Both milk kefir and yogurt are cultured dairy foods — meaning that they are fermented with microorganisms and predigested.
They both inoculate the gut with good bacteria. And both are known for their ability to enhance health.
Is eating yogurt really as good for your health as advertisers make it out to be? Homemade kefir — made with the Kefir Starter — is a better choice than yogurt since it contains large amounts of beneficial bacteria and precious digestive enzymes that help to balance your inner ecology.
So is one better than the other?
What Kefir and Yogurt Have in Common
Yogurt and kefir have a long history. People have been benefiting from these cultured foods for centuries! Scientists are intrigued by the health benefits of yogurt and kefir. Recent studies have found that yogurt (when enjoyed often) may prevent colorectal cancer.1 Other research has found that yogurt can relieve diarrhea in children.2
Kefir contains good bacteria. And, like yogurt, it also supports digestive health.
According to researcher Steven Hertzler, "Both kefir and yogurt improve lactose digestion simply because some of the bacterial cells give up their lives in the intestinal tract, release their enzymes, and digest the lactose. It's a one-shot deal. However, kefir has additional microorganisms that may be able to colonize the intestines and benefit health further by protecting the intestine against disease-causing bacteria.”3
Besides uniquely enhancing digestion, kefir has an antimicrobial effect. It has even been found to control the growth of Candida yeast.4 Studies also show that the good bacteria in kefir can mitigate the toxins that are released by disease-causing bugs, like Clostridium difficile.5
Besides good bacteria, kefir also contains a structural sugar called kefiran.
Kefiran as a naturally beneficial structural sugar is much different from the processed sugars that yogurt manufacturers have been trying to reduce in their over-sweetened commercial products for years.6 Unlike refined sugar, kefiran can regulate the immune system, control high cholesterol, and reduce high blood pressure. Research also suggests that kefiran may have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.7,8 Most recently, kefiran was proven to have valuable biological activity, with the potential to enhance populations of beneficial bacteria in the gut.9,10
Store-Bought Versus Homemade
Unfortunately, most store-bought yogurts and kefirs are filled with sugar and preservatives. This is important to understand. A 2015 Spanish study revealed that, contrary to the popular health wisdom, eating commercial yogurt didn’t provide any benefits to improve health or quality of life.11 We believe that this may again reflect the poor quality of most yogurt and kefir products being sold on store shelves.
While many brands may boast about probiotic content, store-bought kefir and yogurt may not provide the health benefits we desire. Processing, extreme temperatures (both high and low), added ingredients, and milk quality turn a super-nutritious food into something you want to avoid!12
That’s not all.
Store-bought kefir and yogurt often contain few (if any) live cultures. The manufacturing of these foods is not well regulated — taste and texture are more important than therapeutic value. For example, one study compared “ordinary yogurt” to one specifically cultured for the study.13 Researchers found that the “ordinary yogurt” had no effect on cholesterol — whereas the lab-made yogurt could significantly decrease total cholesterol.
Another similar study came up with the same results.
This time, researchers found that their lab-made yogurt improved levels of total cholesterol and bad cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.14 They concluded that yogurt with living cultures “may contribute to the improvement of cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
The best kefir and the best yogurt are homemade. If not homemade, purchase your kefir or yogurt from someone that you trust — whether it is a neighbor, a local farmer, or a small company that works with only the best ingredients.
What Makes Kefir a Living Superfood
One of the most important differences between kefir and yogurt involves enzymes. Kefir is traditionally made with raw milk. These days, raw milk is only permitted for sale in some states. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to benefit from raw milk. When kefir is made with raw milk, it contains valuable enzymes.
Heat destroys enzymes. It denatures them and changes the structure of the protein in enzymes. Denatured enzymes are not biologically active. They can no longer assist the body in breaking down food particles into smaller molecules. All raw food has enzymes in it that we can use. Because many people do not secrete enough enzymes during the digestive process — or they are missing certain ones — it is especially important to enjoy raw foods.
Of course, at Body Ecology we believe that the best way to eat raw food is to culture it with friendly microorganisms.
