Top 10 Happy foods Number 4 – Kefir
By Tyson Hammond
Eating to feel good is something easy we can do to help our body and mind feel content and enjoy our lives a little more. Staying physically healthy is an essential part of keeping mentally and emotionally buoyant. One of the main things we can do to stay physically healthy is to eat good, nutritious food.
Over the next 4 weeks I will introduce you, one every week, to the remaining foods in my Top 10 feel good foods. Foods that work to support all the different chemical reactions that happen within our beautiful bodies to keep us healthy and strong, but most of all elevate our mood!!
A lot of you will be wondering, “What is Kefir?” My laptop is even telling me I’ve made a spelling mistake upon writing it. This is something I was introduced to a few years ago when I was woofing in the Canary Islands. What intrigued me was that I could make it or should I say ‘grow it’ myself. Since then it has come in and out of my life a bit like an old friend who I’m always happy to be reminded that they’re still there for me when I need them.
What on earth is it?
Kefir is fermented milk, similar to yogurt. Usually it’s made from cow’s milk but it can be made from most milks. This article will focus on the goodness it provides for us when it’s made from cow’s milk. So, you’re thinking it’s milk gone sour or it’s buttermilk – well no, it’s not. Kefir is an age-old technique of fermenting milk using Kefir grains. Marco Polo even mentioned it in his writings. It is not so well known in the West but is common in Russia, South Eastern Asia, and North & East Europe. Why, like so many other fermented foods this sour milk is so popular around our globe is for its health benefits to our intestinal health/immune system. If you’re wondering why I slashed intestinal health and immune system together, then you’ll have to read on.
How does Kefir elevate our mood?
For this article I’m going to focus on how Kefir improves our overall health by enhancing our intestinal health, therefore strengthening our immune system and keeping us healthy and happy. However within milk, there’s quite a high level of tryptophan, magnesium and B vitamins, which if you’ve read any of my other articles on my Top 10 Happy Foods do directly effect our mood. Tryptophan is used by the brain to make serotonin – the feel good hormone we all love. Magnesium and B vitamins both have been found in respected research to help elevate the mood. Plus, the fermentation process the milk goes through when making Kefir predigests these nutrients for us making them easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate.
The real reason though that so many cultures have adopted Kefir as their own, is what it can do for our all-round health. When you introduce Kefir grains (which resemble miniature cauliflowers) to fresh milk and leave it at room temperature for 24hrs, it changes the milk into an alive immune supportive elixir. The fermentation process changes the lactose into lactic acid making it digestible to even those that have trouble digesting lactose.
The microorganisms that make the Kefir alive are beneficial to our digestive tract. Introducing different kinds of beneficial bacteria improves both nutrient absorption and immune function. It helps immunity because having balanced flora in your gut aids the lymphatic cells present in your intestines to kill any pathogens we might have ingested with our food. If the acid in our stomach hasn’t killed them then we need the helpful microorganisms in our intestines to do it, otherwise they go further into the body or begin to grow in our gut.
There has been some interesting research lately on the effects that a healthy intestine directly affects your mood, helping you feel less stressed and anxious. This would explain why some people claim to feel happier when they are including Kefir in their diets. Without getting too technical most of the feel good chemical serotonin travels to the lining of the intestine and stomach and is released there. If we having a well functioning gut then serotonin levels are ample, if not then we have too little or too much both causing negative side effects for the digestive and nervous system.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but probiotics is big business. Most pharmacies and health shops have a many different kinds of probiotics, advertising a billion bacteria of this kind and a trillion of that. Well Kefir is a probiotic that you can grow yourself and it’s super easy once you’ve got the Kefir grains. I’m sure someone in your town/city has some Kefir grains to give away. The beauty of them is that they multiply, so you’ll always have surplus. I know for sure you can buy them on TradeMe if you can’t find someone locally to get them from. My favourite way to drink Kefir once I’ve strained the yogurt-like-liquid from the grains is in my fruit smoothie. That’s how I can get the most of it into me in one go. Otherwise a little in my muesli or mixed in to fruit juice works too. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to at least experiment with Kefir making. It’s worth it, in more ways than one!!
Tyson Hammond is a Medical Herbalist and a Naturopath living in Golden Bay. He runs online weight loss programs and online stress reduction programs for ‘Wellgrounded Integrative Healthcare’, a company focused on helping people integrate beneficial and sustainable changes into their lives.