I’m not much of a dairy person. I mean, I have a love for cheese that’s unmatched by any other food, and I like to pretend to like ice cream (it always looks so good and sounds like such a great idea in my head, but a couple of spoonful in, I’m over it), but other than that it just really isn’t for me. I am, however, a research person.
A week ago, I noticed something called ‘kefir milk grains’ when I was in my local health food store picking up a new bottle of coconut oil. I’d never seen it there before, but in all fairness, I’ve been buying my oil online for the past few months (sometimes it’s just easier to have things dropped off at your door instead of having to go out and get them, especially if it happens to be winter in Canada). After hearing a little bit about it from the (relatively busy) sales clerk, I decided to come home to do my research and figure out a little more about it. After all, I’m all for trying something new if it will benefit my health.
Initially, I thought that kefir was simply a thinner type of yogurt that had some beneficial yeasts added to it, but after a little while, I started to realize that it’s so much more than that! While I’m still not completely sure if I’m ready to make the jump to ingesting it every day, I figured that you guys might like to know a little more about it so that you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s right for you. After all, it’s much easier to make a decision about your health when it’s an informed one.
If you’re already eating yogurt for its health benefits, you might want to consider at least adding kefir if not replacing it altogether.
The power of Kefir
It’s Easier To Culture
Have you ever tried to make your yogurt? I used to have a friend whose mother used to do it, and if there’s one thing I learned from watching her it’s this – Unless you have a yogurt maker helping you out, it’s pretty much just a trial and error thing. Everything affects it – The season, the heat, the air, the direction in which your kitchen faces… In order to get it to culture properly at room temperature, you’re likely going to have to go through the process a few times before you figure out what works for you. Every kitchen is different, and because of that, there’s really no universal ‘trick’ that will make it work flawlessly every time.
Kefir milk grains, on the other hand will culture nearly every single time with a failure rate of almost nothing, regardless of what time of year it is or what temperature your kitchen sits at. Obviously, not everybody is going to make their own, but if you’ve had trouble culturing your yogurt before and you’ve been thinking about trying again but don’t want to waste your money, attempting to culture kefir is probably your better bet.
Of course, both yogurt and kefir can be purchased at the grocery store. Still, they’re usually produced by the milk of hormone and antibiotic-ridden livestock and are chalked full of sugars and preservatives (since the bacteria needs sugars to feed on and the transport process doesn’t usually happen the same day as production, they need to make sure that there’s extra in there). To ensure the highest quality possible – regardless of the food, be it livestock, poultry, produce, or in this instance, kefir and yogurt – I suggest either buying local from someone you can get to know on a personal level or making your own.
The process is as easy as pouring milk over the grains and allowing it to sit on your counter for 12-24 hours, so you can’t even use time sensitivity as an excuse here. If you have the time to pour a glass of milk, you have the time to make your own.
Kefir Contains More Beneficial Bacteria
The importance of good gut health is becoming increasingly obvious to even the most ignorant consumers, and when it comes to keeping everything working as it should be kefir beats out yogurt by a country mile.
The average cultured yogurt contains approximately 2-7 strains of beneficial bacteria per batch (the main ones being Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophiles). Not to say that these strains aren’t good for you (because they definitely are) – They help feed the friendly bacteria in your intestines and colon – but the simple fact is that they’re just not enough. Eventually, your body gets rid of them, rendering them essentially useless.
On a related note, Greek yogurt – while having a higher protein content than most other yogurts – actually comes in at the bottom of the list. Usually, the only beneficial bacteria found in this type of yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles.
Kefir is different because its beneficial bacteria colonize your intestinal tract. That means it moves it and makes your intestinal tract its permanent home – fighting off pathogens as they come into contact. I did read somewhere that some of the bacteria in kefir are actually resistant to antibiotics, but there was no link to an actual study, so I’m not completely sure if it’s true or not (still worth mentioning, though).
Bacteria found in Kefir
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus keﬁranofaciens subsp. keﬁranofaciens
- Lactobacillus keﬁri
- Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus sake
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
- Lactococcus lactis
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. dextranicum
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides
- Pseudomonas fluorescens
- Pseudomonas putida
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Quite the difference, huh? So if you’ve been feeling a little off lately and think your gut health is to blame, you might want to consider letting all of the lovely beneficial bacteria and other probiotics in kefir try to fight off the issue for you.
