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Milk Kefir FAQ: Health & Consumption of Milk Kefir

 

Milk Kefir FAQ's 

Part 12 - Health & Consumption

Questions in this Section:

How is kefir consumed in other cultures?
Why is kefir generally tolerated by the lactose intolerant?
How can I reduce the amount of Lactose in Kefir?
What is the advantage of taking Kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?
Why is Kefir good for your health?
Is Kefir a good option for those with Candida?
Is Kefir a good option for those with digestive problems?
Is kefir appropriate for everyone?
Has kefir ever made anyone sick?
How are Kefir Grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?
What are kefir grains composed of?
What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?
Does Kefir contain alcohol?
What part of the kefir is considered the drinkable kefir?
How much kefir should I drink?
Is it ok to consume kefir that is still in the process of balancing or re-activating?
How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?
Can you eat the kefir grains too?
Can pets have milk kefir?
What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?
What if I'm having adverse reactions to drinking kefir?
Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?
How do you know if its contaminated?
What type of milk should I use?
What about raw milk?

How is kefir consumed in other cultures?

Some drink kefir straight, while others prefer to make a smoothie or simply add fruit, honey, agave, stevia, or maple syrup to sweeten it. Vanilla and cinnamon are just some of the many other ways to add flavor. In Poland, Kefir is sold with different varieties of fruit and flavors already added. Kefir is served not just for breakfast but sometimes lunch and dinner in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Presently, kefir is the most popular fermented milk in Russia. Various reports have stated that it accounts for between 65% and 80% of total fermented milk sales in Russia with production of over 1.2 million tons per year in 1988. The average yearly consumption of kefir in the Soviet Union was estimated at approximately 4.5 kilograms per person per year in the early 1980s. Currently kefir is being manufactured on a commercial scale in Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and various of the former soviet union states, Denmark, the United States, France, West Germany, Canada and parts of southeast Asia.

Why is kefir generally tolerated by the lactose intolerant?

The bacteria and yeast produce the enzyme lactase in order to consume the lactose (milk sugar) for their own food supply. Because of this, much of the lactose in the milk is converted to simpler forms of sugar (glucose and galactose). These digestible forms of sugar, along with the extra lactase enzymes which act as a catalyst for digestion, make for an easily digestible food! 'Ripening' kefir can even further reduce the lactose, if desired.

How can I reduce the amount of Lactose in Kefir?

While kefir itself is very low in lactose, you can further reduce it by letting your finished, strained kefir sit in a jar for another day or two before consuming it. This works both out on the counter, or in the fridge (the fridge being more mild). Keep in mind it will contain more acid and alcohol (as these replace the sugars). Because kefir contains mostly converted lactose (to glucose and galactose), as well as lactase enzymes, most people do not require this further ripening, but it is always an option.

What is the advantage of taking Kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?

Fermented milk products such as kefir are considered functional foods because they offer enzymes, pre-digested nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, calories/energy and billions of probiotics. Probiotic pill supplements contain just one or a select variety of bacteria, and usually that's it. It's always better to eat something in its whole form when possible, because each part makes the other more digestible. This is why they are now adding fiber back into cereals and fruit juices, and citric acid into calcium - you often need all the parts to assimilate nutrients correctly.

Why is Kefir good for your health?

It is loaded with valuable enzymes, easily digestible complete proteins, vitamins and minerals. Milk kefir is also generally suitable for the lactose intolerant. Kefir also supplies your body with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains. Some foods like yogurt can help, but they are not as potent, and do not contain the beneficial yeasts (just bacteria). Within your body there are already billions of bacteria and yeast. Your internal microflora support proper digestion, synthesis of vitamins and minerals, and your immune system by warding off foreign and harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses. It has thus long been known to promote and aid in digestion and overall health. Some studies show it may be antimutagenic and help manage free radicals in the body. Folic acid (and B vitamins) increases as the length of the ferment increases. Some people let the strained kefir sit on the counter or the fridge another day to increase the folic acid and B vitamin content before drinking. Kefir may also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. As with most things we've personally found, food and health is too difficult to reduce to facts and statistics. While kefir is not a magic bullet for health (what is) we believe kefir has a myriad of possible health benefits, and those will be individual for everyone. Some feel it helps them digest better, others get colds and flus less often, some get more energy, and some people feel nothing much in particular, but enjoy the taste and value of it over store-bought yogurt or kefir.

Is Kefir a good option for those with Candida?

Many people experiencing Candida issues have reported that Kefir has been beneficial for them. Kefir is a balanced symbiotic relationship of both bacteria and yeast, which is also what we strive to achieve within our bodies for optimum health. Kefir grains and kefir itself does not contain Candida Albicans and has no reason to aggravate the symptoms of Candida. Some sources say that the kefir yeast can even help to decrease the candida yeast. But as with all things, the best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time).

