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You may have heard that fermented foods, which are rich in probiotics, are beneficial for gut health. Yogurt is probably the most commonly known fermented food. But, have you heard of kefir?
Kefir is another type of fermented dairy product that is less well-known. But, it might be a healthy addition to your diet.
So let’s discuss, what is kefir, what are its health benefits, and how is it different from yogurt? Also, if you want to try kefir, what should you look for?
What is Kefir Yogurt?
Kefir is a fermented dairy product that originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe. It is made by adding kefir grains to milk and allowing the mixture to ferment for 12-24 hours.
Yogurt kefir is a combination of kefir and yogurt cultures. It is made by adding kefir grains to milk and allowing it to ferment until the milk has thickened into a yogurt-like consistency. This process takes longer than regular kefir and results in a thicker and creamier product.
Kefir grains are a combination of yeast and bacteria that form a symbiotic culture. A symbiotic culture, also known as a symbiotic colony, is a combination of different microbes that work together in a mutually beneficial relationship. In the case of kefir, the symbiotic culture is made up of a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts that form grains that resemble cauliflower.
These kefir grains are added to milk to initiate the fermentation process. The microbes consume the grains, which results in the production of lactic acid and ethanol. This is what gives kefir its tangy flavor and slight carbonation.
The symbiotic relationship between the microbes in the kefir grains is essential for the fermentation process and the production of kefir. Symbiotic cultures can also be found in other fermented foods and beverages, such as sourdough bread, kombucha, and kimchi.
These cultures are made up of different strains of bacteria and yeasts that work together to produce the desired flavors and textures of the final product. The use of symbiotic cultures in fermentation has been practiced for centuries and is an important aspect of traditional food preservation methods.
Health Benefits of Kefir
Kefir is a probiotic-rich food with numerous health benefits. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our gut and support our digestive and immune systems. Eating probiotic-rich foods, like kefir may have specific benefits for your health. These include:
The probiotics in kefir can help support healthy digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This can help to alleviate symptoms of digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Kefir contains a variety of beneficial bacteria and compounds that can help to strengthen the immune system. It has been shown to stimulate the production and strengthen immune cells, essential in fighting infections and diseases.
May Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Kefir contains a type of prebiotic (or food for healthy bacteria) that have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Supports Bone Health
Since it is made from milk, kefir is a good source of calcium and vitamin K2, which are essential for bone health. These nutrients work together to strengthen bones and prevent fractures.
Downsides of Kefir
While kefir may be a healthy beverage for most people, there are a few possible downsides to drinking it. First, it can cause digestive problems, particularly in those that are sensitive to lactose. Since it is made from milk, it should be avoided by people with lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy.
Second, many brands add quite a bit of sugar to the kefir to improve the taste. Be sure to check the label if you are purchasing kefir to choose a lower-sugar option. I’ll provide some tips on how to choose the best brands below.
Depending on how it’s made, kefir may contain small amounts of alcohol. While most adults likely won’t feel the effects, if you plan on giving it to your children check the label for “alcohol free”.
Yogurt vs Kefir: What’s the difference?
While both kefir and regular yogurt are fermented dairy products, there are some key differences between the two:
Strains of Bacteria
Kefir and yogurt contain different strains of beneficial bacteria. Kefir contains a wider variety of bacteria than yogurt, including several strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. But, kefir can be made by adding yogurt colonies, making it a kefir yogurt.
Method of Fermentation
Kefir and yogurt are fermented using different methods. Yogurt is made by adding a specific type of bacteria to milk and allowing it to ferment for several hours. Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk and allowing it to ferment for 12-24 hours.
Kefir has a thinner consistency than yogurt and is more like a drinkable yogurt. Yogurt is thicker and creamier than kefir.
Kefir has a higher probiotic content than yogurt. The fermentation process for kefir is longer than that for yogurt, which allows for a higher concentration of beneficial bacteria.
How to Choose the Best Yogurt Kefir
When choosing kefir yogurt, there are a few things to consider to ensure that you are getting the best quality product:
- Look for Organic and Grass-Fed Milk
Kefir is made by fermenting milk, so the quality of the milk used is important. Look for kefir made with organic milk that comes from grass-fed cows. This ensures that the milk is free from harmful pesticides and hormones, and contains more nutrients than conventionally raised cows.
- Check the Probiotic Content
The probiotic content of kefir yogurt varies depending on the brand and manufacturing process. Look for products that list the strains of bacteria used and the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) per serving. The higher the CFU count, the more beneficial bacteria the product contains.
- Choose Low Sugar Options
Some kefir yogurts may contain added sugars or sweeteners, which can counteract the health benefits of the probiotics. Look for kefir yogurt with low sugar content, or choose unsweetened varieties. Aim for a brand with less than 10g per cup.
- Look for a Variety of Strains
Kefir contains a variety of beneficial bacteria strains, so look for products that include a diverse range of strains to ensure that you are getting the full health benefits of kefir.
- Check the Expiration Date
Kefir is a perishable product, so check the expiration date when you purchase. Fresh kefir will have a tangy taste and may be slightly effervescent, indicating that the fermentation process is still ongoing. This doesn’t mean that it has gone bad, but you do want to be sure you are not drinking kefir that has expired.
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