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Kefir vs. Yogurt: Benefits and Nutrition Facts

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 05/02/2024

Kefir vs. yogurt—what are their health benefits, and which one is better?


The probiotic content of fermented foods such as kefir and yogurt can support health and wellness in various ways, from improving immunity to enhancing digestion. 


Discover the benefits of kefir and yogurt, and learn how to incorporate these health-promoting foods into your diet to harness their health advantages. 

 

Kefir parfait and kefir grains

What is kefir? 


Kefir is a nourishing fermented dairy product renowned for its rich diversity of probiotics.


While typically made from cow's milk, kefir can also be crafted from various other mediums.


Here are common types of milk used to make kefir:

  • Goat's milk

  • Sheep's milk

  • Coconut milk

  • Oat milk

  • Rice milk

  • Soy milk 


Plain kefir has a distinct tangy flavor and a smooth, pleasant consistency reminiscent of drinkable yogurt.


Kefir is a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed on its own or used as a milk substitute in various dishes, such as smoothies, salad dressing, probiotic ice cream, and even baking. 


Commercial kefir products are often available in several flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

 

How it’s made

Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to fresh milk. Kefir grains are active cultures of beneficial bacterial strains and yeasts that form grain-like structures.


The microorganisms in kefir grains feed on the milk sugar lactose, producing lactic acid bacteria and carbon dioxide that transform milk into a fermented beverage. 


Kefir nutrition facts

Here are the general nutrition facts for eight fluid ounces of unsweetened whole milk kefir.

  • 180 calories 

  • 6 g fat

  • 9 g protein 

  • 11 g total carbs 

    • 0 g fiber 

    • 11 g net carbs


In addition, kefir also contains several essential nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin K

  • Folic acid

  • Calcium 

  • Potassium

  • Magnesium 


Watch the video below to learn more about the interesting difference between yogurt and kefir.

Yogurt vs. Kefir: An Interesting Difference

 

Health benefits of kefir


Cultured dairy products such as raw kefir are rich sources of beneficial bacteria. These probiotic microorganisms are critical in maintaining digestive processes, enhancing gut health, and promoting overall well-being. 


According to research published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the diverse probiotic content of milk kefir helps strengthen the gut microbiome, supporting the body's defenses against harmful bacteria and toxins.


Similarly, evidence published in Cureus linked kefir consumption to improved immune responses, reduced oxidative stress, and anti-cancer effects.


Another study published in Foods found that drinking kefir proved to be extremely beneficial for individuals with metabolic syndrome. This condition is characterized by a series of coexisting health issues, including insulin resistance, high blood pressure, imbalanced cholesterol levels, and excess body fat. 


The authors summarized that daily kefir consumption improved digestion, insulin resistance, and blood pressure and linked these benefits to kefir’s rich probiotic content. 

Homemade yogurt in a bowl

What is yogurt?


Yogurt is another popular fermented milk product celebrated for its thick, creamy texture and slightly tangy flavor.


Similarly to kefir, yogurt can be made from various kinds of milk, including cow, goat, sheep, and plant-based alternatives such as almond, coconut, and soy milk.


There are many variations of yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, Bulgarian yogurt, and skyr, which are widely available in a range of different flavors.


How it’s made

Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with specific bacterial cultures, typically Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.


These bacteria convert the milk's lactose into lactic acid, which thickens the milk and gives it its unique flavor.


Yogurt nutrition facts

Here are the general nutrition facts for eight fluid ounces of unsweetened whole milk yogurt.

  • 177 calories 

  • 10 g fat

  • 9 g protein 

  • 13 g total carbs 

    • 0 g fiber 

    • 13 g net carbs


In addition, yogurt also contains several essential nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin K

  • Calcium 

  • Potassium

  • Magnesium 

A healthy woman eating yogurt

Health benefits of yogurt


Although yogurt contains considerably lower concentrations of beneficial bacteria, it can be a nutritious option if you choose the right type. 


While the probiotic benefits of yogurt are less diverse than kefir, regular consumption of raw or minimally pasteurized versions that contain live bacterial cultures can offer benefits for digestive and immune functions. 


Additionally, yogurt is a good source of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, B2, and B12, as well as calcium and potassium. These vitamins and minerals are crucial for maintaining good vision, promoting bone health, and supporting immunity.


"Yogurt feeds the existing microbes in the digestive tract, which help clean the colon by supporting the body's natural waste elimination processes," explains Dr. Berg.

Thinking woman trying to decide

Kefir vs. yogurt: which is better?


Both kefir and yogurt can be a valuable addition to a balanced diet. However, they differ significantly in their flavor and nutrient profiles.


The main difference between yogurt and kefir lies in the bacterial cultures that initiate fermentation.


