As a teenager and college student, I spent much of my time battling digestive issues. Constipation, bloating, intense gas pains, unending cravings leading to weight gain, and even a trip to the ER because my intestines shut down (called “ileus”). These annoying and scary symptoms motivated me to try anything to regain my health. Around that time, veganism/plant-based diets were becoming more popular, and because they have been falsely touted as “cure alls” by individuals wearing lab coats and trendy women on Instagram, I was willing to give it a try. After all, I could afford to lose some weight.
       Unfortunately, my naivety and desperateness to be healthy and feel better about myself only came with more problems. My plant-based diet did not work and I was left with all of my former issues, except that I was (and I’m still working to correct this) very nutrient deficient. My body was dying for real nutrition. My teeth were turning grey and becoming translucent, my once strong and athletic body had turned weak and bony, my mental health was extremely unstable, I had insomnia, back pain, fatigue, and countless other issues. Thankfully, I gave in to my cravings for meat during my first pregnancy and my digestion went uphill from there. One of the most healing things I did for my digestion (besides allowing myself to eat as many animal products as I wanted!) was adding raw milk and milk kefir to my diet. Nothing, out of all the supplements and pills and “superfoods” that I tried, healed me like milk kefir!

       But, what is milk kefir, exactly? Why is it different than yogurt, and what makes loaded with probiotics and bioavailable B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein? All of the nutrients in milk kefir are actually absorbable and usable by our bodies, which isn’t always the case with the plant foods I was consuming. Though milk kefir is a lot like yogurt and both are fermented dairy products, there are some major differences. What are they?

       In this article, you’ll learn the top 3 differences between yogurt and milk kefir:

1. Kefir contains yeasts, but yogurt does not.

       It is widely known that some yeasts can be pathogenic like those involved in yeast infections, but not all strains of yeast are bad. In fact, many of them are good–they naturally occur on and inside our bodies and help us maintain a natural state of wellness. Yeast can be pathogenic if given the right strain and environment, but when they inhabit kefir, they are beneficial. According to this scientific paper, some of the benefits of probiotic yeasts found in milk kefir (especially S. cerevisiae) include prevention and treatment of intestinal diseases, immunomodulatory effects, improvement of bioavailability of minerals through the hydrolysis of phytate, folate biofortification, and detoxification of mycotoxins due to surface binding to the yeast cell wall. A compilation of potential strains of both yeast and bacteria can be found here and here, but it is important to note that kefir contains far more strains of beneficial probiotics and yeasts than yogurt does.

2. Kefir is more colonizing to the gut and yogurt is more transient.

      Though both yogurt and milk kefir impact the composition of gut flora, studies have shown that kefir actually has longer-lasting benefits than yogurt. As stated in this scientific article, a bacteria specific to milk kefir (L. kefiri) has been shown to actually colonize the gut, meaning take hold and reproduce itself over and over, whereas yogurt bacteria are only beneficial for the time that the strains are present in your digestive system. It is clear that the strains found in both fermented drinks are beneficial, but those in kefir long outlast those in yogurt.

3. Kefir has a drinkable texture, but yogurt is thick.

      The texture of kefir is a smooth, drinkable beverage. Yogurt, especially greek yogurt, is thicker and more edible with a spoon. Though the viscosity of kefir changes throughout its fermenting time, in general, kefir is on the thinner side. Usually, my kefir becomes so thick that I need to use a hand mixer in order to make it pourable. But once I mix my finished kefir and strain out my grains, it keeps a consistency like a thin yogurt. It’s ideal for smoothies!

       Every day, I find myself contemplating the blessings I’ve received on this healing journey. Whether I’m pondering my past life, planning on how to best nourish my family each day, or how I can prepare my body for future events, this has all been a wild ride. Everything happens for a reason; I do not regret my poor decisions regarding nutrition because I now know the value of having healthy digestion, something I would have never learned without suffering.

       On that note, big life changes take place with the incorporation of small life changes. Kefir can make all the difference in the pursuit of health, and it can be as simple as having a glass a day. Smoothies, whether they’re made out of yogurt or kefir, are a great way to potentially increase the quality of your life…however, kefir has a great texture and taste all by itself. So, go pour yourself a glass and enjoy immediate and long-lasting benefits. Cheers to good health!

Additional reading:

-A blogger I respect: https://chriskresser.com/kefir-the-not-quite-paleo-superfood/
-A short and interesting scientific article on kefir: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4626640/
-A scientific paper emphasizing the benefits of probiotic yeasts: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257658/

Have you ever tried milk kefir? What benefits has it brought you? I love discussing fermented foods!

Author: Diane Stanislowski