You've probably already know about the health benefits of yogurt, but did you know you can get them in a drink as well?
Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk product with a tart and even sour taste, but the two foods have some differences as well.
Kefir (pronounced kee-fer) originates from the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe. It's believed that the name comes from the Turkish word "keif" which means good feeling. Kefir's flavour is naturally sweet and slightly bubbly, and mild but a bit tangy as well.
The drink is made either with kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter — the grains aren't an actual grain like wheat, but are made of bacteria and yeast. Generally of a thinner consistency than yogurt, kefir is usually sold as a drink, either plain or flavoured.
Here are a dozen things you should know about kefir. Now, head to the dairy aisle!
Yogurt is a <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/probiotics-whats-hype-whats-healthy/article598896/" target="_blank">source of probiotics,</a> the live organisms (including healthy bacteria's) that are naturally found in our digestive tracts. These organisms help stem the growth of harmful bacteria and boost our immune systems. But kefir is an even better source of these helpful little guys — three times the source of yogurt, it's thought. This is because kefir is made by fermenting milk with 10 to 20 different types of bacteria and yeasts, where yogurt is usually just fermented with a handful of types; this leads to a higher probiotic count in the final product.
Each 175 gram serving of kefir provides about <a href="http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-liberty-kefir-plain-i84981" target="_blank">20 per cent of the daily RDA for calcium,</a> which is important for the health of your bones and teeth. You can replace a regular dairy serving with kefir to get the calcium you need along with the drink's probiotic benefits.
If you aren't sure how to get kefir in your diet — or have to get accustomed to the taste — <a href="http://www.all-smoothie-recipes.com/kefir-smoothie.html" target="_blank">smoothies are a great way to incorporate this healthy drink into your day</a>. Just use kefir the same way you would milk, soy milk, or other liquids in your favourite smoothie recipe.
You Can Make Your Own
If you can't find kefir where you are, or if you're in the mood for a DIY, you can make your own at home. The process is fairly simple: get kefir grains or starter powder, and allow it to culture in milk. The process takes 12 to 48 hours. DIY kefir can then be flavoured, such as with blended fruit or vanilla extract. The book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.ca/True-Brews-Craft-Fermented-Kombucha/dp/1607743388" target="_blank">True Brews</a></em> has recipes for making your own kefir, as well as other fermented drinks.
Know that sleepy, relaxed feeling you get after a big turkey dinner? That's thanks to tryptophan, an amino acid. The same amino acid is found in kefir, which means it actually can have a relaxing effect. Maybe that's where that "good feeling" name originated?
The research on kefir is still limited, but a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2003 found that kefir improve lactose digestion over milk, with reduced or no symptoms of lactose intolerance. There is some more general research on probiotics showing that they can <a href="http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/probiotics-benefits" target="_blank">prevent or treat some digestive problems.</a>
Kefir is a great way to get extra protein in your diet without extra calories. A single serving of plain, non-fat kefir has less than 100 calories, but provides <a href="http://www.lesliebeck.com/ingredients/kefir" target="_blank">10.5 grams of protein</a>, which can help you feel fuller without extra fat. Just watch that you're not buying kefir with added sugars, which will up the calorie content.
Kefir is a source of <a href="http://www.kefir.net/nutritional-content-of-kefir/" target="_blank">several B vitamins</a>, which are essential for our good health and functioning. It has B12, which is important for your blood and nervous system, and B1, (otherwise is known as thiamine) which is important for helping you withstand stress. Kefir also contains biotin, which is a B vitamin that helps your body use other B vitamins.
Kefiran is a polysaccharide produced by kefir grains, and it <a href="http://voices.yahoo.com/kefir-health-benefits-fermented-milk-drink-2492216.html?cat=5" target="_blank">might have helpful health benefits.</a> Some research has connected <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630283" target="_blank">kefiran to reduced cholesterol and blood pressure in lab rats. </a>
Many kefir drinks have added flavours like vanilla or fruit, but watch out for added sugars that add unnecessary calories. If you want to add some flavour to your kefir, to make it more palatable or just because you enjoy it, either look for store brands without added sugars or artificial flavourings or buy plain kefir and add your own flavourings at home.
The Other Kefir
There are actually two types of kefir: <a href="http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq" target="_blank">milk kefir and water kefir</a>. Milk kefir is made from dairy (or non-dairy milks like coconut milk) and water kefir is made from, as the name implies, water. Water kefir is a great alternative for people with dairy sensitivities, and its lighter formula can be used for different recipes: for example, the Ontario company Kind Organics <a href="http://kindorganics.com/products/kombucha/" target="_blank">makes a mojito-flavoured water kefir</a> that tastes just like a virgin version of the drink.
Phosphorus is the <a href="http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/nutrition/phosphorus-in-diet/overview.html" target="_blank">second most abundant mineral is our bodies,</a> and it's also found in kefir in significant quantities. This is good news because phosphorus is needed to help our bodies use carbohydrates and proteins for cell growth and energy. Drink up!
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