Water Kefir: Benefits, Nutritional Value, and Precautions

Overview

There has been an overwhelming buzz about probiotics. Brimming with a diversity of microbial strains, probiotics have carved a place in every fitness enthusiast’s kitchen cabinet. Water kefir is one such probiotic that has made its way in the drinks section of our menus.

Water kefir is a vegan water-based version of the centuries-old fermented kefir. Tracing its roots to the mesmerizing peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, kefir continues to be a rage among people in Europe, Southwestern Asia, and Russia and is gaining steam in the markets of the United States.

Water kefir is well known for its purported benefits on health. Easy to prepare at home, it is light, refreshing, and low in sugar, alcohol, and lactose.

water kefir health benefitswater kefir health benefits

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What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is a probiotic drink, prepared by dissolving water kefir grains in a sugar water solution. Known as Japanese water crystals, water kefir grains are a symbiotic assortment of bacterial and yeast strains, which need an environment of sugar water to thrive well.

The microbial strains in water kefir feed on the sugar in the water and produce a slightly sweet, mildly tangy carbonated drink with traces of alcohol.

Nutritional Facts of Water Kefir

Low in sugar, water kefir is undeniably a healthy shot of nutrition.[1]

Water kefir is rife with some of the best strains of beneficial microbes, including the following:[4][12]

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Bacterial Strains

  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Lactobacillus hilgardii
  • Lactobacillus hordei
  • Lactobacillus nagelii
  • Leuconostoc citreum
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus harbinensis
  • Acetobacter fabarum
  • Acetobacter orientalis
  • Streptococcus lactis

Yeast strains

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  • Hanseniaospora valbyensis
  • Lachancea fermentati
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Zygotorulaspora florentina

Alcohol Content in Water Kefir

Water kefir is a fermentation product. Being an outcome of a brewing process, alcohol is a component naturally present in water kefir.

The amount of alcohol in water kefir varies from less than 1 to 3 percent depending on the temperature and soaking time. Unless you want kefir beer, restrict the soaking time to 24 hours. A 48-hour soak can result in a vegan gluten-free beer, bubbling with beneficial microbes.

Water Kefir, A Dairy-Free Probiotic

Water kefir is your vegan (dairy-free) alternative to the traditional kefir made from fermented milk.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle can limit your options by restricting your use of dairy products. Besides housing a load of probiotics, water kefir contains scads of vitamin B1, B6, and B12..[13]

The galactosidase enzyme in milk kefir breaks down the lactose and makes it easily digestible by lactose-intolerant individuals, although it may contain milk proteins such as whey and casein that can result in an upset stomach.

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This puts water kefir a notch above the rest as a dairy-free alternative to probiotics and nutrition.[12]

Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir

The process of brewing water kefir eliminates the use of milk and makes use of water or coconut water and kefir grains. Kefir grains are a combination of active cultures of bacteria and yeast held together in a matrix of polysaccharides.

The kefir grains for milk and water are similar in function, but the difference lies in their appearance.

Milk kefir grains are white, looking like cottage cheese with a slimy touch. Water kefir grains are translucent and resemble a cauliflower.

It is essential to take a note here that it is best to stick to the substrates. Any change in the substrates can hamper the activity of the kefir grains. Milk kefir grains need the lactose in the milk to survive, whereas water kefir grains rely on the sucrose content in the sugared water.

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Preparing Your Own Water Kefir

Making homemade water kefir is an easy and straightforward task.

Requirements

  • Water kefir grains
  • Sugar (refined/unrefined/rapadura/turbinado/Sucanat)
  • Hot water
  • Jar
  • Coffee filter

Method

  • In a very clean one-quart jar, pour filtered hot water and add 1/3 cup of sugar. Swish the jar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Prefer sugars not stripped of their nutritional content such as rapadura and turbinado. Avoid using honey – it can kill the microbial strains by its antimicrobial action.
  • Add about 1–2 tablespoons of kefir grains when the water has reached room temperature. Your grains may come with a manufacturer’s instruction to give you an idea of its usage.
  • Place the jar below a coffee filter and let it settle and ferment for 24–48 hours as needed. The length of time decides the flavor of the water kefir.
  • Strain the kefir grains from the water kefir.
  • You can use these grains for a second batch of water kefir. To add extra punch to the flavor, you can add pieces of ginger, fresh fruits, vanilla, and maple syrup in the water.

