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Milk vs Buttermilk - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on January 01, 1970
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Milk
vs
Buttermilk

Summary

Low-fat milk and cultured buttermilk are very similar in their macronutrient compositions. Milk is only a little higher in calories, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Milk also contains more vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B2, B3, B5, and B12. Buttermilk, on the other hand, is higher in vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B1. Milk and buttermilk have nearly equal amounts of minerals, except for sodium and iron, found in higher amounts in buttermilk.

Milk and buttermilk are associated with an overall decreased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. These dairy products can be healthy in moderate consumption, and the deciding factors are up to the consumer’s preferences.

Introduction

Just by looking at two glasses containing milk and buttermilk, you may not be able to tell the difference. However, you cannot just substitute milk and buttermilk with each other due to their individual qualities.

In this article, we will discuss what separates these two dairy products and what they have in common, mainly focusing on health and nutrition.

Processing and Production

Milk is naturally produced in the mammary glands of female mammals. After milking the animal, the milk has to undergo processing, to improve qualities, such as shelf-life, taste, texture, and consistency. The milk is pasteurized: heating the milk for a period of time to kill the harmful bacteria and elongate the shelf life. Milk is later homogenized: put under pressure through small spaces to make the texture consistent and stop the cream from separating. It can be put through centrifugal separation to achieve low-fat, reduced-fat, or skim milk. Other forms of processing, such as ultrafiltration, ultra osmosis, and permeating, can be used to alter the properties of milk (1).

Buttermilk was originally the by-product of producing butter. After separating the cream from the milk and shaking or churning it for a while, butter granules start to form, and the liquid left is buttermilk. However, today, most commercial buttermilk is cultured. Cultured buttermilk is the pasteurized and homogenized milk that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, giving buttermilk its distinct taste and texture.

Texture and Appearance

Both of these dairies are white liquids; however, buttermilk is visibly denser and tends to leave residue on the glass or bottle in which it is contained.

Taste and Use

Both buttermilk and milk can be consumed raw or used in cooking; however, they are not interchangeable. Buttermilk is naturally more tart, acidic and dense. Buttermilk is often used for marinating meat and in dough making as a leavening agent to give it a lighter and softer texture.

Varieties

Based on the mammal it is from, milk and subsequently buttermilk can have different properties. The most common kind of milk used today is cow’s milk. Other kinds of dairy milk include buffalo, goat, sheep, and camel milk, as well as lesser-known types of milk, such as milk from donkeys, yaks, horses, and other mammals. In recent years non-dairy or plant milk has also been gaining popularity. However, in this article, we will focus on the most common cow milk and the buttermilk made from it.

Cow milk and buttermilk can have different qualities based on their processing methods. Centrifugal separation removes the fat molecules in the milk, making it nutritionally lower in fat. Based on the fat percentage, there are four common kinds of milk: whole milk (3.25% fat), reduced-fat (2% fat), low-fat (1% fat), and skim milk, also known as non-fat or fat-free milk (less than 0.5% fat).

Nutrition

For this article, we have chosen to compare low-fat cow milk fortified with vitamin A and D with cultured and low-fat buttermilk.

Macronutrients and Calories

Milk and buttermilk are composed of similar amounts of water, both containing 90% water.

They are also equal in serving sizes, both being one cup. One cup of buttermilk weighs 245g, only 1g more than milk.

Calories

Low-fat milk and low-fat buttermilk are both low-calorie foods.

Milk is only a little higher in calories when compared to low-fat buttermilk. A 100g of milk contains 42 calories, whereas buttermilk has 40.

Protein and Fats

Milk and buttermilk are very similar in their fat and protein contents as well; however, milk is a little higher in both.

They are also very alike in protein and fat compositions. Both contain appreciable amounts of all essential amino acids.

In milk and buttermilk, the predominant fat type is saturated fatty acids, followed by monounsaturated and then polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Buttermilk is lower in cholesterol.

Carbohydrates

Milk is also a little higher in carbohydrates. Both do not contain dietary fiber. Most of the sugars are made up of lactose.

Vitamins

Milk overall contains more vitamins when compared to buttermilk. Milk is higher in vitamin A, vitamins B2, B3, B5, and vitamin B12. Milk also contains vitamin D, whereas buttermilk does not.

On the other hand, buttermilk is richer in vitamin E and vitamin B1 and contains vitamin C, which milk completely lacks.

