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Milk Kefir vs Yogurt - Which Is Better For You?

Researched and Written by:
Richelle Godwin, RDN Richelle Godwin, RDN

Oh what a controversial article this is going to be, with the yogurt lovers in one corner and the milk kefir fans in the other. I feel the tension brewing! Thankfully for you, our research team at Essential Stacks has done all the hard work to figure out the real pros and cons of both. And we’re not going to pull any punches. Welcome to the Ultimate Fermented Dairy Fighting Championship!

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    Now before we start the battle, I think it’s important to quickly show you how milk kefir and yogurt are different.  After all, if you just look at them side-by-side, you’d think these 2 cultured dairy products are pretty similar.  In fact, most patients tell me kefir simply looks like a watery version of yogurt. 

    But that’s like saying Brad Pitt is just a watery version of Robert Redford...so not true! 

    So, the big difference is in how they are made.  With kefir you have to add a complex colony of bacteria and yeast (known as kefir grains) to fresh milk, and allow it to ferment for 24 hours at room temperature. 

    By contrast, with yogurt you typically add existing yogurt or a yogurt starter culture - which both contain only a simple selection of bacteria - to heated milk, and then let it culture for around 8-12 hours at 100-110 Fahrenheit or 37-43 degrees celsius.  

    In other words, these two probiotic dairy products use the Same liquid, but very Different bacteria & fermentation processes .  Now, let’s see which one is better!

    Round 1: Taste

    Let’s cut to the chase here, yogurt tastes amazing!  And I’m not even talking about the flavored yogurts jam packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners. 

    After all, plain whole milk yogurt, with its creamy texture, sweet taste and slight tang, is delicious on everything from muesli to fresh fruits, and even works great as a salad dressing. 

    Meanwhile, milk kefir often tastes more like slightly sour milk or buttermilk, due to the presence of beneficial yeasts.  And it can take time to get used to. 

    Of course, you can flavor it with some honey or vanilla extract, or even mix it in shakes while you get used to it.  Overall though, when it comes to taste (and versatility), yogurt is the clear winner. 

    Round 2: Convenience

    These days you can easily buy both kefir and yogurt at your local health food store or supermarket.  But assuming you want to enjoy the healthiest version of each by making it at home, which one is easier? 

    Well, if you have a yogurt maker machine, then yogurt is going to be the clear winner. 

    Everything is so simple, from buying the starter culture to fermenting it to the right point.  

    By contrast, with kefir milk you have to hunt out quality kefir grains and then you have to go through the whole process of activating them, setting up your fermenting equipment and doing a few initial batches till you get the kefir just right. 

    Once you’re up and running though, kefir is really easy to make, as you can turn plain old milk into milk kefir within 24 hours - day after day.  

    Best of all, kefir grains can be used indefinitely to make more kefir milk, whereas yogurt can only be recultured a few times. If you balance it all up, I’d call it a draw here.

    Round 3: Tolerance

    Apart from taste and convenience, I’d say tolerance is the next big deciding factor on which is best for you.  And this is where kefir is the clear winner.  You see, unlike yogurt, kefir contains Much less lactose - the sugar in milk that many people find hard to digest.  

    And that’s because the kefir grains eat up more of the lactose sugar during fermentation compared to yogurt.  This also explains why Kefir has less sugar & tastes less sweet than yogurt.  So if lactose is an issue for you, then kefir is the friendliest of the two.

    Round 4: Nutrition

    Obviously, thanks to the cows milk itself you’ll enjoy a lot of nutrients, such as minerals, vitamins and even a good source of protein in both kefir and yogurt.  But the key difference, as I just hinted at, is that milk kefir will be lower in sugar. (bring in ‘higher in sugar for yoghurt at same time). 

    So while a cup of plain yogurt might have 6 - 10 grams of sugar, the same amount of kefir will have only 3 - 4 grams, and maybe even less depending on how long it has been fermented for.  So kefir is the winner here!

    Round 5: Probiotics

    Up until now, I think you’d agree, the battle between milk kefir and yogurt has been pretty even.  But when it comes to probiotics, milk kefir is ready to take the gloves off.  And that’s because milk kefir grains contain a much richer and diverse world of beneficial microorganisms compared to yogurt starter culture. 

    And so unsurprisingly, they are able to produce so much more good bacteria - as well as beneficial yeasts - in the kefir drink itself. 

    In fact, in a single cup of homemade milk kefir, you can typically find 100-300 billion CFUs of good bacteria & yeast, which can come from 30 to 100 different probiotic species!  

    That is huge!  And let’s compare that to yogurt now - which typically has only 1-5 billion CFUs per serving and usually from only 2-4 different probiotic species. 

    Apart from being so much more potent, the good bacteria and yeast in kefir are also more useful, as they are able to stick around in your gut much longer.  Which means they can have a greater impact on your intestinal health, especially when it comes to crowding out both bad bacteria and yeast.  

    With all of that said, the bacteria in yogurt are still worth our attention, as they help in a different way.  You see, by moving through the gut quicker, they can help to clean your large intestine & feed existing bacteria. 

    But let’s be real here...

    ...if your main reason for consuming cultured dairy is to help nourish your gut with large servings of probiotics, then milk kefir is your undisputed champion. 

    Which is the best for you?

    Well, as you’ve seen in this video, they both have their pros and cons.  For some of you, the taste may be the deciding factor.  And for others, the probiotic content might be. 

    For me personally, I prefer milk kefir as it has an extraordinarily Higher probiotic count both in terms of the Amount & diversity.

    Having said that, I think there is a place for both of these fermented dairy kings.

    For example, you can enjoy a huge serving of probiotics by putting 1 cup of milk kefir in your morning smoothie and then enjoy a nice glass of probiotics by eating some yogurt with fresh fruit as a healthy afternoon snack. 

    Giving you the best of both worlds! 

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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