If yogurt is on your weekly shopping list, you might have noticed a product called kefir located on the shelf closeby. I started noticing it more prominently in my grocery store a few weeks ago, and decided to look into it further.
Kefir, much like yogurt, is a healthful dairy product made from cultured milk. They are both good sources of protein and high in calcium, potassium and B-vitamins, while each offers a unique blend of beneficial gut bacteria. But is one healthier or better than the other? It’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s as much about yogurt versus kefir as it is about using both of them to optimize health.
The main differences between kefir and yogurt are the types and amounts of bacteria found within. Kefir offers a much more diverse array of cultures compared to yogurt, and they offer different benefits. Whereas the bacterial cultures found in yogurt are relatively small and “transient, ” kefir can have two to three times the amount of cultures, while milk kefir can have up to . Comparatively, yogurts only really offer a handful of probiotics.
One major difference between yogurt and kefir (which has nothing to do with nutrition) is consistency. Whereas yogurt is thick and consumed with a spoon, most kefir is sold as “milk kefir, ” and it is a runny liquid. It can be purchased as cheese or other more solid forms, but the most convenient and common form is a runny, milky liquid that is best consumed as a drink, in a smoothie, or poured over cereal. In many instances, it can be subsisted for yogurt in recipes where consistency is not a major issue.
So if you want to try something new, milk kefir could be worth a shot!
Kefir vs. Yogurt
Plain yogurt has a thick consistency that varies based on the way it’s made; Greek yogurt, for example, is rather thick whereas less-processed yogurt is thinner and runny. This is accomplished by draining the whey protein. The more whey that’s drained, the thicker it is. For the most part, the flavor of yogurt is rather consistent, with slight variations. But typically plain yogurt is slightly sour—something that can be altered with the addition of natural flavors like honey, nuts, and berries.
Kefir, in my opinion, is sourer than yogurt. It might be unpalatable to those who really don’t like sour tastes—but there is also an element of creaminess to it. However, I’d advise against taking a big sip if you’ve never had it before; the flavor can be rather surprising and you might relate it to spoiled milk. But much like yogurt, you can improve the flavor of kefir by adding some of the same items you’d use for yogurt. Kefir milk is naturally a little fizzy or bubbly, but there are some manufacturers who produce “flat” options without the bubbles.
Both yogurt and kefir can be very healthy, but those benefits can quickly be erased depending on the kind you select; therefore, reading nutrition labels is of the utmost importance. Added sugars can take a healthy food and make it rather dangerous—and even combat the probiotic benefits of kefir and yogurt. Because plain yogurt and milk kefir can be unpalatable, manufacturers will add flavors like strawberry, blueberry, vanilla, and others to improve the flavor.
Doing so, however, adds plenty of sugar. Added sugars, when consumed in high doses, can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and a number of other related health problems. Additionally, new research is indicating that a diet high in sugar and processed food (which is what yogurt/kefir with added sugar is) can have negative effects on gut bacteria, which counters the benefits offered by probiotics.
One cup of plain milk kefir has nine grams of naturally occurring sugar—lactose—which is not dangerous and will not have the same metabolic effects as added sugar. One cup of strawberry-flavored Liberte milk kefir has 26 grams of sugar, meaning it has 15 grams of added sugar (so you might as well just drink a soda.)