Did you know that all yogurt is heated to a temperature that destroys enzymes? When it comes to dairy, we prefer kefir over yogurt because the enzymes in raw dairy are still intact. In addition to its beneficial enzymes, the sheer probiotic power of kefir makes it a superstar in the world of fermented foods. The latest research again explored fermented milk as an antihypertensive agent, along with its ability to protect against oxidative damage during anemia recovery, to control inflammation in the gut, and to provide at least short-term improvements in bone mineral density in osteoporotic patients.15,16,17,18 In 2016, kefir was shown to induce cell death and prevent cancer growth in patients with acute leukemia.19
How to Make Your Own Milk Kefir at Home
Generations have been making these cultured dairy foods using the same foolproof methods: Combine raw or minimally processed dairy (organic, non-homogenized milk) with a starter culture. Place the brew in a warm place. And wait, usually 1-2 days.
Kefir is traditionally made with cow's milk. If you are unable to tolerate cow’s milk, it can also be made using coconut, goat, camel, or sheep’s milk:
- Mix one package of Body Ecology Kefir Starter with one quart of slightly warm milk (at body temperature or 92°F). Place into a glass container. Secure lid.
- Allow your ferment to rest in a warm place (around 72-75°F) for 18 to 24 hours. You will know that it is ready when the milk has thickened. The final consistency should be easy to pour but not suitable to eat with a spoon. When ready, your kefir will have a sour fragrance.
- Stir well and place in the refrigerator. The fermentation process will continue even in the refrigerator, but chilling will slow down the fermentation of the beneficial yeast and healthy bacteria.
- When you are ready to make your second batch of kefir, use a few tablespoons of your first batch and add it to freshly warmed milk.
In most cases, we recommend making kefir out of camel, sheep, or goat’s milk, or milk from another animal, unless A-2 cow’s milk (containing the A-2 protein) is available to you. Compared to A-1 cow’s milk that contains 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey, A-2 cow’s milk, containing 80 percent whey and 20 percent casein, is so much easier on the digestive tract. Along with its reversed whey-to-casein ratio, A-2 cow’s milk also has the proline to histidine enzymes switched, making it far easier to digest.20
The shelf life of Body Ecology’s Kefir Starter is 12 months from the manufactured date when kept refrigerated, or longer when it is stored in the freezer. Once you’ve made your first batch of fermented kefir, the fun has just begun. We’ve put together a complete list of our favorite nutritious and delicious kefir recipes that you can enjoy at home.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Kefir and yogurt are unique because they are cultured dairy foods, fermented with microorganisms and predigested. While both foods are considered healthy, which is a better option to support your inner ecology?
Research confirms that regularly eating yogurt could prevent colorectal cancer and even relieve diarrhea in children. Kefir is also praised for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits — to control Candida yeast overgrowth, regulate blood pressure, flush harmful toxins released by pathogenic bugs, and provide some anti-cancer effects. Nonetheless, store-bought yogurts and kefirs won't do you any good since they are chock-full of preservatives and sugar. Store-bought products also contain very few, if any, live cultures due to the manufacturing process.
Kefir stands out as an all-star superfood thanks to its enzyme content when made with raw milk. Unfortunately, all yogurt is heated to a temperature that destroys these valuable enzymes. To get the most out of your cultured dairy, Body Ecology recommends making kefir with raw milk at home using the Body Ecology Kefir Starter. The fermentation process is simple and will preserve beneficial enzymes from raw dairy to enhance digestion and overall health.
- Pala, V., Sieri, S., Berrino, F., Vineis, P., Sacerdote, C., Palli, D., Masala, G., Panico, S., Mattiello, A., Tumino, R., Giurdanella, M. C., Agnoli, C., Grioni, S. and Krogh, V. (2011), Yogurt consumption and risk of colorectal cancer in the Italian European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition cohort. J. Cancer, 129: 2712–2719. doi: 10.1002/ijc.26193.
- Eren, M., Dinleyici, E. C., & Vandenplas, Y. (2010). Clinical efficacy comparison of Saccharomyces boulardii and yogurt fluid in acute non-bloody diarrhea in children: a randomized, controlled, open label study. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 82(3), 488.
- Hertzler, S. R., & Clancy, S. M. (2003). Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103(5), 582-587.
