been shown to benefit the body in a number of different ways:
- Boost immunity
- Treat inflammatory bowel disease
- Increase bone density
- Reduce the symptoms of allergies
- Aid lactose digestion
- Treat Candida Infections
Which Probiotic Bacteria are Found in Kefir
Kefir is considered to be one of the most probiotic rich foods – with a number of different strains of probiotic bacteria which help maintain our gut health. The probiotic strains found in Kefir will vary according to the types of Kefir grains or cultures used – as well as the milk type and source used. However some of the more common probiotics regularly found include:
- Bifidobacteria species, including Bifidobacterium bifidum,
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus caucasus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus, including subspeciesLactobacillus delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens
- Lactobacillus helveticus,
- Lactococcus lactis
- Streptococcus thermophilus,
- Acetobacter species
- Leuconostoc species
How Many Probiotic Bacteria Does Kefir Contain?
The quantities of CFU’s (colony-forming units) per ml of Kefir will vary with each strain however in various studies they have been found to contain up to 10 billion CFU’s per ml. Lactobacilli – the bacteria responsible for the synthesis of the polysaccharide kefiran will typically exist in concentrations ranging from 1 million to 1 billion CFU’s per ml. (Kefiran has been found to provide positive benefits in treating Blood Pressure, Blood Cholesterol, Blood Sugar, Constipation).
Kefir typically has many more species of beneficial bacteria and microbes than yogurt. As well as containing probiotic bacteria, kefir contains strains of yeast – such as Kluyveromyces marxianus, Kluyveromyces lactis and Saccharomyces fragilis which can metabolize lactose.
Why are these Probiotic Bacteria so Important?
There are around 100 trillion microbes in our bodies – thought to outnumber our own cells and made up of a thousand different species. They perform a multitude of different functions for us, and their diversity and stability is critical to maintain our health. These colonies of many different microbe species – including bacteria, viruses and fungii – exist in our gut, on our skin, in our mouths and our genitalia are unique to each of us and affected by our environments, our diets, lifestyle, and which can be damaged based on exposure to toxins and antibiotics.
Our health depends on the strength and diversity of the predominately ‘good’ bacteria – most of which live in our gut – to regulate our digestion and metabolism, underpin our immune system – maintaining our physical and mental health, and to fight off infection. Many of these microbes have been around for billions of years – evolving with us and influencing our development. They are now known to be able to communicate with our bodies and our brains to influence our behaviour
The significance of our microbiome – the colonies of microbes we host – has only been acknowledged relatively recently and has been linked everything from obesity and allergies to autism and most chronic diseases. Learn more about why gut health matters.