Note: Keep your grains away from sunlight and metals. Sunlight can degrade the kefir grains and make them toxic.

Risks and Precautions with Water Kefir

With the pros come the cons, so it is wise to be aware of the precautions that must be kept in mind to reap the benefits of water kefir on your health.

  • Being a probiotic, your body might take time to get acclimatized to the drink. You should refrain from drinking large quantities initially. It is advised to start with a small amount and gradually increase your dose. Incorrect dosage of water kefir can result in diarrhea and stomach pain.
  • Some individuals can suffer from tachycardia upon consumption of kefir.
  • Water kefir can pose intestinal dysfunction in individuals with a weak digestive system.
  • It lies upon parents’ discretion to give water kefir to children between the age of 1 and 5 years. Although it is safe for oral consumption in children, do not give it to children below the age of 1.
  • Due to the lack of reliable information, the use of water kefir in pregnancy and lactation should be avoided.
  • Consult your doctor before consuming water kefir if you suffer from a disease that is likely to weaken your immune system such as AIDS. The composition of water kefir is the reason behind this. The hyperactive live cultures of yeast and bacterial populations can lead to a buildup of infections in such individuals.
  • Water kefir is a strict NO for people that are undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. The use of water kefir can result in a string of side effects, including mouth sores, drowsiness, and stomach and intestinal complications.

Reasons Why Water Kefir is Good for You

Water kefir is tailored to meet your body’s demands for probiotics and nutrients. This nutritional profile makes it a substantial addition to your diet to garner its health benefits.

water kefir for healthwater kefir for health

Let’s walk through the health benefits of water kefir that will convince you to include it in your daily routine:

1. Promotes a Healthy Gut

Water kefir is teeming with beneficial bacteria. Probiotics or beneficial bacteria promotes your gut health by maintaining a balance of intestinal microflora.

Probiotics can have far-reaching effects on your health by improving your digestion and revving up the health of your gut.[2]

Water kefir can be considered as a dietary source of probiotics due to the presence of many strains of bacteria in kefir grains used to make water kefir.[4]

A study published in Digestive and Liver Disease highlighted the use of water kefir to maintain a balance in the gut microbiome, leading to a sharp decline in the levels of bacterial genera involved in the onset of pro-inflammatory response and several gastrointestinal diseases.[3]

2. Combats Infection

A healthy gut has a balance of both good and bad bacteria. Using antibiotics to eliminate pathogens can lead to an imbalance in the gut environment by wiping out the beneficial bacteria from your gut and causing a possible overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and yeasts.[4]

The widespread use of antibiotics and binging on processed foods can dwindle the balance of intestinal microflora.

Research indicates that the bacterial load in water kefir can deplete the levels of harmful pathogens, such as Salmonella, Helicobacter pylori, and E. coli, which can cause food poisoning.[6][5]

A study published in Natural Medicine Journal demonstrated the use of kefir to combat the infection of H. pylori. The eradication of infection was observed in more than three-quarters of patients drinking kefir in the experimental setup as compared with only half of the patients in the control setup who received a combination of antibiotics and placebo.[7]

3. Boosts Immunity Levels

Adding water kefir to your daily diet can perk up your immune system.

Water kefir can give a boost to your immune system by eliminating harmful bacteria and reducing inflammatory responses and urinary tract infections.[8][4]

A study published in the Journal of Microbiology supported feeding mice with kefir to reduce the infection of G. intestinalis. The consumption of kefir promoted the activation of the mechanisms of humoral and cellular immunity that are degraded by parasitic infection.[5]

4. Lowers the Risk of Diabetes

Consumption of probiotics can help decrease the levels of the diabetic marker hemoglobin A1c and fasting blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. This is reason enough to use water kefir to plummet the rising levels of sugar in your blood.

