The community of microorganisms living in the digestive system of humans is usually referred to as gastrointestinal microbiota or gut flora. Consisting of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and yeasts, gut flora has been strongly linked to the human immune system. In fact, research suggests that the gut microbiome contributes to 70% of the immune system. (1) Each of the microorganism strains present in the gut has different functions—while some break down sugars, others are responsible for the breakdown of toxins.
Maintaining Gut Flora Equilibrium
The gut is considered to be the second brain in humans because of brain-gut interactions. Mediated by the autonomous nervous system, the human brain and digestive tract have a bidirectional relation. (2) In other words, while the brain can affect the gut microbes, the gut microbes can also affect your brain. Maintaining the balance between the good and the bad bacteria in your gut has also been associated with enhancing the immune system, regulating metabolism (which can aid weight loss), and improving your mood. According to a Danish study, the amount of weight you are able to lose may also be determined by some of the bacteria in your gut. (3)
Maintaining the equilibrium between the good and bad bacteria in your gut is essential if you want to support your immune system and live a healthy life. While a baby’s microbiome is seeded as they pass through the birth canal and further fed via breastfeeding, that is not the only source of these probiotics. Several naturally occurring foods are a rich source of probiotics. There are also probiotic supplements available to support a healthy microbiome. One of the easiest ways to maintain the balance of the gut microbes is to include fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics because they are brimming with live cultures.
Fermented Foods and Their Benefits
Fermented foods are regarded as natural probiotics because they are a rich source of the good bacteria for your gut. From sauerkraut and pickles, to tempeh, miso, and Kombucha. Kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish, is another well-known source of probiotics.
Eating fermented foods can support good health—their amazing benefits include enhancing your immune system, reducing inflammation in the body, cleansing the body of dangerous chemicals, and maximizing the absorption of nutrients in your body.
Fermented foods are usually considered a better choice over raw vegetables because of the presence of lactic acid bacteria which are known to be the most effective neutralizer of all the other bacteria.
Buttermilk as a Probiotic Source
If you are planning to use naturally occurring fermented foods as a source of probiotics in your daily diet, it is important to choose a fermented food that is readily available. One fermented food that has live cultures of bacteria and is available in most supermarkets is buttermilk.
Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product. It is the byproduct when milk is churned to make butter. Buttermilk is a yogurt-based drink that has live cultures of lactic acid bacteria. Buttermilk is a tart and tangy liquid, and it may be an acquired taste for many.
Because buttermilk is a dairy product, it does have lactose, however, because of the fermentation process the level of lactose is much lower. If you are lactose intolerant, you could experiment with drinking buttermilk and see how it affects your system.
Here are some of the health benefits that you can enjoy by adding buttermilk to your daily diet.
Great Source of Probiotics
The live cultures of lactic acid bacteria present in buttermilk aid in maintaining the balance between harmful and healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome, thereby supporting your immune system. These lactic acid bacteria breakdown the food and facilitate the absorption of nutrients. Buttermilk has also been used as an effective method for lowering the instances of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Complete Food by Itself
Buttermilk has all the essential nutrients such as vitamins, enzymes, carbohydrates, and proteins. A cup of low-fat buttermilk has 10 grams of protein (more than regular buttermilk, which is still a good source at 8g). (4) It is also a good source of phosphorus, vitamin B-12, potassium, and riboflavin (aka vitamin B, important for energy production, secretion of hormones, and liver function). As buttermilk is 90% water, it also assists in maintaining the water balance of your body.
Aids in Blood Pressure Management
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is one of the main causes of cardiovascular diseases. Research indicates that drinking buttermilk reduces systolic blood pressure as well as mean arterial blood pressure. (5) This benefit of buttermilk is thanks to the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) found in this fermented drink. The aim of this research was to find the antihypertensive properties of MFGM, and the results indicate that buttermilk consumption does indeed reduce blood pressure.
Alleviates Several Stomach Ailments
Buttermilk aids in digestion and helps clear your stomach because of the acid in it. Regular consumption of buttermilk helps reduce the onset of several stomach ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, stomach infections, irregular bowel movements, lactose intolerance, and colon cancer. (6) This drink also soothes the stomach lining and cools down the digestive tract of the body, thereby reducing body heat.
Good Source of Calcium without much Fat Content
The name buttermilk is slightly misleading—it could be perceived that buttermilk is full of fat and calories. When milk is churned, the butter component receives all the fat content while the buttermilk—the byproduct—does not. This is why buttermilk is considered to be a great source of calcium and other nutritional elements without any added calories or fats.
One cup of buttermilk has 284 milligrams of calcium (almost 30% of your daily value!) and only 2.2 grams of fat whereas a cup of whole milk has 8 grams of fat and a bit less calcium at 276 mg. Calcium is important because it helps slow bone loss, helps with clotting, and supports the heart and muscles. (7)
Buttermilk is a fermented drink that supports a healthy gut, which in turn translates to a healthy immune system. One thing to keep in mind—these health benefits of buttermilk are thanks to the live culture of bacteria in it. Therefore, ensure that you buy unpasteurized buttermilk. Pasteurization is the process of sterilization through heating. While this process kills harmful bacteria, it also kills the friendly, probiotic bacteria. By the same token, refrain from cooking/baking your buttermilk as this will kill the bacteria, and you'll no longer receive the probiotic benefits.
Given all of the positive effects you can receive when you drink buttermilk, it's worth adding to your diet along with a probiotic supplement to support digestion and whole body health. You can even try buttermilk powder for added convenience. What do you think? Are you ready to replace your regular milk with a probiotic glass of buttermilk?
- Vighi, G, F Marcucci, L Sensi, G Di Cara, and F Frati. "Allergy and the gastrointestinal system." Clin Exp Immunol 153, no. Suppl 1 (2008): 3–6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x.
- Bonaz, Bruno. "[Brain-gut interactions]." La Revue de Medecine Interne 31, no. 8 (2010): 581-585. doi: 10.1016/j.revmed.2009.09.035.
- Cohut, Maria. "Gut flora dictates how much weight we can lose." Medical News Today. Last modified September 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319411.php.
- Isenberg, Shira. "Buttermilk Nutrition." LiveStrong. Accessed March 2019. https://www.livestrong.com/article/120198-buttermilk-nutrition/.
- Conway, Valérie, Patrick Couture, Sylvie Gauthier, Yves Pouliot, and BenoîtLamarche. "Effect of buttermilk consumption on blood pressure in moderately hypercholesterolemic men and women." Nutrition 30, no. 1 (2014): 116-119. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.07.021.
- Yeragi, Vandana S and Akash H Maske. "Effects of Buttermilk on Health." International Journal of Scientific Research and Management 4, no. 12 (2016). https://ijsrm.in/index.php/ijsrm/article/view/892.
- "Calcium/Vitamin D." National Osteoporosis Foundation. Last modified February 2018. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d/.