Getting Cultured! Kefir vs. Yogurt

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I remember years ago as a kid reading about people in Bulgaria who lived into their hundreds. Part of their secret (besides hard, physical work and a little alcohol each day) was eating yogurt and drinking kefir (KEE-fur). Back when I was a youngster in Southeast Asia, yogurt was still a pretty exotic food without the huge selection we see in the dairy case today. Yogurt has rightfully been recognized as a ‘super food,’ loaded with protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and beneficial bacteria.


Yogurt Facts

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One cup (8 fl. oz.) of plain low fat yogurt contains about 154 calories, 13 gm protein and 45% of the daily recommended daily allowance for calcium. Eating yogurt with live, active cultures offers important benefits that contribute to health and longevity. Be sure to check the labels of the yogurt you buy for the seal that says, ‘Live and active cultures.’  This means that not only was the yogurt made with active cultures, but that they contain at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt even after pasteurization. Here are some of yogurt’s FoodTrient properties:

  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Stimulates the ‘good’ gut flora, which helps fight off degenerative diseases
  • Helps to control inflammation diseases such as heart disease
  • Helps lower blood pressure
  • The active bulgaricus bacteria helps increase antibodies to fight infection
  • Improves digestion and helps reduce diarrhea, constipation and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Has properties to help prevent bowel and other cancers
  • Can increase ‘good’ cholesterol while decreasing the ‘bad’ kind
  • The calcium and vitamin D in yogurt help prevent osteoporosis
  • Helps you feel fuller and more satisfied, helping with weight loss and maintenance

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Here’s a recipe from my cookbook, The Age GRACEfully Cookbook: The Power of FOODTRIENTS to Promote Health and Well-being for a Joyful and Sustainable Life, for Soursop Lassi, an Indian drink made with yogurt, fruit—in this case, South American soursop, which is also known as guanábana. The yogurt provides the probiotics and the soursop is loaded with Vitamin C, antioxidants and riboflavin.

Soursop Lassi

Serves 2

2 cups plain nonfat yogurt
½ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. honey (optional)
2 cups soursop (guanábana) pulp
Mint leaves (optional)


Combine the yogurt, salt, honey and soursop in a blender and mix at low speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Top with mint leaves.

What About Kefir?

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Kefir is not simply liquid yogurt. Like yogurt, kefir is a fermented milk product full of the healthful properties of milk along with beneficial probiotics. The kefir (or lassi as our friends called it) I remember from my childhood could either be savory with salt added or blended with mango for a sweet version. My mom got a recipe for kefir from some Indian friends who also gave her the starter. I remember the kefir fermenting on top of our refrigerator.

Yogurt is most commonly made with milk and yogurt culture, then the mixture is heated to about 110˚F. Kefir also starts with milk, but its culture contains bacteria and some yeast, and then is ‘cooked’ at room temperature. The yeast gives the kefir a pleasantly tart taste as well as a touch of effervescence. One of the key differences between yogurt and kefir is that kefir has more strains of beneficial bacteria and good yeasts than yogurt– over 50 in kefir, while yogurt only contains about 7 to 10. Kefir bacteria enter the colon and attach themselves, which pushes away other harmful substances. The bacteria in yogurt only last about 24 hours in the digestive system while those in kefir take up residence in the lower GI tract and colon.

Homemade yogurt in two small glass jars

One cup (8 fl. oz.) of low fat kefir has approximately 100 calories, 9 grams of protein and provides 30% of the RDA for calcium. Like yogurt, kefir found in grocery stores can be flavored with added fruit and sugar. For the best benefits from kefir, buy the plain and whip it up in a blender with fresh berries and a touch of honey. Regular consumption of kefir can provide the benefits of yogurt and then some:

  • Strengthens immunity
  • Good source of B vitamins and phosphorous
  • Helps cleanse the body of toxins
  • Assists maintaining normal blood pressure
  • Lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • Restores intestinal flora and helps relieve intestinal diseases
  • Helps in diseases of liver, kidney and gallbladder
  • A natural antibiotic that helps fight against inflammatory diseases
  • Contains tryptophan, which helps reduce stress and insomnia
  • Acts against fungi and bacteria
  • Slows down the spread of cancer cells
  • Helps with asthma and allergies
  • Contains many pro-biotics not found in yogurt that are essential for the digestive tract such aslactobacillus caucasus, leuconostoc, streptococcusand acetobact

Here’s a recipe for a real immunity-boosting smoothie that I originally developed using yogurt, but I think kefir would work just as well, if not better!

Immunity Boosting Blend

Kefir contains even more probiotics than yogurt. The probiotics in kefir colonize your digestive tract, keeping a good balance of flora in your system. Your intestinal tract is a main component of your body’s immune system. Strawberries are very high in vitamin C, a known immunity booster. Limes also have vitamin C and the acid from their juice helps the stomach break down food. Certain flavanoids in limes help detox the body and act as anti-bacterial agents. In some countries limes are used as a natural antibiotic. The carrot juice (or orange juice) provides beta-carotene, which also helps boost immunity. If your strawberries aren’t particularly sweet, add a teaspoon or two of honey—another of nature’s antimicrobial wonders.

Serves 2

1 cup plain kefir
1 cup strawberries, hulls removed
¾ cup carrot juice (can substitute orange juice)
juice from 1 lime
1-2 teaspoons honey (optional)


Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth, about 30 seconds.


About Grace O

Grace O has been cooking and baking professionally and recreationally all of her adult life. As a child in Southeast Asia, she learned the culinary arts by her mother’s side in her family’s cooking school. She became so well versed in hospitality and the culinary arts, she eventually took over the cooking school and opened three restaurants. She is widely credited with popularizing shrimp on sugar-cane skewers and being one of the first culinarians to make tapas a global trend. She has cooked for ruling families and royalty. Grace O’s move to America precipitated a career in healthcare, inspired by her father, who was a physician. Twenty years and much hard work later, she operates skilled nursing facilities in California. Grace O strives to create flavorful food using the finest ingredients that ultimately lead to good health. Her recipes, although low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, are high in flavor. Grace employs spices from all over the world to enliven her dishes, creating food that is different and delicious. She believes that food can be just as effective at fighting aging as the most expensive skin creams. And since she’s over 50 herself, she’s living proof of that.
What Do FoodTrients Do?
Ai Anti- inflammatories

Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.

Ao Anti- oxidant

Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.

IB Immunity Boosters

Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.

MB Mind

Improves mood, memory, and focus.

F Disease Prevention

Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.