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Loaded with multiple health benefits, yogurt has long been in dietary vocabularies. Since kefir and yogurt are both cultured milk products, they are often considered the same thing. While kefir does taste somewhat like yogurt, there are a few differences that set them apart. When it comes to your gut health, yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that helps to maintain a clean digestive tract.
However, yogurt contains transient bacteria that pass out of the digestive tract. Kefir, on the other hand, contains a larger range of bacteria and yeast, some of which can build colonies in the intestinal tract, thereby providing long-term health benefits for your gut similar to the way probiotic supplements work.
What is kefir?
Pronounced "kee-fer", kefir is a cultured milk product that originated in the Caucasus Mountains, and is frequently consumed in Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, and Russia. The name is a derivative of the Turkish word “keyif” translated to “feeling good” after drinking it. With a consistency of drinkable yogurt, kefir has a tart and tangy taste. This drink is slightly fizzy due to the carbonation during the fermenting process.
Kefir is made using kefir grains which are not like typical varieties of grains such as wheat or rice. Kefir grains are a blend of bacteria and yeast, and do not contain gluten. Milk from cows, goats, and sheep as well as non-dairy milks from coconut and rice can be used to make kefir. Milk is generally combined with kefir grains, and the mixture then cultures or ferments in a warm area to get a kefir drink.
Typically sold in the form of a beverage, there are a few different ways you can consume kefir. Drink it directly or make a smoothie with blended fruits. You can also pour it over your chosen cereal and granola. Owing to the similarity in taste, kefir can be used as a substitute for yogurt in most dishes.
Kefir vs. Yogurt
While kefir and yogurt both contain valuable amounts of calcium, potassium, protein, B vitamins, and probiotics, kefir does have an edge over yogurt. Kefir has a thinner consistency than yogurt. It also contains a higher amount of fat, potassium and probiotics. Your gut naturally contains more than 400 different species of bacteria. Probiotics are essential for good gut health as they support and balance your gut.
When compared with yogurt, kefir has approximately three times the number of probiotic cultures. In general, yogurt is made with a few different types of probiotic bacteria. Kefir is made using many bioactive compounds including approximately 30 types of probiotic yeasts and bacteria. This is evident in the total probiotic count per serving offered by each product. While most probiotic yogurts comprise of approximately one billion probiotic organisms in every serving, a half-cup of kefir contains 40 billion of them. Clearly, kefir packs a better probiotic punch.
Benefits of Kefir
Kefir is a nutritionally dense probiotic supplement that offers a host of health benefits. While nutrients like calcium (good for strong bones), proteins (good for strong muscles), and potassium (good for heart health) are good for health, the strongest advantage that kefir has to offer is its probiotic element.
From reducing bloating, constipation, high cholesterol and blood pressure, to treating inflammatory bowel conditions, eczema and food allergies, probiotics offer a number of health benefits to people of all ages. It is also known to be helpful in treating and preventing diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections, vaginal and urinary tract infections, etc. Studies hypothesize that a healthy gut with diverse bacteria has more benefits than previously imagined.
In 2017, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology compared the cholesterol levels amongst a female sample group consuming either low-fat milk or kefir. At the end of eight weeks, women who drank kefir showed lower levels of total, and specifically bad, cholesterol levels. This may be attributed to the probiotics in kefir which likely affect how the body creates, absorbs, and uses cholesterol.
Another study in 2015 studied the effects of kefir on blood sugar levels of diabetic patients showing that those who consumed the probiotic drink had reduced fasting blood sugar levels over 3 months.
A study also shows the use of kefir to treat peptic ulcers in the small intestine and the stomach.
Side Effects of Kefir
Designated as the “21st century yogurt”, kefir has many health benefits but may also have some side effects. Most commonly, side effects like abdominal cramping and slight constipation is possible when you start drinking kefir because your body is still getting used to the influx of probiotics.
Probiotics are safe for children of all ages, and even breast milk contains good gut bacteria. However, children under the age of one should not drink cow’s milk and similar product. Consult with your child's pediatrician to learn more about the right probiotic supplements for your child. Kefir is safe for children after the age of one, but you should consult the pediatrician to be completely safe.
People with conditions like AIDS or autoimmune diseases should consult their physician before consuming kefir. Similarly, those who have eliminated caseins from their diet might want to give kefir a miss as it is made with caseins.
Kefir is a great source of natural probiotics. A single serving of kefir offers a healthy nutritive dose of vitamins and probiotics. It is safe for daily consumption, and is known for having “microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of a natural probiotic beverage”.
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De Oliveira Leite, A. M., Miguel, M. A. L., Peixoto, R. S., Rosado, A. S., Silva, J. T., & Paschoalin, V. M. F. (2013). Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, 44(2), 341–349. http://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001
Prado, M. R., Blandón, L. M., Vandenberghe, L. P. S., Rodrigues, C., Castro, G. R., Thomaz-Soccol, V., & Soccol, C. R. (2015). Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6, 1177. http://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2015.01177\
Lewin, J. (n.d.). The health benefits of kefir. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-kefir