Is Kefir a good option for those with digestive problems?

Many people have shared that it has helped a wide range of problems from acid reflux to GERD to bloating to intestinal issues. If you have an ulcer, it may not be advisable to drink this until the ulcer has healed (due to the acidic nature of kefir). All of the microflora and easily digestible nutrients in general make kefir a very good option for those with digestive problems. The carbonation and properties of kefir can even act as a digestive aid and/or stimulant. If you are experiencing pain or gas this could possibly be because your system is sluggish and the stimulating nature of kefir can be too harsh for some (in this case, start with drinking just a spoonful and work your way up slowly so your body can adapt). Again, the best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time).

Is kefir appropriate for everyone?

The best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time). More doesn't always = better, either. Drink what feels reasonable, sometimes a small amount can be more beneficial than a large amount. As with most things, moderation is truly key. All of the microflora and easily digestible nutrients in general make kefir a very good option for most. The carbonation and acidic properties of kefir can aggravate a sluggish, tired, weakened or injured digestive system, so be sure to slow down or temporarily stop your consumption if you feel any pain or discomfort (in this case, start with drinking just a spoonful and work your way up slowly so your body can adapt). If you have an ulcer and/or feel any pain, it may be best to address that first (aloe, bananas, soothing foods) and then come back to stronger foods like kefir at a later point. Always use your own common sense and do not ignore your gut instincts!

Has kefir ever made anyone sick?

Kefir is very safe and there isn't any need to worry when following the simple steps on how to kefir properly. Research has shown time and again that because of the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that make up a kefir grain it naturally wards off outside invaders (such as dangerous bacteria, mold or harmful yeast). It does so by freeing up antibiotics within its bacterial complex that helps to ensure the resistance to foreign pathogens and ultimately ensuring its own colony for survival. Some studies have shown kefir to ward off salmonella and E. Coli samples that have been injected into it as well as possessing the capability to kill H. Pylori. This is not to say that some people don't react to kefir, especially when first trying it. This is based upon other properties including the acidic nature of the drink, your body not being acquainted with so many live probiotic cultures, or a reaction to the milk itself (some people are sensitive to the proteins found in fermented foods). It is also not recommended for those with Niemann-Pick Disease (types A and B) which is a rare genetically-inherited disease caused by a deficiency in the enzyme Sphingomyelinase. Contaminated kefir has only been shown to happen with commercial kefir, which was contaminated during the manufacturing and processing of imitation kefir. Research has even shown that kefir innoculated with E. coli was able to inhibit the growth of that microorganism. Most people in all their years of making kefir have never had a bad batch once. As with all things, use your best judgement and some good old reliable common sense - if your kefir smells terrible or looks colorful like an easter egg, just toss it and start fresh.

How are Kefir Grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?

Genuine kefir is different than the pricey kefir you can buy in the stores. Manufactured kefir is a simulated drink, mimicking the flavor of genuine kefir. It is not produced by the traditional method. It is produced instead by a variety of bacteria and yeast (that they purchase individually) and combine. These are typically freeze-dried powder forms of bacteria and yeast, and like the Body Ecology products, are not reproducible. Traditional Kefir Grains are a formed symbiotic mass colony of various bacteria and yeast that are living, and will thrive and grow on their own in the milk, sometimes out-living its owner!

What are Kefir Grains composed of?

The grains are a symbiotic relationship of over 30 different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. The bulk of the grain that you see is a combination of insoluble protein, amino acids, lipids (fats) and soluble-polysaccharides (complex sugars). Scientifically speaking, the content of a freeze dried kefir grain has shown to be composed of 4.4% fat, 12.1% ash, 45.7% Muco-polysaccharides, 34.3% total protein (consisting of 27% insoluble protein,1.6% soluble protein and 5.6% free amino acids) as well as a trace amount of unknown substances. Amorphous and crystalline iron is also found in small amounts on the surface of the grains under a microscope.

What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?

To view a list of all bacteria and yeast strains found in kefir, please view our 'Strains' section.

Does Kefir contain alcohol?

Yes it contains about 0.08% - 2% alcohol. With the normal amount being around .08 (for a 24-hour ferment). Kefir that is stored and ripened for a few of days will continue to increase in alcohol, up to 2-3% (when it is sealed tightly).

What part of the kefir is considered the drinkable kefir?

