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Kefir is a cultured milk drink that originates in the Caucasus Mountains. The difference between yogurt and kefir is that yogurt is prepared by adding certain lactic acid bacteria to milk, whereas kefir is made by combining milk with "kefir grains". Kefir grains, or granules, are a complex and variable mixture of microorganisms, including Lactobacilli (bacteria) and yeasts. Unlike those in yogurt, the beneficial flora in kefir actually persist in the intestinal tract to support balance among the gut flora.

There are several major strains of bacteria found in different types of kefir. These may include Lactobacillus caucasus and Leuconostoc, Acetobacter, and Streptococcus species. Kefir also contains yeasts, such as Saccharomyces, Klyuveromyces and Torulopsis, which compete with and eliminate pathogenic yeasts from the body.

Kefir also contains many vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids. Some of the essential nutrients found in kefir include vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K; the minerals calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus; and the amino acid tryptophan.

Kefir has been regarded as a magic elixir since ancient times. It has the ability to stimulate the immune system; inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens; and enhance lactose digestion. There have been numerous studies done on kefir and lactose intolerance. Many researchers have shown that kefir actually aids in the digestion of lactose—milk sugar. It has also been famously credited with the extraordinary longevity of people in the Caucasus. For many decades kefir has been used in traditional medicine to treat tuberculosis, atherosclerosis, metabolic and digestive disorders, cancer, allergic disease, inflammatory diseases, nervous disorders and many other conditions.

Kefir can be found in many major supermarkets and health food stores. It is available in a variety of delicious flavors such as peach, raspberry, vanilla, strawberry, and banana among others. A healthier way to enjoy kefir is to purchase it plain or make your own and add natural flavors and fruits to it yourself. You can make delicious smoothies by blending plain kefir with fruits and berries, vanilla bean, ginger, orange rind and cinnamon, or it can be sweetened with Stevia.


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Principal Author: M. Ofiyeva
Date of Initial Publication: 06/27/2007
Article Last Updated: 03/10/2011