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Is Buttermilk Good for You? Benefits, Risks, and Substitutes
Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product.
This article refers to cultured buttermilk simply as buttermilk.
This article reviews the nutrition, benefits, and downsides of buttermilk and tells you how to make substitutes for store-bought varieties.
The name buttermilk is somewhat misleading, as it doesn’t contain butter.
Buttermilk today consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein.
It has been pasteurized and homogenized, and lactic-acid-producing bacteria cultures have been added, which may include Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
Lactic acid increases the acidity of the buttermilk and prevents unwanted bacterial growth, which extends its shelf life. It also gives buttermilk its slightly sour taste, which is a result of the bacteria fermenting lactose, the primary sugar in milk (1).
Buttermilk is thicker than milk. When the bacteria in the beverage produce lactic acid, the pH level is reduced, and casein, the primary protein in milk, solidifies.
When the pH is reduced, the buttermilk curdles and thickens. This is because a lower pH makes the buttermilk more acidic. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic. Cow’s milk has a pH of 6.7–6.9, compared with 4.4–4.8 for buttermilk.
Buttermilk packs a lot of nutrition into a small serving.
One cup (245 ml) of cultured buttermilk provides the following nutrients (2Trusted Source):
- Calories: 98
- Protein: 8 grams
- Carbs: 12 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Calcium: 22% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Sodium: 16% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 29% of the DV
- Vitamin B12: 22% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 13% of the DV
Buttermilk may offer several health benefits, including improved blood pressure and bone and oral health.
May be easier to digest than other dairy products
The lactic acid in buttermilk can make its lactose content easier to digest. Lactose is the natural sugar in dairy products.
Many people are lactose intolerant, meaning that they don’t have the enzyme needed to break down this sugar. Approximately 65% of people worldwide develop some degree of lactose intolerance after infancy (3).
Some people with lactose intolerance can drink cultured dairy products with few to no side effects, as the lactose is broken down by the bacteria (4Trusted Source).
May support strong bones
Buttermilk is a good source of calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamin D if it has been fortified. Full-fat varieties are also rich in vitamin K2 (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
These nutrients are important for maintaining bone strength and preventing degenerative bone diseases like osteoporosis, but many people don’t get enough of them (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
A 5-year study in people aged 13–99 observed that those with phosphorus intakes 2–3 times higher than the recommended dietary allowance of 700 mg per day increased their bone mineral density by 2.1% and bone mineral content by 4.2% (8Trusted Source).
Higher intake of phosphorus-rich foods was also associated with higher calcium intake. Eating more calcium and phosphorus was linked to a 45% lower overall risk of osteoporosis among adults with normal blood levels of these two minerals (8Trusted Source).
There is also emerging evidence that vitamin K2 is beneficial for bone health and treating osteoporosis, particularly in combination with vitamin D. Vitamin K2 promotes bone formation and prevents bone breakdown (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
May improve oral health
Periodontitis is the inflammation of your gums and supporting structures of your teeth. It’s a very common condition and caused by periodontal bacteria.
Fermented dairy products like buttermilk may have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin cells that line your mouth (13Trusted Source).
The intake of calcium from fermented dairy foods has been associated with a significant reduction of periodontitis. Nondairy foods don’t seem to have this effect (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
This may be particularly helpful for people who have oral inflammation as a result of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or Crohn’s disease (13Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
May help lower your cholesterol levels
In a small 8-week study in 34 adults, consuming 45 grams, or approximately 1/5 cup, of reconstituted buttermilk (buttermilk powder mixed with water) daily reduced total cholesterol and triglycerides by 3% and 10%, respectively, compared with a placebo (18Trusted Source).
Furthermore, participants who began the study with elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels noticed a 3% reduction in this type of cholesterol (18Trusted Source).
Sphingolipid compounds in buttermilk may be responsible for this effect by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in your gut. Sphingolipids are part of the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) in buttermilk (18Trusted Source).
Linked to lower blood pressure levels
Some evidence suggests that buttermilk may help lower your blood pressure.
In a study in 34 people with normal blood pressure, consuming buttermilk daily reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 2.6 mm Hg, mean arterial blood pressure by 1.7 mm Hg, and plasma angiotensin-I converting enzyme by 10.9%, compared with a placebo (19).
Mean arterial blood pressure is the average pressure in a person’s arteries during one heartbeat, whereas plasma angiotensin-I converting enzyme helps control blood pressure by regulating fluid volume in your body (19).
Though these results are encouraging, more research is needed.
Buttermilk may also have several downsides related to its salt content and potential to cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
Can be high in sodium
Milk products contain good amounts of sodium, making it important to check the nutrition label if you need to limit your sodium intake.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease (20Trusted Source).
For people who are sensitive to dietary salt, high-sodium diets can damage the heart, kidneys, brain, and blood vessels (21Trusted Source).
In comparison, 1 cup (240 ml) of buttermilk can pack 300–500 mg of this nutrient.
Notably, lower-fat buttermilk often contains even more sodium than higher-fat versions (2Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
May cause allergic reactions or digestive issues in some people
Buttermilk contains lactose, a natural sugar to which many people are intolerant.
How many calories is one cup of buttermilk?
“One cup of buttermilk contains around 100 calories and 2.2 grams of fat (1.3 grams being saturated) whereas whole milk contains around 150 calories and 8 grams of fat (5 of which are saturated).”