- Rodrigues, K. L., Caputo, L. R. G., Carvalho, J. C. T., Evangelista, J., & Schneedorf, J. M. (2005). Antimicrobial and healing activity of kefir and kefiran extract. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, 25(5), 404-408.
- Carasi, P., Trejo, F. M., Pérez, P. F., De Antoni, G. L., & Serradell, M. L. (2012). Surface proteins from Lactobacillus kefir antagonize in vitro cytotoxic effect of Clostridium difficile Anaerobe, 18(1), 135.
- Kim I. Sørensen, Mirjana Curic-Bawden, Mette P. Junge, Thomas Janzen, and Eric Johansen. Enhancing the sweetness of yoghurt through metabolic remodeling of carbohydrate metabolism in Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, April 2016 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00462-16.
- Medrano, M., Racedo, S. M., Rolny, I. S., Abraham, A. G., & Pérez, P. F. (2011). Oral administration of kefiran induces changes in the balance of immune cells in a murine model. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 59(10), 5299-5304.
- Prado MR, Blandón LM, Vandenberghe LP, Rodrigues C, Castro GR, Thomaz-Soccol V, Soccol CR. Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products. Front Microbiol. 2015 Oct 30;6:1177.
- Hamet MF, Medrano M, Pérez PF, Abraham AG. Oral administration of kefiran exerts a bifidogenic effect on BALB/c mice intestinal microbiota. Benef Microbes. 2016 Mar 11;7(2):237-46.
- Esther Lopez-Garcia, Luz Leon-Muñoz, Pilar Guallar-Castillon, Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo. Habitual Yogurt Consumption and Health-Related Quality of Life: A Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2015; 115 (1): 31 DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.05.013.
- Furuno, T., & Nakanishi, M. (2012). Kefiran Suppresses Antigen-Induced Mast Cell Activation. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 35(2), 178-183.
- Lee, W. J., & Lucey, J. A. (2010). Formation and physical properties of yogurt. Asian-Aust. J. Anim. Sci, 23(9), 1127-1136.
- Ataie-Jafari, A., Larijani, B., & Tahbaz, F. (2009). Cholesterol-lowering effect of probiotic yogurt in comparison with ordinary yogurt in mildly to moderately hypercholesterolemic subjects. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 54(1), 22-27.
- Ejtahed, H. S., Mohtadi-Nia, J., Homayouni-Rad, A., Niafar, M., Asghari-Jafarabadi, M., Mofid, V., & Akbarian-Moghari, A. (2011). Effect of probiotic yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis on lipid profile in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of Dairy Science, 94(7), 3288-3294.
- M. Beltrán-Barrientos, A. Hernández-Mendoza, M.J. Torres-Llanez, A.F. González-Córdova, B. Vallejo-Córdoba. Invited review: Fermented milk as antihypertensive functional food. Journal of Dairy Science, 2016; 99 (6): 4099 DOI: 10.3168/jds.2015-10054.
- Moreno-Fernandez J, Diaz-Castro J, Alferez MJ, Boesch C, Nestares T, Lopez-Aliaga I. Fermented goat milk improves antioxidant status and protects from oxidative damage to biomolecules during anemia recovery. J Sci Food Agric. 2016 Jul 6. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.7882.
- Bolla PA, Abraham AG, Pérez PF, de Los Angeles Serradell M. Kefir-isolated bacteria and yeasts inhibit Shigella flexneri invasion and modulate pro-inflammatory response on intestinal epithelial cells. Benef Microbes. 2015 Oct 27:1-8.
- Tu MY, Chen HL, Tung YT, Kao CC, Hu FC, Chen CM. Short-Term Effects of Kefir-Fermented Milk Consumption on Bone Mineral Density and Bone Metabolism in a Randomized Clinical Trial of Osteoporotic Patients. PLoS One. 2015 Dec 10;10(12):e0144231. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144231.
- Jalali F, Sharifi M, Salehi R. Kefir induces apoptosis and inhibits cell proliferation in human acute erythroleukemia. Med Oncol. 2016 Jan;33(1):7. doi: 10.1007/s12032-015-0722-8. Epub 2015 Dec 26.
- Woodford K, (2007). Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and Politics: A1 and A2 Milk. Wellington New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing.
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