Kefir Contains Beneficial Yeast
You may have heard that yeast isn’t good for you. While it’s true that having too much yeast in your system can cause a wide variety of issues, beneficial yeast isn’t the issue. In fact, beneficial yeast can help fight off yeast buildup (also known as candida). Here’s a list of the beneficial yeasts that are included in most properly cultured kefirs:
- Candida humilis
- Kazachstania unispora
- Kazachstania exigua
- Kluyveromyces siamensis
- Kluyveromyces lactis
- Kluyveromyces marxianus
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Saccharomyces martiniae
- Saccharomyces unisporus
Yogurt, on the other hand, has absolutely zero beneficial yeast included in it. So if you’re someone who battles candida regularly and you’re sick of paying for a prescription every time you have a breakout, you might want to consider trying this natural method as well.
Clearly, kefir is winning this competition by a landslide, but like everything else, it’s ultimately going to come down to personal preferences.
Things To Consider
Kefir Has A Very Different Taste
Kefir is much tangier and sourer than yogurt is. Does that automatically mean that you’re not going to like it? No, but you should be prepared for it to avoid throwing your palate off (I firmly believe in preparedness if you can’t tell). If you mix it into a smoothie, you can’t even taste it at all, so that’s something you might want to consider if you want to ingest it but the taste isn’t for you (or you could always try making it into cheese.
Depending on how it’s made, yogurt can be anywhere from thick and creamy to thin and slightly runny. Kefir is more like thick milk because it’s more runny for drinking than it is creamy and for spooning. Think of it as somewhat of a cross between buttermilk and yogurt. Again, I’d consider adding it to a smoothie or something if it’s going to be an issue – A happy and healthy gut is definitely worth the small sacrifice.
It Might Be A Little Much If You Suffer From An Autoimmune Disease
Restoring Your Digestive Health is a wonderful book that I strongly suggest you take a look at if you’re someone who constantly suffers from digestive issues. It’s written by Jordin Rubin, and it gives you great insight into the way that things should work and why they should work that way. Here’s what he has to say about ingesting yogurts that contain Streptococcus thermophiles:
We’ve already determined that this type of bacteria is also in kefir, but the other beneficial bacteria that are included help balance everything out better. That’s not to say that you’re going to be able to drink gallons of the stuff with absolutely no repercussions whatsoever (after all, we all know that too much of a good thing isn’t any better for you than too much of a bad thing), but you shouldn’t have as many issues if you make the switch.
It Might Take A Little Bit Of Getting Used To
An upset stomach is one of the most commonly reported ‘side effects’ of drinking kefir. That makes sense when you think about it – Most of the bacteria will probably be foreign to your body, therefore, your body will try to eliminate them. Because of this, if you’ve never tried kefir before, you might want to do it when you have a couple of days off in a row to give your body somewhat of an adjustment period.
Vegans Can Drink It Too!
If you’re a vegan, the idea of pouring milk over cultures and letting it sit on your countertop for a day so that you can drink it down probably repulses you. The good news is that you don’t need milk to make this magical drink – Water kefir is a thing, and you should try it out (and then let me know how it goes, because I’m curious by nature).
If you’re someone who already has generally good gut health and you’re not down for drinking what can be considered as an overwhelming-tasting beverage, yogurt or probiotic capsules might be your better bet (and don’t forget to consider that it might be low stomach acid as well).
That said, our Western diets suck, and we can all use some help. Drinking kefir shouldn’t hurt, but if you have an autoimmune disease, are taking medications, or are worried about the way it’s going to affect your body, you should definitely make an appointment with your doctor, nutritionist, or naturopath to ensure that any and all transitions to your body run as smoothly as possible.
Have you ever tried kefir? Better yet, how do you get your probiotics – Through things like kefir and yogurt or do your prefer to take a daily probiotic capsule? Have you noticed any positive effects since you started taking care of your gut? If so, let us know what they are in the comments section below – We always love hearing what you have to say!