Thick and creamy, sour and tangy, sometimes slightly effervescent. Kefir is a fermented functional milk product. That means it offers health benefits beyond the basic nutrition of calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
What is the difference between kefir and yogurt?
Kefir is fluid enough to be drinkable, and the brand available in the U.S. contains 10 bacterial and yeast cultures. These include several kinds of tiny organisms with scary sounding names. Yogurt is thick and spoon able, and usually has only 1 or 2 kinds of bacteria.
Both kefir and yogurt come in many forms, full fat, low fat, no fat, organic or not, with added fiber or not, sweetened, flavored, or plain. Some kinds of yogurt come with granola or cookie toppings that are not gluten free.
plain-kefir-with-garden-raspberries-added photo by lsimon
What about those bacteria?
Both kefir and yogurt often claim to contain probiotics. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Those live microorganisms are bacteria and yeast, the host is us.
So we are eating bacteria and yeast. My sister, a nurse, will not eat foods with probiotics because of those bacteria, no matter how friendly they may be.
How do probiotics help us?
They help to normalize bowel function, whether the problem is constipation or diarrhea. Some doctors and dietitians recommend taking kefir with antibiotics to prevent diarrhea.
Many other health claims are made too. But often the research is on mice. Do you think mice like dairy as much as cats do? Or the research tests pills of specific strains of microorganisms, not the food product we would eat.
Are you lactose intolerant?
You may be able to enjoy kefir or yogurt. Those friendly bacteria breakdown the lactose and digest it for you.
Are you cultured?
You do not really know how active your cultures are when you eat yogurt or drink kefir. A research article from the Journal of Nutrition in 2000 states:
The National Yogurt Association allows yogurt manufacturers use of its "Live Active Culture Seal" on products that contain 10×8 viable cultures per gram at time of manufacture. However, no distinction is made between yogurt starter cultures used primarily for acid production (S. thermophilus and L. delbreuckii subsp. burglarious) and probiotics species (L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. reuteri, Bifidobacterium species, among others). Therefore, this seal is of little value in assuring consumers of effective probiotic levels.
I do not want to imply your yogurt or kefir does not have active cultures when you eat it. But the fact is, we simply do not know how lively those bacteria are after they have been stored for a while.
Raspberry-plant photo by mwri
Still, I enjoy a glass of kefir many mornings. I buy plain organic kefir and add flavoring to it. By itself, it is too sour for me. But I can control the amount of sweetener I add. So I add berries and honey, or blend it with peanut butter and brown sugar. I sometimes top fruit crisp with sweetened kefir instead of ice cream too.
Kefir is a very important part of my regimen to prevent constipation. I have found it works much better than yogurt and I have happily been able to stop my prescription medication, GlycoLax.
Kefir also provides significant calcium and vitamin D. Reasons enough for me to keep enjoying it and recommend it to you.
Have you tried kefir? How did you like it?