The two dairy products are almost equal in the contained amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin K and the folate form of vitamin B9.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Milk
7
:
Contains more Vitamin A +317%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +20.1%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +60.3%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +31.3%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +113.6%
Contains more Vitamin E +400%
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +70%
Equal in Vitamin B6 - 0.034
Equal in Folate - 5
Equal in Vitamin K - 0.1
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 12% 1% 36% 0% 5% 43% 2% 22% 9% 4% 59% 1%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 3% 1% 0% 4% 9% 36% 2% 17% 8% 4% 28% 1%
Contains more Vitamin A +317%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +20.1%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +60.3%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +31.3%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +113.6%
Contains more Vitamin E +400%
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +70%
Equal in Vitamin B6 - 0.034
Equal in Folate - 5
Equal in Vitamin K - 0.1

Minerals

Milk and buttermilk are very similar in their mineral compositions. Milk is only a little higher in calcium, phosphorus, and selenium, but also it contains a significantly lower amount of sodium. Buttermilk, however, is richer in iron.

The two contain nearly the same amounts of potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and choline.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Contains less Sodium -76.8%
Contains more Iron +66.7%
Equal in Calcium - 116
Equal in Magnesium - 11
Equal in Phosphorus - 89
Equal in Potassium - 151
Equal in Zinc - 0.42
Equal in Copper - 0.011
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 38% 2% 8% 41% 14% 6% 12% 4%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 35% 2% 8% 39% 14% 25% 12% 4%
Contains less Sodium -76.8%
Contains more Iron +66.7%
Equal in Calcium - 116
Equal in Magnesium - 11
Equal in Phosphorus - 89
Equal in Potassium - 151
Equal in Zinc - 0.42
Equal in Copper - 0.011

Glycemic Index

A mean of eleven studies using milk from different countries and brands has shown the glycemic index of milk to be equal to 31±2.

Even though a specific number for the glycemic index of buttermilk has not yet been calculated, we can assume the number to be close to but also smaller than 31.

The number for the glycemic indices for both milk and buttermilk falls in the low category.

Acidity

The pH value of milk falls between 6.4 and 6.8 (2). This means the pH of milk is slightly acidic.

Based on the processing, it is natural that cultured buttermilk is much more acidic, with a pH value falling in the range of 4.41 to 4.83 (2).

Another way of measuring acidity is by looking at the potential renal acid load (PRAL). The PRAL value shows how much acid or base the food produces inside the body.

The PRAL value for milk has been calculated to be 0.1, making it slightly acid-producing, whereas buttermilk has a neutral PRAL value of -0.1.

Weight Loss

When choosing dairy products on a weight loss diet, it’s important to pay attention to the fat content of the food. Low-fat milk and buttermilk can be easily found in most stores. Naturally, low-fat dairy contains fewer calories when compared to whole-fat.

Milk and buttermilk have very similar macronutrient compositions. Milk is only a little higher in calories and fats.

However, paradoxically, studies have found that consuming higher cow-milk fat or whole milk was associated with a lesser risk of obesity in children when compared to the intake of reduced-fat milk (3).

Other studies have similarly concluded that a high dairy fat intake was associated with a lower risk of central obesity (4, 5).

Health Impact

Opinions often differ around the health impact of dairy products. Here, we will discuss the effects of milk and buttermilk on health based on scientific evidence.

Health Benefits

Cardiovascular Health

A study concluded that dairy consumption was associated with lower mortality risk and major cardiovascular disease events (6).

Another research summarised that while full-fat dairy products did not increase heart disease risk, they did not decrease it either (7).

Regarding the concerns about high calcium intake, one study found that a high intake of milk, and therefore calcium, does not increase the risk of acute myocardial infarctions (8).

There is evidence that the intake of milk and milk products overall may improve blood pressure, decreasing the risk of hypertension (9).

Short-term buttermilk consumption has been studied to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure (10).

Milk polar lipids, found in buttermilk, can improve cardiometabolic health by lowering several lipid cardiovascular markers, mainly through reducing cholesterol absorption from the intestines (11). Consumption of buttermilk reduces levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood (12).

Diabetes

Milk and buttermilk are both low glycemic index foods.

Higher intake of whole fat, but not low-fat, dairy has been associated with a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome and most of its component factors, as well as a lower risk of diabetes and hypertension (13).

Another study found a neutral or a moderate inverse correlation between dairy consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (14, 15).

Fermented dairy products, such as buttermilk, were linked to lower fasting plasma glucose and hemoglobin A1C. Overall, there is a strong and relatively consistent body of accumulating evidence indicating that dairy products may significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and likely in a dose-response manner (16).

Cancer

Studies have shown an inverse association between milk consumption and colorectal and bladder cancer risk. However, due to the high calcium levels, milk may also increase the risk of prostate cancer (17).

The intake of fermented dairy products, such as buttermilk, has significantly decreased the risk of bladder cancer, colorectal cancer, and esophageal cancer (18).

Buttermilk is a rich source of a compound called milk fat globule membrane that has been studied to have selective antiproliferative effects on cancer cells (19).