An addition to this is the relatively low sugar content of water kefir, which makes it an ideal beverage for diabetics.[10][11]

A study published in Scientific Research demonstrated visible improvements in the weight, sugar, and lipid profiles of streptozotocin-induced diabetic Wistar rats on administration of water kefir for 5 weeks.[9]

5. Aids in Weight Loss

Being overweight or obese can hinder you from doing some activities and riddle you with diseases. The need to maintain ideal body weight is enormous.

The nutritional superiority of water kefir puts it on a pedestal when it comes to reducing body weight.

Water kefir can bust fat by depleting the levels of markers found in epididymal fat. It also slows down the processes of lipogenesis and adipogenesis and brings a sharp decline in cholesterol levels – the predominant causes of obesity.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry corroborated the use of water-soluble exopolysaccharide supplementation extracted from probiotic kefir in the reduction of adipose tissue weight, diet-induced body weight gain, and serum very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in mice fed with a high-fat diet.[14]

6. May Help Reduce Asthma and Allergy

Asthma flare-ups can be prevented by avoiding triggers or allergens.

The narrowing of bronchial tubes associated with respiratory distress in asthma patients can be relieved by the synergistic effects of water kefir.[17]

The anti-inflammatory action of water kefir makes it a suitable solution to suppress the inflammatory markers that can engender inflammation in the bronchial tubes, thus preventing an asthma flare-up.

7. Heals Your Skin and Wounds

Water kefir has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Thanks to its abundance of probiotics, water kefir is an incredible solution to your skin ailments.

The presence of various polysaccharides in water kefir aids in revitalizing the skin, healing burns and scars, promoting gut health, and encouraging skin lightening.[19]

Using water kefir can help rejuvenate your skin.[20] Partaking water kefir can help manage an acne outbreak that results from an inflammation in the gut by restoring the balance of gut microflora.

By way of its rich composition, water kefir can help repair the connective skin tissue by wiping out microbial invasions and hastening the process of wound healing.[4]

A study highlighted the effectiveness of kefir gel therapy on severe burn wounds and its outcomes. Kefir gel therapy worked well on the burns in comparison to the commercially available salve that contains silver sulfadiazine.[18]

8. May Reduce the Chances of Cancer

Cancer is the type of disease with many possible causes. Nowadays, there is much research about cancer and how to prevent it. Also, we have been warned about food that may lead to the growth of cancer cells.[4][15]

According to preliminary research, water kefir may play a role in fighting cancer.

A 2016 test tube study conducted on mice, published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, highlighted the oral administration water kefir for 28 days on mice injected with 4T1 breast cancer cells.

The experimental group treated with water kefir showed a significant reduction in tumor size and weight. Also, a substantial 7-fold increase in cytotoxic T cells and a 5-fold increase in helper T cells were observed.[16]

Takeaway

With all the advantages that probiotics offer, they seem to be all the rage now. The health community is capitalizing on this demand. It is essential to stay aware and choose what is best for your health.

Water kefir is a low-calorie drink that can give you a cleaner gut, can benefit your skin, is vegan, and can also help you fight invasions of harmful bacteria.

It is also a vegan dairy-free alternative to your usual soda and dairy probiotics.

Whether you drink it as is or blend it into a smoothie, water kefir is a guilt-free indulgence.