Yogurt is usually made from a few specific strains of lactic acid bacteria. In contrast, kefir is made with kefir grains, which contain a more diverse mixture of bacteria and beneficial yeasts that offer enhanced probiotic benefits.


"In terms of probiotic content, kefir significantly outpaces yogurt with around 27 billion colony-forming units compared to yogurt's 3.6 billion," says Dr. Berg.


Kefir's lactose content is significantly lower compared to yogurt. This makes it a better choice for those requiring easily digested dairy, including babies, children, older people, and individuals with lactose intolerance.


Furthermore, most yogurt in supermarkets is packed with added sugar and artificial flavors that can negatively affect your health. 


While some types of store-bought kefir can also include sugar, you won’t find it challenging to find sugar-free options of this fermented beverage.


Kefir has a predominantly sour taste, unlike yogurt, which is more creamy and slightly tangy. As a result, kefir and yogurt may be preferred for different recipes. 


Plain yogurt may be ideal for smoothies, while kefir may be a better option for dishes that require a more tart note, such as salad dressings.

Women reading a dairy food label

What to watch out for when buying kefir and yogurt 


When buying kefir and yogurt, there are a few things you should watch out for to ensure you're buying a high-quality product.


Here are a few tips to ensure you get high-quality products. 


Avoid added sugars

Most kefir and yogurt products contain small amounts of naturally occurring milk sugar. This is normal, as the bacterial cultures used for fermentation require lactose as a substrate to grow.


However, most commercially available kefir and yogurt, particularly flavored options, include a significant amount of added sugar, which is associated with weight gain, poor metabolic health, and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. 


Carefully read the labels and choose products with no added sugar. The healthiest choices are those that list milk and live cultures as the only ingredients. 


Opt for full-fat dairy

Since the 1960s, there has been a misconception that low-fat dairy options are healthier and better for weight loss. 


However, evidence published in Advances in Nutrition suggests that full-fat dairy may actually be beneficial for weight management. 


The research showed that consuming whole-fat dairy products facilitated notable improvements in critical health markers such as insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control linked to a reduced risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Organic pasture-raised milk dairy

Prioritize non-GMO and organic products

Choose kefir and yogurt products labeled with credible non-GMO and organic certifications. 


These labels not only signify a product free from genetically modified organisms but also indicate that it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals or additives such as synthetic food dyes and artificial flavors.


Avoid highly pasteurized products

Pasteurization is a process that involves heating food products to specific temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, this sanitation process can also destroy good bacteria in kefir and yogurt. 


Ideally, choose options that are labeled raw, unpasteurized, or that specify low-temperature pasteurization methods. 


If these options aren't available, look for live and active cultures or probiotics listed on the ingredients label. This indicates they contain beneficial bacteria that have survived the fermentation process. 

 

fresh milk kefir in glass

Key takeaways


Kefir vs. yogurt—what are their health benefits, and which one is better? Kefir and yogurt are both beneficial fermented dairy products that can support gut health and promote overall wellness. 


However, kefir is generally considered the better option due to its exceptionally high concentrations of diverse probiotic strains. 


It’s recommended to opt for full-fat, organic, and non-GMO kefir or yogurt and avoid products that have been pasteurized and contain added sugars, synthetic flavorings, or preservatives.



FAQ


1. Kefir vs. yogurt, which is better?

Both yogurt and kefir can be beneficial for the digestive tract due to their probiotic content. However, kefir contains a wider variety of beneficial microbial strains and tends to be more easily tolerated by those with lactose sensitivities.


2. Is it safe to consume homemade yogurt or kefir?

Yes, consuming homemade yogurt or kefir is safe, provided you follow proper sanitation and preparation procedures.


3. Is kefir healthier than yogurt?

Kefir is generally considered the healthier choice as it boasts significantly higher probiotic content and lower sugar levels while being more easily digested than yogurt due to its minimal lactose content. 


4. Is kefir just drinkable yogurt?

Despite its similar flavor profile and utilization of fermentation, kefir is not technically a yogurt as it undergoes a different fermentation process that uses kefir grains.


5. Should I drink kefir at night or in the morning?

The optimal time to drink kefir depends on personal preferences. 


Consuming kefir in the morning can support digestion, while drinking it before bed may improve sleep by stimulating the production of melatonin, which plays a critical role in regulating the body’s sleep cycle. 


6. Is supermarket kefir any good?

Supermarket kefir can be a good source of probiotics if it contains live and active cultures. 


Look for organic and non-GMO certified kefir made with milk from grass-fed cows. In addition, avoid pasteurized products and those containing added sugars, food dyes, and other potentially harmful additives.


7. Is plain kefir milk better than flavored?

Yes, plain kefir milk is generally better than flavored kefir because it usually contains fewer sugars and is less likely to include artificial flavors or additives.



Sources


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4854945/ 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9450431/  

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8226494/ 

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31904812/ 

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