Kefir is a great natural source of probiotic. The kefir grain contains about 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic source.
Most commonly kefir is a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like a drinkable yogurt. It is made by adding kefir ‘grains’ to milk, milk substitutes or water for those who are lactose intolerant or avoiding dairy.
These are not grains in the conventional sense, but cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that resemble cauliflower in appearance. There are two types of grains – dairy based and water based. Water based grains do contain sugar so if you are avoiding sugar early in treatment treatment or are on a medically controlled diet you may want to look at the milk based grains if appropriate.
Over a period of 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. Then the grains are removed from the liquid, and can be used again. So basically, kefir is the drink, but kefir grains are the ‘starter kit’ that you use to produce the drink.
Kefir can now be found ready made in most supermarkets or local grocery stores. The grains can be purchased online or at health food stores.
What are the issues around kefir?
- Flavoured kefir contains added sugar in the form of cane sugar or cane syrup
- Kefir contains varying amounts of saturated fat, depending on whether it’s made from whole or low-fat milk
- While the probiotics in kefir can be beneficial, it isn’t for everyone. Side effects, though not very common, include gas, upset stomach and diarrhoea
- Individuals with bowel problems should always speak with a qualified health practitioner about kefir before adding it to their diet.
- Kefir naturally contains tyramine and histamine, which are both produced during the process of bacterial fermentation. Individuals with mast cell issues who have to strictly adhere to a histamine and tyramine restricted diet may need guidance around the consumption of kefir.
- For those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors to treat depression, please consider whether to drink kefir as this fermented drink’s high tyramine content may cause blood pressure spikes. Discuss with your GP or consultant.
- Both tyramine and histamine are associated with migraines as well. For those who suffer from acute or chronic migraine consideration should be given to this before drinking kefir.