Kefir and Yakult are supposed to be two fermented milk drinks similar in preparation and benefits. I wondered if Yakult is really as good as it claimed to be and can compete with kefir. So, what exactly is the difference between Kefir and Yakult?
Kefir contains up to 36 different strains of bacteria while Yakult only contains one: Lactobacillus casei Shirota. Most Yakult also has a lot of added sugar in the form of dextrose and glucose and will have frequently been pasteurized by the manufacturer, essentially destroying all beneficial bacteria.
Still I wanted to know more about what differentiates these two drinks so I did some more research to come up with a more detailed comparison. I’ll go over the differences in nutrition, preparation and health benefits one by one and conclude with a final verdict at the end.
Kefir vs. Yakult: Nutrition
The nutritional profile of Kefir and Yakult varies quite a bit even though the basic materials used are similar. For the sake of an equal comparison, I’ll take the nutritional values as provided by Yakult USA and Lifeway Kefir.
Just let me know point out here already that making your own kefir or Yakult at home will always result in far superior quality and nutritional value.
Kefir is a true powerhouse of nutrition. Especially when it comes to vitamins and important minerals there is rarely a drink that can compete with kefir:
Kefir is rich in Vitamin A and D, and also contains plenty of Calcium and Potassium. Just one cup (240ml) of kefir will provide for about 10% of your daily Vitamin A intake and 25% of your body’s Vitamin D needs!
The same cup has about 150 calories which are fairly evenly balanced between healthy fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Also about 8% of your Potassium intake will be covered with just 240ml.
Most store-bought kefir and homemade kefir for that matter contain very few natural ingredients. Lifeway’s Kefir, for instance, only contains three:
- Pasteurized Cultured Milk: Milk is obviously the base ingredient for kefir. Most supermarket kefir brands will pasteurize their milk to kill any bad bacteria before going through fermentation. You can make your own kefir at home with raw organic whole milk but there are also a few supermarket brands that are worth buying. I wrote a post about my favorite store-bought kefir brands here.
- Pectin: Pectin is a form of natural sweetener that is frequently used to enhance the sweet taste of kefir and balance the sourness. I for my part love the sourness of kefir, so I don’t add any of this to my homemade one.
- Vitamin D3: Milk will contain a small amount of naturally occurring Vitamin D3 but it is not uncommon for kefir manufacturers to add some in addition.
But the main benefit of drinking kefir is obviously the millions of good bacteria that are produced during the fermentation process. Here is just a brief list of all the different bacteria strains that can be present in kefir:
- Lactobacillus Lactis
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
- Streptococcus Diacetylactis
- Lactobacillus Plantarum
- Lactobacillus Casei
- Saccharomyces Florentinus
- Leuconostoc Cremoris
- Bifidobacterium Longum
- Bifidobacterium Breve
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium Lactis
- Lactobacillus Reuteri
Yakult’s nutritional profile looks quite different even though it is also made by fermenting milk. But not only does Yakult use non-fat milk, the additives that make Yakult just overall less appealing than kefir.
The same amount of Yakult – 1 cup or 240ml – has just 50 calories. However, these calories mostly come from Yakult’s added sugars. Added sugars make up 18% of the total caloric value of Yakult!
Furthermore, the protein content is very low at 3grams per 1 cup and there are barely any beneficial micronutrients in the beverage. Most of the minerals such as calcium come from the milk.
If we take a look at the ingredients list of a typical Yakult drink you’ll see a bunch of warning signs.
- Water: The first ingredient in Yakult is surprisingly not milk but water! The higher water content makes Yakult much thinner and less nutrient-dense than kefir.
- Sugar: When the second ingredient is sugar right after water on any packaging I’d stay away. Sugar is not only harmful in itself it also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. This negatively impacts your gut health which Yakult claims to promote.
- Non-fat Milk: Using non-fat milk might result in fewer total calories per cup but if sugar makes up the remaining calories there is really no benefit. Also, there are plenty of healthy fats and amino acids found in whole milk that Yakult does not contain.
- Glucose: This is essentially just another form of sugar.
- Natural Flavors: These types of flavorings are more often than not lab-produced chemicals made from natural base-materials.
Yakult does contain some live bacteria but not nearly as many as kefir. The only live culture that is used in fermentation is Lactobacillus Casei Shirota.
The main different in nutrition between kefir and Yakult is the sugar content. Kefir is low in sugar and higher in healthy fats and Yakult is very high in added sugar. Kefir also contains over 30 times more variations of bacteria than Yakult.
Kefir vs. Yakult: Preparation
In terms of preparation kefir and Yakult do not differ that much. Both beverages are fermented using milk and a live bacterial culture that digests the lactose and turns it into lactic acid.
As a result, some of the good bacteria are transferred into the fermented drink and can unfold their benefits in our guts and digestive systems.
When preparing kefir or Yakult at home you’ll have the advantage of choosing just how sweet or sour you want either drink. Of course, Yakult would not really be Yakult if it wasn’t for the added sugar.
However, you could potentially also ferment your own Yakult with a Lactobacillus Casei Shirota strain and simply not add any sugar.
Kefir vs. Yakult: Health Benefits
Fermented milk drinks, in general, have been shown to offer a ton of health benefits mostly related to our guts health and microbiome. I’ll list just a few here are commonly known about fermented foods and how thy apply to kefir and Yakult:
- Digestive Efficiency: Fermented foods and drinks contain live bacterial cultures that help break down nutrients in your gut and this increases your digestive efficiency. Kefir does a fantastic job at this with more than 30 different bacteria strains. Yakult on the other hand only contains one strain of bacteria and will not be able to deliver the same kind of benefit as kefir.
- Bacterial Balance: Drinks made by fermenting milk also restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in our good. Kefir provides millions of these beneficial bacteria in just one cup. The problem with Yakult is that it contains so much sugar that the potential positive benefits of the one bacterial strain are simply negated. In fact, the added sugar might even have the adverse effect of feeding the bad bacteria and encouraging them to grow.
- Better Sleep: The tryptophan that naturally occurs in milk may also have a positive effect on your sleep as it increases the body’s natural melatonin production. I always sleep like a baby when I have a glass of kefir before bed. Yakult may have a similar effect but the dextrose and glucose in the beverage will actually provide a short burst of energy to your body. Not ideal for a quiet sleep.
All in all, kefir is far superior to Yakult with regard to nutritional value and health benefits. Yakult might taste seducingly sweet but that is only because of the large amounts of added sugars.
You can even reduce the downsides of store-bought kefir (or Yakult) by setting up a small home fermentation shelf and start culturing your own milk. This will not only elevate the taste of the products but also increase their nutritional value!