Julia Fountain ND
Both yogurt and kefir are fermented milk products, however their distinct microbial profiles impact their taste, texture and health benefits. While yogurt is made by fermenting milk with primarily Lactobacillus bacteria, kefir is cultured using a mixture of symbiotic yeast and bacteria called kefir ‘grains’ (though this mixture does not contain ‘grains’ per se). There are estimates that a serving of kefir contains three times the microbial activity compared to yogurt and the species in kefir are believed to be more durable in the gut and colonize more reliably than those in yogurt. This diversity in microbes in kefir lends a slightly sour flavour, a liquid consistency and a slight effervescent ‘fizz’. In fact, most kefir is consumed as a fermented dairy drink. The health benefits associated with kefir may be attributed to its complex microflora mix, as well as the microbial metabolites that are released during fermentation. These metabolites, lactic and acetic acids, are known to be effective against intestinal pathogens such as E coli and Salmonella. Other bioactive compounds in kefir such as polysaccharides and peptides have shown great potential for immune balance, blood pressure regulation, anti-allergy/ anti-inflammatory actions and inhibition of tumor cells.
*Some considerations: *
-Both yogurt and kefir are known as probiotic foods. Kefir has more diversity in microflora but whether this translates to a proportional increase in health benefit is yet to be seen. No one knows what the perfect gut microbiome should look like – though the American Gut Project is attempting to inventory it – but one thing is clear: diversity in gut microbes is key. And in North America we’re losing it.
-Whether you choose yogurt or kefir, choose plain. The flavoured varieties of both yogurt and kefir are high sugar foods with 4-5 tsp of added sugar per ¾ cup serving compared to plain.
-For those who are dairy intolerant, yogurt and kefir can be equally problematic, even plain varieties will contain 4-5 grams of lactose per serving. In this case consider alternatives – both kefir and yogurt can be made from plant-based milks (coconut, almond, rice, soy) and kefir can be cultured with water, fruit juices and coconut water.
- If you’ve never tried kefir before, start with an organic brand from the store (Liberte, for example). Add it to smoothies, enjoy with oats or granola, add to homemade soups for a creamy consistency, or puree with fruit and freeze as an alternative to frozen yogurt ‘pops’.
-If you enjoy kefir, consider the next step – start making it at home. It’s easy to do once you’ve obtained “starter” cultured kefir grains (these can be ordered online). Fermentation takes less than 24 hours at room temperature with no special equipment required. The research showing health benefits of kefir use small batch kefir prepared in traditional ways, not store-bought brands.
The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir. Frontiers of Microbiology.2016; 7: 647. Published online 2016 May 4. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00647
Kefir: a powerful probiotics with anticancer properties. Medical Oncol. 2017 Sep 27;34(11):183