In case you missed the memo, not all bacteria is bad news. Some, like the probiotics found in yogurt, can help with everything from digestion to clearing up acne. (Or, you can always apply it topically—we dug into that topic here.) Though yogurt is touted as the probiotic superhero, there’s a new kid on the block and we wanted you to be the first to know. Allow us to introduce you to kefir, yogurt’s more potent, probiotic-filled counterpart. Curious? Keep scrolling to find out about its benefits!
Like yogurt, it’s full of good-for-you probiotics. But unlike yogurt, it’s not cultured with heat. Instead, you can turn any kind of milk kefir (including dairy or nut milks) or water into kefir with kefir grains. But before gluten-free peeps turn away, allow us to clarify: Kefir “grains” aren’t really grains at all, but instead cottage cheese-looking little clumps made up of the bacteria and yeast that ferment the kefir. If that makes you squeamish, it shouldn’t—you strain the final kefir, so it’s a smooth liquid consistency that’s perfect for blending with smoothies, or using as a substitute for sour cream or dairy in baking. You can also drink it straight up. Depending on what kind of liquid you used with the kefir grains, the taste can vary from slightly tart to extremely mild, with a slight yeast-y taste.
Now, let’s talk about the benefits. First up, kefir is a great source of drinkable calcium—this is especially good news for anyone who is lactose intolerant. In a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that lactose intolerant individuals reported few or no symptoms after drinking kefir, as compared to milk. One serving of kefir will give you 20 percent of your daily calcium intake and is only 90 calories, as compared to the 150 calories in yogurt made from whole milk. Protein-wise, kefir also wins—one serving is 6 grams of protein.
Ever heard of tryptophan? It’s the amino acid found in some foods that has a calming effect on your nervous system and gives you that warm, relaxed feeling. (Think turkey on Thanksgiving.) Kefir is also a great source. If you’re stressed and battling insomnia, have a cupppa before bed as a nightcap and instantly feel more relaxed. (Or, you can try this breathing trick.) Or, have some for breakfast to start your day on a relaxed and not jittery note.
Probiotics can help aid digestion. Researchers believe that when the microflora in your intestines aren’t balanced, certain health problems can come up (or, just bloating and indigestion). Kefir is an excellent source of probiotics, with three times the amount as yogurt. It also contains some probiotic strains that aren’t found in yogurt, due to the fact that 10 to 20 different types of probiotic bacteria and yeasts need to be mixed together in order to ferment the milk (or water).
In this study, researchers found that a probiotic found in kefir lowered blood pressure and blood glucose in mice (plus, some backed-up mice found relief after consuming it too). Promising, no?
Since kefir just involves placing the “grains” in a liquid and allowing them to ferment, this means technically you can make water kefir. It’s has a kombucha-reminiscent taste, and you can add sweetener or flavors to it, and take it on-the-go. Also, try coconut milk kefir if you’re feeling especially adventurous.
You can buy kefir drinks at some health food grocery stores like Whole Foods, but it’s also easy to make your own. (You can order fresh kefir grains online). After you have the grains, just put them in your milk of choice and store it in a glass jar for about 24 hours at room temperature, then strain out the liquid. Fun fact: You can actually keep the kefir (or whatever didn’t get through the strainer) and reuse it over and over again for future batches. Click here for a step-by-step guide!
What do you think—would you ever try kefir? Do you drink it already? Sound off below!