Although it may seem obvious, we actually wondered this ourselves back when we were first introduced to kefir. Kefir is simply the milk that has been fermented by the kefir grains. The kefir grains live off of the lactose and other nutrients in milk, producing acetic and lactic acids (and other small by-products such as alcohol) that give the milk its new flavor and thicker consistency. The grains are strained out and the remaining milk is the kefir. Some people do not like the whey (the clear liquid), or prefer a thicker kefir and will strain out the whey. Taking out the whey makes it more similar to cheese, and will make it higher in fat because of the lack of whey. The most nutritious and traditional way is to drink it as a whole food.

How much kefir should I drink?

It's smart to start anything new in small amounts, kefir being no exception to that rule. You may drink as much as you wish eventually, being reasonable. Ask yourself how much milk you would normally consume in a day, making sure not to leave out other important foods or meals. A usual amount is around 1-4 cups daily. Balance is key to good health. Some people struggle with it at first possibly because of its acidic nature, carbonation, alcohol, or large population of probiotics (or any combination of those). It is a wise idea in this case to take it slowly to let your body and digestion get acquanted with it. Start with 1/8 cup a day (you can even mix this into a full glass of water or fruit juice at first), then gradually increase to 1/4 for a week or so (maybe skipping a few days here and there to give your body a break). Most people find it helps to first try your kefir with meals, such as a little with breakfast. After a week or two, try increasing it again in this fashion until you gradually reach amount you wish to consume. Kefir can be used medicinally in large amounts for a short period if desired (such as after chemo-therapy, where 4 cups a day may be helpful). Following the advice of others, we typically give ourselves a break once a week or so, where we do not consume kefir for atleast 1 day. It's never a great idea to eat the same thing continually without a break (just like its never recommended to exercise continually without a break - the body needs time for recovery and variety). Even in Tibet there's a belief that it's best to drink only 2 cups a day and after 20 days take a 10 day break, completely abstaining from kefir.

Is it ok to consume kefir that is still in the process of balancing or re-activating?

When you are reactivating or rebalancing shipped, stored or fasted kefir grains it is not advisable to drink the kefir until it has reached a point of relative balance, exhibiting proper kefiring of the milk and a balanced aroma. Although it is mostly safe to drink, it is not optimal since the strains are still struggling to come into an orchestrated balance with one another. It simply won't be as balanced nor as beneficial for your health. This means that yes, the milk will be wasted during this phase. This is why it's a good idea to make only what you need, and then share, eat or store the extra grains. If you can find someone else to enjoy your kefir (and feed it) while you are away, this is better than freezing, drying or refrigerating your grains, since you will not have to waste milk to awaken them again.

How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?

It is best to drink kefir within a week or two. Kefir can be stored for quite a long time, since the bacteria and yeast actively and continuously preserve it. However, the alcohol content will increase and it will get increasingly sour and fizzy over time. Bottles left and forgotten in the fridge for a couple months might smell like pickled milk, or creamy wine upon opening them (though not at all rotten!). You can continuously add your freshly strained kefir to your existing kefir, giving it a shake to distribute, or you can start fresh each time, dumping what you haven't consumed.

Can you eat the kefir grains too?

Yes these are actually quite delicious in our opinion and chalk full of probiotics. Many people choose to eat their extra grains, or feed them to pets. You can also dry them and eat them dried as a seasoning (crush them into powder and sprinkle on your salad or pasta) or treat as well. Some small studies have shown them to have anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory and blood pressure normalizing properties. They have also helped some people in the reduction of high blood cholesterol as well as proven for some to be a beneficial treatment for IBS, Ulcerative Colitis and gastric ulcers. You can try taking as much as 1/8 cup a day for a short period for medicinal purposes (or daily for overall health if consuming just a few grains). Moderation is always key - be sure to allow your body a rest once in awhile, even from this!

Can pets have milk kefir?

Yes! Just like people, some take to it more than others, and some benefit from it more than others. Let your pet decide if they like it for themselves, and monitor for any reactions at the start. It also makes a great addition to chicken feed and is a wonderful supplement in a pigs diet.

What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?

Immediately rinse it under cool or cold clean water with clean hands and gently rub it to make sure all dust and debris are rinsed away. It will usually be just fine to join back in with the other grains and ferment as usual. If you are uneasy about adding it back in to your ferment, just rinse it and eat or toss to your pets or your garden! Someone reported back that they accidently forgot to strain one day and the kefir grains ended up in their mouth. The person spat it out and continued to ferment those grains without any issue.

What if I'm having adverse reactions to drinking kefir?

