With gut health the concern du jour, probiotic foods like kefir, which support healthy intestinal bacteria, have never been more popular. Originating from the Caucasus mountains at the border of Europe and Asia, kefir used to be known as the ‘Grains of the Prophet’. Today we enjoy it as a milk product made with kefir ‘grains’ – gelatinous white or yellow clumps resembling cauliflower florets. Used as a starter culture, these grains contain a mixture of milk proteins, sugars and bacteria. So, what’s t good for?
A tall glass of kefir drink made with milk contains more than 6g of feel-full protein, so it qualifies as high in protein. It’s a nutritionally complete protein too, providing all the key amino acids needed for health, and is also a source of B vitamins, which help with energy release.
A study of osteoporosis patients found that those who regularly consumed kefir had denser, stronger bones after six months. The rich calcium content, coupled with doses of phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin K, could explain why it’s beneficial for bones. Kefir may also boost calcium absorption in the body, although this needs further research.
Kefir could help tackle post-exercise muscle inflammation, according to a recent US study that gave endurance runners two servings a week. The results showed that the fermented drink cut levels of a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP) after exercise. CRP levels spike during acute inflammation, and while some inflammation is necessary in order for you to benefit from exercising, too much of it means that you aren’t recovering well and it could lead to injuries.
Kefir contains friendly probiotic bacteria – upwards of 30 different strains – which are believed to rebalance gut health by driving out the nastier pathogenic types of bacteria. Several studies have shown that including kefir in your regular diet (as a drink or with your usual breakfast muesli or fruit and yoghurt) reduces constipation, attacks a type of bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and improves symptoms linked to lactose intolerance, such as wind, bloating and diarrhoea. As the bacteria in kefir break down lactose, people who cannot tolerate dairy will most likely be able to enjoy it, too – and reap the benefits!
Fancy making your own? Before you start, gen up and keep these top fermentation tips in mind. Then, just buy a starter culture of kefir grains, add them to a jug of milk or water, cover with a lid or cloth secured with a rubber band and leave in a warm dark place to grow. Shake the container every few hours. After 24 hours, strain out the kefir grains and you’re left with a tart flavoured drink bursting with friendly bacteria, protein, vitamins and minerals.