Resources:

  1. Laureys D, Vuyst LD. Water kefir as a promising low-sugar probiotic fermented beverage. Archives of Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4092267/. Published June 6, 2014.
  2. Hsu Y-J, Huang W- C, Chen YM. Kefir Supplementation Modifies Gut Microbiota Composition, Reduces Physical Fatigue, and Improves Exercise Performance in Mice. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073576/. Published July 4, 2018.
  3. Toscano M, Grandi RD, Miniello VL. Ability of Lactobacillus kefiri LKF01 (DSM32079) to colonize the intestinal environment and modify the gut microbiota composition of healthy individuals. Digestive and Liver Disease. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1590865816308155. Published December 6, 2016.
  4. Bourrie BCT, Willing BP, Cotter PD. The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir. Frontiers in Microbiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4854945/. Published May 4, 2016.
  5. Franco MC, Golowczyc MA, Antoni GLD, Pérez PF, Humen M, Serradell Mde los A. Administration of kefir-fermented milk protects mice against Giardia intestinalis infection. Journal of Medical Microbiology. https://jmm.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/jmm/10.1099/jmm.0.068064-0. Published December 1, 2013.
  6. Kim D- H, Jeong D, Kim H. Antimicrobial Activity of Kefir against Various Food Pathogens and Spoilage Bacteria. Korean Journal for Food Science of Animal Resources. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5243963/. Published December 31, 2016.
  7. Schor J. Kefir Beats Yogurt in H. pylori Treatment. Natural Medicine Journal. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2011-05/kefir-beats-yogurt-h-pylori-treatment. Published May 2011.
  8. Rodrigues KL, Carvalho JC, Schneedorf JM. Anti-inflammatory properties of kefir and its polysaccharide extract. Inflammopharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16280101. Published 2005.
  9. Alsayadi, M, Jawfi YA, Belarbi M. Evaluation of Anti-Hyperglycemic and Anti-Hyperlipidemic Activities of Water Kefir as Probiotic on Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Wistar Rats. Medicine & Healthcare. https://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=45054. Published April 21, 2014.
  10. Laureys D, Vuyst LD. Water kefir as a promising low-sugar probiotic fermented beverage. Archives of Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4092267/. Published June 6, 2014.
  11. Ghazi I, Abdel R, Hassan AH. Evaluation of antidiabetic and antihyperlipidimic activity of Kefir in alloxan induced diabetes mellitus rat. Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327227983_Evaluation_of_antidiabetic_and_antihyperlipidimic_activity_of_Kefir_in_alloxan_induced_diabetes_mellitus_rat. Published January 2018.
  12. John S, Deeseenthum S. Properties and benefits of kefir – A review. Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282711403_Properties_and_benefits_of_kefir_-_A_review. Published May 2015.
  13. Ahmed Z, Wang Y, Ahmad A. Kefir and Health: A Contemporary Perspective. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235421071_Kefir_and_Health_A_Contemporary_Perspective. Published February 2013.
  14. Lim J, Kale M, Kim D- H. Antiobesity Effect of Exopolysaccharides Isolated from Kefir Grains. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b03764. Published October 30, 2017.
  15. Sharifi M, Moridnia A, Salehi M. Kefir: a powerful probiotics with anticancer properties. Medical Oncology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320066936_Kefir_a_powerful_probiotics_with_anticancer_properties. Published November 2017.
  16. Zamberi NR, Abu N, Mohamed NE. The Antimetastatic and Antiangiogenesis Effects of Kefir Water on Murine Breast Cancer Cells. Integrative Cancer Therapies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5739168/. Published May 26, 2016.
  17. Lee JK, Ahn K- S, Kim M-J. Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect of kefir in a mouse asthma model. Immunobiology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5970789_Anti-inflammatory_and_anti-allergic_effect_of_kefir_in_a_mouse_asthma_model. Published February 2007.
  18. Huseini HF, Rahimzadeh G, Mehrazma M. Evaluation of wound healing activities of kefir products. Burns: journal of the International Society for Burn Injurie. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221740291_Evaluation_of_wound_healing_activities_of_kefir_products. Published January 2012.
  19. Chen MJ, Liu RJ, Lin CW. Study on Skin Care Properties of Milk Kefir Whey. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences. https://www.ajas.info/journal/view.php?number=21338. Published 2006.
  20. Lew LC, Liong MT. Bioactives from probiotics for dermal health: functions and benefits. Journal of Applied Microbiology Journal of Applied Microbiology . https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jam.12137. Published February 1, 2013.

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