Your microbiome is the massive community of bacteria that live inside of you. Research suggests that this ecosystem is crucial to human health and wellbeing. Collectively weighing more than the average brain, this ecosystem is comprised of organisms like bacteria, fungi, protozoans, viruses, and yeasts—all of which live in the digestive system.
Some bacterial strains in the gut are involved in breaking down toxins and food, while some are charged with making vitamins. Researchers hope that someday it may become possible to analyze the gut microbiome imbalances to help diagnose brain illnesses and mental health conditions.
In this post, we'll discuss kefir vs. buttermilk: what are the differences, the benefits of each, and why you should include both of these easy to make fermented foods in your daily diet to promote a balanced and healthy gut microbiome.
Why Gut Microbiome Matters
So what are the advantages of having a healthy and balanced microbiome? Gut bacteria outnumber human body cells 10 to one. (1) Other than regulating the immune system and making essential vitamins and nutrients for your body, a balanced microbiome also regulates metabolism, improves brain function and elevates your mood.
One of the easiest yet most effective ways to balance your gut microbiome is by consuming fermented foods and taking probiotic supplements. Known as superfoods when it comes to gut health, fermented items are chockful of live cultures that are great for your gut. Eating fermented food helps your gut regulate the microbiome to maintain a balance of good gut bacteria for weight loss and good health.
How Does Fermented Food Balance Your Gut
Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotic bacteria for your body. Probiotics contain live bacteria by the billions and are generally available in pill, capsule or powder format. Natural probiotics like fermented foods pack a powerful punch of good gut probiotics and other nutrients.
Over the centuries, every country across the globe has arrived at its own specific fermented food. From China’s douchi (sauce made of black soybeans) and Ethiopia’s injera (fermented teff bread) to Japan’s miso (fermented soybean paste) and Russia’s kvass (fizzy beer made of bread), fermented foods can be found everywhere in a variety of forms like pastes, sauces, curries, pickles, beer, and candies.
Kefir vs. Buttermilk
Two popular and common fermented foods in the United States are buttermilk and kefir. These fermented milk drinks are healthy, contain powerful probiotics, are available in most grocery stores in the United States, and can easily fit in into any diet. Buttermilk is a yogurt-based drink that is consumed heartily in India, central and western Asia, the Balkans, and central Europe. Kefir is also a fermented milk drink and its origins can be traced back to the North Caucasus. (2)
Benefits of Buttermilk
Though its consistency is similar to regular milk, cultured buttermilk has a tart and almost-sour taste. It is typically produced through a fermentation process involving lactic acid bacteria. Both yogurt and buttermilk are fermented milk products with good bacteria in them, but buttermilk has lower fat and protein content in comparison. The fat content is lower because most of the fat has been siphoned off to make butter. Here are a few nutritional benefits to consuming buttermilk as a drink or using it in other forms:
- It is a good source of potassium, riboflavin, B12, and phosphorus.
- An average person’s daily intake requirement of calcium is 1000mgs. Buttermilk can help you meet this goal as every cup of buttermilk (low-fat variety) has a little less than 300mgs of calcium, which supports bone growth and may ward off osteoporosis.
- A cup of buttermilk has approximately the same amount of protein as a cup of low-fat/skim milk. Proteins are essential for the strength of bones, muscles, and skin.
- Buttermilk is easily available in multiple forms: fresh, powdered, and frozen. It is also versatile to use—just substitute a few tablespoons of buttermilk in place of butter or sour cream.
- Last but definitely not the least, buttermilk aids digestion and is a rich source of probiotics. The active live cultures in buttermilk aid in nutrition and digestion. They also help in mitigating digestive problems like flatulence, acid reflux, Crohn’s, etc.
The digestive benefits offered by the good bacteria will be available to you only if the drink has active cultures in it, therefore, it's recommended that you avoid non-pasteurized versions.
Benefits of Kefir
A fermented beverage made from kefir grains and milk, kefir resembles liquid yogurt. It is a natural probiotic that promotes the health of the gut microbiome. Kefir also tastes tangy like yogurt but has a thinner beverage-like consistency.
- Kefir has proteins, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and riboflavin, and magnesium.
- It is also a good source of vitamin D and bioactive compounds, organic acids, and peptides which boost its health benefits. (3)
- As a probiotic source, kefir is much more powerful than yogurt. The grains of kefir include at least 30 different strains of yeast and bacteria. This means that it offers not just a good quantity of probiotics but also multiple diverse strains as well as yeast. Most other fermented dairy products are created with very few probiotic strains and do not have any yeast. The result is that organic kefir delivers over 40 billion probiotic organisms in just half a cup, while probiotic yogurts give about one billion in a serving. (4)
- Kefiran, a specific type of carbohydrate found in the drink, has antibacterial properties that actively protect against harmful bacteria and infections. (5)
- Made from full-fat dairy, kefir is rich in calcium as well as vitamin K12. This vitamin helps metabolize calcium and aids in reducing the risk of fractures by about 81%
Use Kefir and Buttermilk in Your Daily Diet for Better Health
From boosting gut health to aiding in weight loss, kefir and buttermilk do it all. Both are simple and easy to whip up at home when in pinch. Most commercial varieties are sold with added flavors and sugar which increases the calorie count and kills off the live bacteria. Ensure that you are choosing kefir and buttermilk with live cultures in it. Getting a regular intake of both, in addition to probiotic supplements, can help to support your digestive health, immune system, and more.
- Brody, Jane E. "Putting Good Bacteria to Work." The New York Times. Last modified September 2004. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/14/health/putting-good-bacteria-to-work.html.
- De Oliveira Leite, Analy Machado, Marco Antonio Lemos Miguel, Raquel Silva Peixoto, Alexandre Soares Rosado, Joab Trajano Silva, and Vania Margaret Flosi Paschoalin. "Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage." Brazilian Journal of Microbiology 44, no. 2 (2013): 341–349. doi: 10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001.
- Prado, Maria R., Lina Marcela Blandón, Luciana P.S. Vandenberghe, Cristine Rodrigues, Guillermo R. Castro, Vinete Thomaz-Soccol, and Carlos R. Soccol. "Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products." Frontiers in Microbiology 6, (2015): 1177. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01177.
- Beck, Leslie. "What’s the difference between yogurt and kefir?" The Globe and Mail. Last modified May 2018. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/whats-the-difference-between-yogurt-and-kefir/article7904569/.
- Rodrigues, Kamila Leite, LR Caputo, JC Cavalho, J Evangelista, and JM Schneedorf. "Antimicrobial and healing activity of kefir and kefiran extract." International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 25, no. 5 (2005): 404-408. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2004.09.020.