5 big benefits of good old-fashioned buttermilk

Fermented foods are all the rage nowadays because they contain probiotics that support gut health. But despite the enthusiasm for everything from yogurt to sauerkraut to kombucha, there’s one fermented food that doesn’t get much love — buttermilk.

Buttermilk, in case you don’t know, is the liquid leftover after churning butter from whole milk. Although to be fair, nowadays, most in the U.S. is made by adding lactic acid-producing bacteria to low-fat milk and letting it ferment (kind of like yogurt) rather than old-fashioned butter churning.

Buttermilk is best known for being extremely sour. But what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s a rich source of vitamins, minerals and (of course) probiotics. As a result, it has some serious health benefits that most of us are missing out on by not making it a bigger part of our diet. Here are five of buttermilk’s best health benefits:

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1. It aids digestive health

Since buttermilk is a fermented food that contains probiotics, it’s no surprise that it’s good for gut health. It’s rich in lactic acid-producing bacteria like Lactococcus lactis and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which have a variety of digestive benefits. They reduce gut inflammation and are even shown to have a positive effect on gastrointestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and constipation.

Buttermilk has one more digestive benefit. As you probably know, dairy products are hard for many people to digest. But it’s easier than most. Why? Because it contains lactic acid, and lactic acid makes lactose (one of the sugars in dairy) easier to digest. That means many people with lactose intolerance can drink buttermilk without upsetting their stomachs.

2. It boosts bone health

Like milk, buttermilk contains a lot of calcium. And, as the primary mineral found in your bones, calcium helps keep your bones strong. One cup of low-fat buttermilk contains 284 milligrams of calcium. That’s more than a quarter of what you need daily.

It also contains phosphorus, which along with calcium, your body uses to build bones. In fact, a 2015 study found that getting 2 to 3 times the recommended daily allowance of phosphorus (which is 700 mg) increases bone mineral density. If you buy fortified buttermilk, it will contain vitamin D too, which helps your body absorb both calcium and phosphorus. If you buy full-fat buttermilk, you’ll also get a healthy dose of K2. Research shows that K2 can help prevent age-related bone loss and reduce the risk of bone fractures.

3. It may balance cholesterol

Research shows buttermilk may be able to lower cholesterol. So far, it’s only been proven in a small study, but the results were promising. People who drank a 1/5 cup of buttermilk powder mixed with water daily reduced their total cholesterol by three percent. They also reduced their triglycerides by ten percent. On top of that, it lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol in people who had high LDL levels at the start of the study.

Researchers suspect that buttermilk’s ability to lower cholesterol can be traced back to MFGM (milk fat globule membrane). This is a membrane that surrounds milk fat globules, and it contains several beneficial compounds, including sphingolipid, which researchers believe prevents your gut from absorbing cholesterol.

4. It may lower blood pressure

There’s some preliminary evidence that buttermilk has a positive effect on blood pressure too. In one small study, researchers found that drinking it daily lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 2.6 mm Hg. It also lowered mean arterial blood pressure and plasma angiotensin-I converting enzyme, which are both indicators of healthy blood pressure control.

Researchers think these blood pressure benefits come from the same component in buttermilk that lowers cholesterol — MFGM (milk fat globule membrane). Because of its ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, there’s hope that it may be a boon for heart health. But we still need more high-quality studies to know that for sure.

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5. It supports the immune system

Buttermilk contains a lot of lactic acid-producing bacteria, which are proven to have a beneficial effect on the immune system. As you probably know, about 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. And research shows these bacteria help regulate your immune system through their effect on the gut. They interact with different elements of your microbiome in a way that sends signals to your immune cells.

It also contains a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients necessary for a healthy immune system, including vitamin D (if it’s been fortified), vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin B5, and calcium. Not getting enough of any one of these vitamins and nutrients impairs your body’s ability to send out a strong immune response.

Creative ways to get more buttermilk

For a lot of people, there’s one big barrier to making buttermilk a regular part of their diet — the taste.

Buttermilk is extremely sour.

If it’s a little (or a lot) too sour for you, I have a suggestion… slip it into a smoothie. If you add some delicious fruit, the sweetness will counteract the sour taste. I have a friend who swears by buttermilk and strawberry smoothies. She says the hint of sourness makes them taste just like cheesecake. You can also try masking the sour flavor with some cinnamon and banana for a tasty buttermilk “pudding” flavored smoothie.

Another easy way to sneak more buttermilk into your diet is to use it in place of whole milk, butter, cream or sour cream in recipes. It adds a delectable tang that makes biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and many other baked goods even better.

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Buttermilk: Healthier Than It Sounds — UC Berkley School of Public Health

Potential Health Benefits of Buttermilk — The Spruce Eats

Is Buttermilk Good for You? Benefits, Risks, and Substitutes — Healthline

Effects of Buttermilk on Health — International Journal of scientific research and management (IJSRM)

Lactic acid bacteria and their effect on the immune system — Current Issues in Intestinal Microbiology

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need? — WebMD

How Your Body Uses Phosphorus — Healthline

Vitamin K2: Everything You Need to Know — Healthline

Association between phosphorus intake and bone health in the NHANES population — Nutrition Journal

How Do You Use Lactobacillus bulgaricus? — Healthline

Top 8 Health Benefits of Lactococcus lactis (L. lactis) — SelfHacked

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.