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Don't Fear Kefir is Here

The benefits of good gut health on your mental health.

I’ve always wondered what the real benefits of eating healthily are, besides being able to flex beautifully presented protein bowls on an Instagram story. Seriously, what are the day-to-day benefits of labouring over cooking vegetables when a Gregg’s sausage roll can fill you up en route to a tutorial just fine?

I really don’t want to sound like your mother (or maybe I just don’t want to sound like my mother) but, reader, ninety-five per cent of your body’s serotonin is made in your gut! So sending a whole variety of nutrients down there is powering more than just your physical energy levels, but your mental health depends on it too. I’m here to tell you about a gut health miracle: kefir.

Kefir is milk that is fermented using kefir grains. That might sound gross, but it isn’t really; it tastes like a sour kind of yoghurt and can sometimes be fizzy, because of the carbon dioxide that is produced in the fermenting process.

Kefir is a powerhouse for all the best bacteria for your gut, making your gastrointestinal system the best it can possibly be at digesting food and transforming nutrients into happy hormones so that you really are your best self. (I apologise for sounding like a yoghurt advert.)

Last semester I went home for a couple of days during a bit of a low patch, and when I returned, my mum had sent me back with a jar of these funny-looking kefir grains. You can imagine my flatmates’ scepticism as I told them that I would be fermenting milk in the corner of the kitchen and that I strongly suggested they start their days with a small shot of the thick, tart concoction.

It was worth sounding a bit mad. Within the week we were all hooked. We named our kefir culture Dascha (kefir was a Russian staple before going global), and the morning shot verged on becoming ritualistic, though the more sensitive of the four of us insisted she followed hers with a chaser.

Since we’re all friends, I’ll let you know that the effect on your bowel movements is pretty immediate and is most likely to be the first thing you experience on your own kefir journey. But as you get used to those bowel movements becoming the most slick and regular they’ve ever been, you’ll notice you have more energy to deal with all the tasks ahead.

My kefir adventure helped me get my mojo back, and looking after my culture became a little symbol of my flatmates and I all caring for each other. You don’t even have to make your own: the shop-bought stuff promotes the same health benefits. But, the homemade stuff is cheaper and can be passed around very easily: you can just give some of your kefir grains to another, and suddenly two sets of flatmates are now responsible for living cultures! Its endless health benefits make it a perfect quirky Christmas present, now that I come to think of it!

Illustration by Lindsay Martin

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