Yogurt vs Kefir: Which probiotic-filled dairy product is better for gut health?

When we think about probiotics in food, I’m sure yogurt comes to mind first for many. But kefir is another fermented dairy product in town, and is essentially a drinkable yogurt. Many gut health-minded individuals make sure to include either or both of these dairy products in their diets, but is one better than the other?

What is kefir?

The name kefir is derived from the Turkish word “keyif,” which translates to the “good feeling” that someone gets after drinking it. It’s basically composed of milk, kefir grains, live bacteria, and yeast. It’s not as popular as yogurt in the gut world, but the overflow of probiotics and other components may make you want to think twice.

There is a large variety of kefir choices. Most that you’ll find in stores will be cow or goat milk-based, but sheep’s milk is also used. For non-dairy sources, coconut and oat milk are most common. Juice and water-based ones are less so, but nonetheless they’re out there as well. Below are some reasons you may want to look into this product and it’s various types as a possible yogurt alternative.

Three Main Ways that Kefir Differs from Yogurt

  1. Probiotic Count: Kefir contains around 10-34 unique classes of probiotics, while yogurt only contains 2-7. So while both can populate the gut with healthy bacteria, kefir is the more potent choice. Kefir has also been strongly linked to alleviating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers caused by infection with H. pylori, and diarrhea. It’s also been found that the bacteria provided by kefir can not only “clean out” the gut similar to yogurt, but actually stick to the gut wall and go after pathogens that cause harm.
  2. Lactose Tolerance: Due to the fermentation process involving kefir grains, the lactose content is significantly reduced in kefir. This may make it a safer choice for people with lactose intolerance. Conversely, yogurt is processed by heating up a yogurt mix and adding bacteria in after it cools down.
  3. Yeast Content: Kefir contain beneficial yeasts, the most common being Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces unisporus. As a result, this not only helps with lactose absorption, but the gut responds well to this as well. Immune cells within the gut are supported, which helps the immune system fight foreign pathogens. The yeasts have also been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Yogurt doesn’t contain these, so it does not have these properties and is a bit more limited to supporting immunity solely through probiotics.

Bottom Line

Both yogurt and kefir are great additions to the diet, especially for feeding the gut. However, kefir may be more beneficial due to greater amounts of bacteria and supportive yeasts, allowing it to not only replenish the gut, but to ward off bad bacteria as well. As always, be sure to contact your doctor or dietitian before integrating anything new into your diet.


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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Shyla has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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