What Is Kefir, and What Are Its Health Benefits?

What is kefir good for when it comes to health and wellness? Kefir benefits blood sugar and cholesterol, and it can help with healthy weight loss.


What is kefir capable of doing for your health? Kefir benefits wellness by providing the gut with lots of healthy bacteria. Made using kefir grains, this probiotic supplement soothes digestive problems and supports strong bones. 

Fermented foods and drinks have certain qualities that can help support good health. 

One example is kefir. Kefir is a fermented beverage that’s experiencing growing popularity in the United States. Cultivated via kefir grains, this drink is rich in probiotics that can help improve gut wellness. It’s also loaded with nutrition, and studies show kefir benefits wellness by reducing cholesterol and lowering blood sugar to healthy levels. 

What is kefir all about, and what role should it play in your overall health strategy? Let’s explore the issue. 

In this article, we will:

  • Explain what kefir is
  • List the various types of kefir
  • Discuss kefir as it relates to lactose digestion
  • Explain how kefir benefits your health

What is kefir?

Kefir is a fermented drink that’s similar in some ways to yogurt. While it’s currently a trendy health beverage in certain circles, it’s not new.

Traditional kefir has been around for generations; many believe this ancient drink originated centuries ago in the northern Caucasus Mountains. While North Americans have only just begun to discover kefir, it’s been popular in parts of Europe and Asia for a long time.  

This fermented beverage has a flavor that’s tart and tangy. When it comes to its consistency, kefir is a lot like a drinkable yogurt. 

How does kefir differ from yogurt?

Here’s a common question: What is kefir like in relationship to yogurt? 

Kefir bears some similarities to yogurt; thanks to fermentation, both kefir and yogurt are rich sources of beneficial bacteria. Kefir benefits gut health thanks to this valuable probiotic bacteria, and so does yogurt. 

Still, there are key differences between yogurt and kefir. Yogurt is made by fermenting bacteria in a beverage such as dairy milk. With kefir, the fermentation process involves a combination of bacteria and yeast. This mixture of bacteria and yeast fermentations is referred to as “kefir grain.” As with yogurt, a beverage such as cow’s milk is used when fermenting kefir. 

Kefir packs a more potent probiotic punch than yogurt. A kefir grain contains up to 61 strains of bacteria and yeasts. This is more than you’ll find in other fermented foods such as yogurt. Its broader range of probiotic strains enables kefir to deliver more significant health benefits than yogurt when it comes to gut wellness. 

Despite its name, a kefir grain isn’t a grain like wheat or rice. Kefir grains have no gluten, so they’re safe for consumption if you’re gluten-sensitive. 

How is kefir made?

To make kefir, kefir grains are combined with a beverage such as cow’s milk, coconut water or goat’s milk. The mixture is kept in a warm area. This allows the yeast and bacteria culture to grow.

After a certain amount of time has passed, the kefir culture will proliferate to the point where the beverage becomes fermented, with a change in taste and appearance. When this happens, the drink is ready for consumption. At this point, you’re free to experience the ways in which kefir benefits well-being. 

Types of kefir

So, what is kefir all about when it comes to the range of available variations? Kefir is commonly made with a dairy product such as fresh milk. But it can be made with a wide number of beverages.

Kefir grains can be combined with coconut water. Kefir can also be made with water or with nut milks such as almond milk and cashew milk. 

Here are some of the different types of kefir:

  • Goat milk kefir
  • Cow’s milk kefir
  • Coconut water kefir
  • Coconut milk kefir
  • Almond milk kefir
  • Cashew milk kefir
  • Water kefir

Whether you opt for water kefir, coconut water kefir or dairy kefir made with raw milk, you can make this probiotic drink at home. Many people choose to make homemade kefir by combining milk kefir grains with a beverage of choice.

You can also purchase commercial kefir at some grocery stores. Commercial kefir drinks made from dairy milk usually come in non-fat, low-fat and whole milk versions. 

With commercial kefir, plain and flavored varieties are available. Keep in mind that flavored kefir products often have added sugar. As a result, flavored kefir may not be as healthy as plain kefir. 

Kefir and lactose digestion

Lactose is a milk sugar that many people find hard to digest. This condition is called lactose intolerance. 

Dairy products such as fresh milk contain lactose. However, the bacteria in fermented dairy products such as kefir and yogurt convert lactose into lactic acid. Additionally, these foods contain enzymes that work to break down lactose even further. As a result, milk kefir is typically well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance, at least in comparison to regular milk. 

If you’re looking for a version of kefir that’s completely free of lactose, choose one made with a dairy-free beverage such coconut milk, coconut water or almond milk. 

Kefir benefits

So, what is kefir good for when it comes to wellness? Kefir benefits your health in these key ways:

Kefir benefit #1: May help control blood sugar

High blood sugar has been linked with chronic ailments such as diabetes. Research indicates that kefir benefits wellness by working to keep blood sugar within healthy levels. 

2015 study looked at the effect that drinking kefir had on participants with diabetes. Participants who drank kefir had lower blood sugar fasting levels than those who didn’t. This suggests that kefir may be a useful tool for diabetics seeking to manage their blood sugar levels. 

Kefir benefit #2: May help lower LDL cholesterol

Research has linked high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol with increased risk of clogged arteries and heart disease. Data indicates that kefir benefits health by working to lower LDL cholesterol. 

A 2017 study tracked the changes in cholesterol levels between two groups: those drinking low-fat milk and those drinking kefir. After eight weeks, the group that consumed kefir exhibited notable decreases in LDL cholesterol. 

What is kefir doing to cause this change? Researchers believe that kefir’s probiotics reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed via food. These probiotics may also impact the way our bodies process and utilize cholesterol. 

Kefir benefit #3: May help prevent and soothe digestive problems

Probiotics are known for their ability to restore friendly bacteria to your gut. Kefir is rich in probiotics. Thus, it’s not surprising to learn that kefir benefits gut health and helps prevent and treat certain digestive ailments. 

Studies show that probiotics such as kefir are effective in the treatment and prevention of certain types of diarrhea. And research proves that kefir also benefits peptic ulcers and certain gastrointestinal disorders. 

Kefir benefit #4: Supports healthy weight management

It’s estimated that roughly two out three American adults are either overweight or obese. Research shows that kefir benefits healthy weight management. As such, it may be a useful tool for those who are seeking to lose weight or keep their weight within healthy levels. 

In a 2017 study, kefir had an inhibitory effect on fat accumulation in obese mice. It also  supported weight loss. 

Kefir benefit #5: May support bone health

Osteoporosis is a condition in which there is a deterioration of bone tissue. It’s prevalent among older women, and it makes it more likely for them to experience bone fractures. 

So, what is kefir capable of doing when it comes to bone health? Full-fat dairy milk kefir benefits bone health and can help prevent osteoporosis. This fermented milk drink is a rich source of vitamin K2. Calcium is needed for healthy bones, and the body needs K2 to metabolize calcium. 

In a 2015 study involving rats, kefir consumption was shown to increase bone density and prevent bone loss. 

Next steps

What is kefir capable of doing for you on your path to improved health? You can get a firsthand perspective on how kefir benefits wellness by trying it yourself. Make it at home using kefir grains, or purchase a bottle at your local grocery store. 

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