Kombucha vs. Kefir: the Benefits and Differences of two Powerful Probiotics

Probiotics are one of the best things that you can include in your diet, and yet many don’t. Maintaining healthy gut flora by ingesting probiotics can help clear your skin, manage your weight, and can even help you fight infectious disease. In fact, our microbiome is one of the main topics of scientific research on human health today. It is being proven that the bacteria in our digestive system even affects our mood and mental health.

While there will be more results and research on the topic, our health is too important to wait around for the final word. Luckily, fermented foods full of healthy probiotics have been part of the human diet for thousands of years, and are steeped in a rich history and culture.

Two of the most popular probiotic drinks today fall into this category: kombucha and kefir. Both have ancient traditions, and both have become incredibly popular in mainstream culture for their health benefits and flavor. However, you may be wondering, which one is better?

To learn more about kombucha vs. kefir and what they do for your health and well-being, keep on reading.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented tea. Kombucha is made from sweetened tea that is put in a sterilized open container, where a “mother” bacteria culture is introduced to it. This mother is also called a SCOBY. The bacteria and wild yeast eat the sugar in the tea, which causes fermentation. After about five days, the kombucha is then bottled, allowing effervescence to form. It is then put in a refrigerator to halt fermentation. Kombucha’s bacteria is known to aid in digestion and beauty.

What Is Kefir?

Kefir
Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

There are two different types of Kefirs that you will find on the market today, water-based and milk-based kefir. Water kefir is usually made of a plant-based liquid such as coconut water that contains carbohydrates that allow it to ferment, but aside from the base, these two types are created in the same fashion. Due to the natural carbohydrates already present in these liquids, no sugar has to be added in the way that it does for Kombucha. Instead of a SCOBY, dried bacteria and yeast called Kefir grains are added to the liquid to begin fermentation. Kefir takes about a day to ferment, where it takes about five days for Kombucha.

Both types of Kefir are fermented and then bottled for stability. Milk-based Kefir contains probiotics including Tryptophan, which can help you stay calm, mellow, and happy. Both water and milk-based Kefir are loaded with probiotics that help maintain the microbiome.

Milk-based Kefir is often referred to as drinkable yogurt. This characterization may help you get an idea of what to expect when it comes to flavor. While being much more liquid than yogurt, there is a similar idea behind it and the process is similar enough that it creates a flavor profile that is akin to yogurt.

Who Benefits From The Probiotics In Kombucha And Kefir?

Researchers are constantly finding that the more good bacteria you have in your system, and the more variations, the better. Having a diverse gut flora will help you digest more foods more easily, fight different infectious diseases and bad bacteria, and will help keep your skin clear.

Anyone of any age can benefit from fermented foods that are full of probiotics. However, because of the nature of the wild fermentation of these products, they are not pasteurized. While buying from a well-known source will likely be very safe, this might not be the best choice for women who are pregnant or those that are immunocompromised. In these cases, buying a probiotic supplement might be a safer option.

What Is The Difference Between Kombucha and Kefir?

Both of these drinks contain plenty of good bacteria that will aid in your health and wellbeing. However, milk-based kefir has more lactic acid bacteria in it. These are particularly powerful probiotics, so kefir may be a more potent option to aid in building probiotics.

Kombucha is made from tea, so generally, it also has a good amount of caffeine in it, as well. Kombucha is a great alternative to coffee or an energy drink and will be better for your health, but it should not be drunk at night. Due to the tryptophan found in Kefir, it may not be a drink you would want to have in the morning when you are looking for something to energize you, as Kefir tends to do the opposite and mellow people out.

The flavor of kombucha vs kefir is also going to be quite different. Kefir is going to have a creamy taste, whereas kombucha is going to have a bit of a bitter taste and have more carbonation to it. Both of these drinks come in flavored varieties, but this is the main flavor difference.

What Should I Look For When I Buy Kombucha or Kefir?

Make sure that you are checking the ingredients and seeing if there is too much sugar in the final product. An overabundance of sugar is not good for your health and means the product has been sweetened after fermentation. Most of the sugar should be fermented, and not much is needed to create the fermentation process.

If you would like your drink to have some sweetness to it, look for drinks that are naturally sweetened and flavored with fruit juices, not excess sugar. While fruit juices will add a bit of extra sugar, these are going to be healthier and have more natural flavor than a beverage that has a lot of additives.

Additionally, if the Kombucha or Kefir you are looking at is not refrigerated, it has either gone bad or it is not real. These are effervescent fermented drinks, and they will explode if they are kept warm because too much carbon dioxide will build up inside. When they are kept cool, fermentation is ceased. These drinks will always begin to ferment again when warm, as they are still full of bacteria and yeast that will reactivate, even though the SCOBY has been taken out.

When buying Kombucha, you should look for Kombucha that still has a bit of sediment floating around. This means that it still has plenty of good bacteria existing within it. It can be a little alarming to drink these pieces of bacteria culture at first, but if you wish to remove it you can do so. If you are buying Kombucha that is perfectly clear with no sediment, it isn’t as likely to have as much of the good probiotics in it, which won’t be as good for your health.

The Health Benefits of Kombucha and Kefir

Now that you know the differences between Kombucha and Kefir, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what each one offers in terms of health benefits.

Kombucha Health Benefits

  • Beneficial bacteria that help with digestion
  • Increased good HDL cholesterol – good for the heart
  • Antioxidants to help people with diabetes
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Antioxidants to help maintain liver health
  • Glucosamines that increase hyaluronic acid
    • Good for joint health
    • Good for skin health
  • Helps with PMS symptoms
  • Low in calories

Kombucha Drawbacks

  • Some reports of allergic reactions
  • Some reports of Hepatitis
  • Lead poisoning from home-brewing in ceramic containers
  • Some reports of Naseaua and Vomiting

Kefir Health Benefits

  • Cleanses intestines
  • Provides beneficial bacteria
  • Full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A and D
  • Helps boost the immune system
  • Helps people sleep
  • Helps people with ADHD
  • Helps people with anxiety disorders
  • Promotes healthy bowel movements
  • Creates a healthier digestive system
  • Contains both prebiotics and probiotics
  • Has antibacterial properties
  • Has very little lactose, so is usually safe for lactose-intolerant individuals

Kefir Drawbacks

  • Often contains a lot of sugar and calories, particularly if it is flavored
  • Some versions contain a lot of saturated fat if whole milk has been used
  • Side effects of probiotics including bloating, gas, and diarrhea
  • Some interference with medications reported, so please consult with your doctor before drinking regularly
  • Potential health risk for immunocompromised individuals due to the high bacterial content.

Conclusion

Kombucha and kefir are both going to aid in your digestion, gut health, skin health, and more. However, there are more probiotics in kefir, so it is likely to have more health benefits for your gut flora than kombucha, especially if you are only wanting to include one into your regular routine.

However, kombucha is very low in calories and can be energizing due to its caffeine content. Caffeine also helps to stimulate the metabolism, so for those who are trying to lose weight, and including maintaining a healthy microbiome as part of that effort, they may find that kombucha is a better option for them because it will not spike their blood sugar as much and will also not add as many excess calories as kefir will.

While kombucha seems to be buzzier these days, there is actually more research regarding the health benefits of kefir, and it seemingly has milder side effects compared to its tea-based cousin. If you are new to probiotics and fermented foods in general and are worried about side-effects, you may want to try kefir first. Not only is it more well-researched, but it also has a much more mild flavor so it is probably a better option for newcomers who haven’t developed the taste for fermented foods, yet.

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