During your last trip to the grocery store, you may have noticed bottles of what seem to be Danimals for adults—a mysterious type of drinkable yogurt—in the dairy section. Kefir, which originally hails from the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe, is similar to yogurt, but also has its own unique nutritional benefits. In fact, it may give your body and beauty an even bigger boost.
What is kefir?
Kefir is a cultured milk product (like yogurt) that can be made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. It can also be made with non-dairy alternatives, like soy, rice and almond milks. “All kefir is made using kefir ‘grains,’ which are a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter,” explains celebrity nutritionist and skin nutrition expert Paula Simpson, Creative Director at ZSS Skincare. It’s made with kefir grains—a combination of lactic acid, bacteria, sugars, lipids and yeasts, that come together in a matrix to form what looks like lumps of cottage cheese. The grains are packed with live cultures, making kefir chock-full of healthy bacteria and yeast that keep your gut healthy.
What does it taste like?
Most people will describe kefir’s taste as tart and slightly sour. It also has a hint of natural carbonation, thanks to the fermentation action going on between the live bacteria cultures and yeast.
What are the health benefits?
“Depending on the source and level of processing, nutrient density may vary, but kefir typically contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics,” Simpson says. There’s evidence that kefir can help boost immunity, control inflammation in the gut and skin, increase bone density, and detox the body by binding to and neutralizing toxins, Simpson adds. It also contains about three times more probiotic cultures than yogurt. One study even found that kefir may prevent tumor growth, making it a great cancer-preventing food.
What are the beauty benefits?
Probiotics can do wonders for your skin health. “By normalizing gut (and skin) microflora, probiotics provide protection from allergens and chemicals that can trigger pro inflammatory reactions and conditions within the skin (such as eczema),” Simpson says. This is partially because the probiotics help strengthen the skin barrier, which is important for keeping skin protected from the elements and bacteria. There is also clinical data that shows certain good bacteria can act as antioxidants, helping protect cells and neutralize free radicals, which break down healthy skin. “So in a sense, probiotics may protect the skin by acting as a “skin detoxifier.”
Where can you find it?
Most grocery stores have started selling kefir in the dairy section. Look for brands like Nancy’s, Lifeway and Redwood Hill Farm, which all sell organic, quality kefir products.
READ MORE: Probiotics for Gut Health and More: The Definitive Guide