If you believe you're having a major allergic reaction (extremely rare) stop consuming it and see your doctor. Otherwise, wait atleast 3-4 days and try again to see if the symptoms return. Always start out with small amounts of anything new, especially if you have a sensitive or reactive system. Sometimes this can be an indication that your body is struggling to find a new balance with this new food. There are many who believe this can be a 'herxheimer' reaction, where the body is detoxing due to the loads of probiotics in kefir. Do your best to listen to your body and your gut instinct. The internet and your doctor do not make up for the invaluable ability to trust and listen to your own individual body. If it feels wrong, stop consuming the kefir and try again later. If it feels like you are just re-adjusting, try drinking it gradually (refer to 'How much kefir should I drink'). Kefir is believed to be a digestive stimulant, and may prove to be too stimulating for those with a sluggish, fatigued or otherwise delayed digestive system. In this situation its best to drink very small amounts (and gradually increase over time if desired), with the best times usually being alone or at the beginning of a meal, otherwise it may cause pain, bloating, gas etc.

Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?

Some people like to do this, but it was never done traditionally and is not necessary at all. By nature, they are a symbiotic mass of microflora that has self-inoculating properties, protecting itself from foreign bacteria or yeast. The lactic and acetic acids it excretes also protects it from becoming contaminated. Many have observed that when they stopped rinsing their grains, they grew better and produced better kefir. Sometimes they can get fat deposit (crusty, orange colored areas) that may indicate they need a gentle scrub and rinse though. If you wish to rinse them, make sure it is clean, non-chlorinated water. Simply run them under flowing water or swish them around in a bowl of clean water, and pat dry.

How do you know if its contaminated?

It's very difficult to have contaminated kefir due to the very nature of the billions of cultures in contains. If however it is contaminated, it will be an off color and/or off smell and you will be able to recognize this. Milk that is already near spoiling or spoiled will usually not produce a good kefir. Also, fermenting too little grains in a near-spoiling milk may encourage the bad bacteria to compete and out-do the small amount of grains (and too warm of a room will encourage this further). As long as you are using clean utensils, washing your hands, keeping the room temperature reasonable and maintaining reasonably clean jars (its ok to re-use them for a few weeks before washing), and covering the jars properly there is little risk of contamination.

What type of milk should I use?

We believe that while we are all human, we each have individual needs whether it be whole milk or skim milk, goat milk or almond milk. We feel that milk with all its nutrients intact is usually the best way to consume it (whole, full-fat milk). This is because much of milks important vitamins are fat-soluble (they need fat to transport them, keep them stable, and be recognized and digestible for your body). Mother nature always makes things to order because they function in tandem with one another. It is our logical assumption that taking a part out of that equation will give you less than what the milk is intended to give. BUT, there are certain instances where your body may be in need of a different balance, because it is 'off-balance' in some way. This is why we also feel that if your health needs require a milk to be more digestible by being goats milk, or skim milk (or almond milk, if you're allergic to dairy), then that is also just as important. Living in balance with your own needs is most important, therefore we cannot tell you what milk is best, we can only suggest that you follow what you feel is best and what your body is striving to tell you. There is much to be said about balance too, and we can never emphasize it enough. A body that is exposed to as many things as possible will adapt to be strongest, but there is a time that calls for rest and rejuvenation, too. What may be right for one, may not for another. And what may be right one month, may not another. That is not an easy or clear answer to digest, but it is what we have found to hold true.

What about raw milk?

Kefir grains love and thrive on raw milk, be it cow or goat. Raw milk is really the optimal way to consume milk if you can find a reliable trusty-worthy local source. You will want to be sure that the cow is healthy and the owner is using sanitary methods to ensure your milk is safe. Besides the fact that it will most likely be coming from a cow that is not confined (thus less stress and other issues like growth hormones), raw milk is much healthier and some argue it tastes much better, too. It contains many more enzymes and natural healthy bacteria of its own, the proteins have not been cooked, and the fat has not been homogenized. These enzymes and bacteria are sensitive to heat and unfortunately destroyed during the pasturization process. Raw milk also has the cream which floats to the top and can be used to make butter, whip cream, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.! Homogenization is used in manufacturing to break up the fat globules until they are very fine and unable to separate and rise to the top. This process uses a forceful spinning motion to break the fat globules of milk by propelling them at high speeds against the sides of the container, bursting the globules into small pieces (like paint hitting a wall). How far pastuerization and homogenization affect our health is a hot topic of debate and subject of much current research. As far as we're concerned it only makes sense that milk in its natural form has more to offer and is sometimes better digested or tolerated. It also supports a more natural, sanitary and less stressful environment for the cow, the farmer and the world at large while promoting local foods and respect for and connection to the animals and their farms we consume from. We encourage you to read more about raw milk safety and FAQ's at Raw Milk Facts.