Downsides and Risks

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a disorder during which the sugar lactose does not get absorbed or digested through the intestines. Symptoms may appear within a few hours of consuming lactose-containing foods and include bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.

The primary sugar found in both milk and buttermilk is lactose. Therefore, people with lactose intolerance should refrain from using these products. Milk is higher in sugars and, consequently, lactose compared to buttermilk.

Diabetes

In contrast to the studies mentioned above, one research found that high dairy consumption may be associated with lower insulin sensitivity and, therefore, greater insulin resistance, potentially increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes (20).

Cancer

Several studies have concluded that milk consumption has no association with an increased breast cancer risk. However, one study found high milk intake to be linked to an elevated risk of breast cancer (21).

High consumption of whole milk may also increase the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer (22).

References

  1. https://www.dairy.com.au/products/milk/how-milk-is-made
  2. https://www.webpal.org/SAFE/aaarecovery/2_food_storage/Processing/lacf-phs.htm
  3. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/111/2/266/5680464
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656401/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25159495/
  6. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31812-9/fulltext
  7. Study sheds light on dairy fat and cardiovascular disease risk
  8. https://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/56/6/471.full.pdf
  9. https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/69/3/487.full.pdf
  10. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258425691
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23786821/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289141/
  13. https://drc.bmj.com/content/8/1/e000826
  14. https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/10/6/1066/5498098
  15. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/29/7/1579
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719038/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22081693/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30374967/
  19. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305745174
  20. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jdr/2015/206959/
  21. A Study Suggests Milk Increases the Risk of Breast Cancer, but AICR Experts Say Not So Fast
  22. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/9/1/e023625.full.pdf
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: January 01, 1970

Infographic

Milk vs Buttermilk infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Milk Buttermilk
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Cholesterol ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Rich in minerals Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Milk Buttermilk Opinion
Net carbs 4.99g 4.79g Milk
Protein 3.37g 3.31g Milk
Fats 0.97g 0.88g Milk
Carbs 4.99g 4.79g Milk
Calories 42kcal 40kcal Milk
Starch g g
Fructose 0g g Milk
Sugar 5.2g 4.79g Buttermilk
Fiber 0g 0g
Calcium 125mg 116mg Milk
Iron 0.03mg 0.05mg Buttermilk
Magnesium 11mg 11mg
Phosphorus 95mg 89mg Milk
Potassium 150mg 151mg Buttermilk
Sodium 44mg 190mg Milk
Zinc 0.42mg 0.42mg
Copper 0.01mg 0.011mg Buttermilk
Vitamin A 196IU 47IU Milk
Vitamin E 0.01mg 0.05mg Buttermilk
Vitamin D 48IU 1IU Milk
Vitamin D 1.2µg 0µg Milk
Vitamin C 0mg 1mg Buttermilk
Vitamin B1 0.02mg 0.034mg Buttermilk
Vitamin B2 0.185mg 0.154mg Milk
Vitamin B3 0.093mg 0.058mg Milk
Vitamin B5 0.361mg 0.275mg Milk
Vitamin B6 0.037mg 0.034mg Milk
Folate 5µg 5µg
Vitamin B12 0.47µg 0.22µg Milk
Vitamin K 0.1µg 0.1µg
Tryptophan 0.043mg 0.042mg Milk
Threonine 0.143mg 0.141mg Milk
Isoleucine 0.174mg 0.171mg Milk
Leucine 0.319mg 0.313mg Milk
Lysine 0.282mg 0.277mg Milk
Methionine 0.088mg 0.087mg Milk
Phenylalanine 0.174mg 0.171mg Milk
Valine 0.22mg 0.217mg Milk
Histidine 0.101mg 0.1mg Milk
Cholesterol 5mg 4mg Buttermilk
Trans Fat g g
Saturated Fat 0.633g 0.548g Buttermilk
Monounsaturated Fat 0.277g 0.254g Milk
Polyunsaturated fat 0.035g 0.033g Milk

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Milk Buttermilk
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
16
Milk
9
Buttermilk
Mineral Summary Score
15
Milk
17
Buttermilk

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
20%
Milk
20%
Buttermilk
Carbohydrates
5%
Milk
5%
Buttermilk
Fats
4%
Milk
4%
Buttermilk

Comparison summary

Which food contains less Sodium?
Milk
Milk contains less Sodium (difference - 146mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Milk
Milk is lower in glycemic index (difference - 31)
Which food is cheaper?
Milk
Milk is cheaper (difference - $1.4)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Milk
Milk is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Buttermilk
Buttermilk is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.41g)
Which food is lower in Cholesterol?
Buttermilk
Buttermilk is lower in Cholesterol (difference - 1mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Buttermilk
Buttermilk is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.085g)
Which food is richer in minerals?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Milk - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170872/nutrients
  2. Buttermilk - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170874/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.