The 4 Best Dairy Foods for Gut Health

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Many dairy products are rich in nutrients that support optimal health and development throughout life, including protein, vitamin D, calcium, potassium and phosphorus , according to a 2019 study published in Nutrients . But did you know that some dairy products are also great for your gut health? These foods promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, notes a 2020 Gut Microbiome study.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has revealed the gut’s profound impact on overall health, notes a 2019 review in Nutrients . Gut health is critical to immune system function and chronic disease risk, according to the National Institutes of Health . Additionally, gut health has been linked to mental health in the so-called gut-brain connection .

“The health of the gastrointestinal tract is intricately linked to the health of the whole body, and a healthy gut microbiome is not only associated with digestive health, but also with a stronger immune system, as well as lower depression and anxiety, dementia, heart disease, diabetes Even cancer rates. So if improving your overall health is your goal, eating gut-friendly foods is a smart choice. Read on to learn which dairy foods are best for adding more healthy bacteria to your gut.

4 Best Dairy Foods for Gut Health

1. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented dairy product that has excellent probiotic properties . According to the National Institutes of Health , probiotics can promote the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria and boost the immune system.

Kefir is made from various types of milk, including cow, goat and sheep, through a microbial fermentation process. This fermentation process gives kefir the diverse strains of bacteria and yeast that support gut health.

“Consumption of dairy products such as kefir can improve the balance of gut microbes, enhance digestion and support the immune system,”

2. Yogurt

Yogurt is a fermented milk that is also rich in probiotic cultures. Live bacteria found in yogurt can help boost gut health, aid weight loss and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 2022, according to  a 2-year study published in BMC Microbiology.

Additionally, a 2017 study in the journal Microbiology found that some Greek yogurts containing probiotic strains of Lactobacillus can boost the population of beneficial gut bacteria. According to a 2022 study in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, Lactobacillus probiotics have also been shown to strengthen the intestinal defense barrier by causing intestinal mucus secretion.

“Yogurt can support gut health in a number of ways, especially when it contains probiotics (good live bacteria) and prebiotics, which are nondigestible fibers that promote the growth and activity of good bacteria,” says Robbins.

3. Buttermilk

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica , buttermilk is made by fermenting low-fat milk with bacteria. The result is a probiotic-rich drink. Although buttermilk can be eaten on its own, it has a tart flavor similar to plain yogurt. This is why buttermilk is often used in baking or to make marinades.

A <> March 2022 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences showed that buttermilk can boost the production of short-chain fatty acids, especially butyrate. Butyrate is great for gut health because it strengthens the A barrier that prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from passing through the blood.

“Dairy foods that contain short-chain fatty acids like butyrate play a role in gut health by providing energy to colon cells, maintaining gut barrier function and reducing inflammation,” Robbins explained.

4. Aged Cheese

“Easy-to-digest dairy products include aged cheeses,” says Robbins. “Some of these aged cheeses also contain beneficial gut bacteria. However, according to Harvard Health Publishing , probiotics are usually only present in unheated aged cheeses, which can kill the good bacteria. Good for the gut Aged cheeses include cheddar, cottage cheese, gouda, provolone, and Swiss.

While some cheeses contain beneficial probiotics, be sure to eat them in moderation, as most types are calorie-dense and high in saturated fat . According to the American Heart Association , eating too much-saturated fat increases heart health risks. Also, eating too much cheese may cause constipation, the NIH says.

Other Ways to Support Gut Health

If you’re looking for more ways to support your gut health beyond adding these gut-friendly dairy foods to your diet, Robbins and Sohi recommend the following:

  • Get enough fiber from plant sources .
  • “Eat the rainbow” and include a variety of colorful produce in your diet.
  • Eat foods rich in prebiotics, which are food for probiotics These include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas and whole grains.
  • Practice stress reduction techniques , such as meditation or yoga. Chronic stress can negatively impact gut health through the gut-brain connection, according to a 2020 study in Current Behavioral Science .
  • Limit ultra-processed foods (eg, processed meats, sugary grains, sweets) that cause inflammation and promote unhealthy gut bacteria, according to a 2019 study in Nutrients .
  • Stay physically active by getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, as  recommended by the CDC’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans . “Routine exercise can improve gut motility and the growth of a healthy microbiome,” Robbins said.

Including these gut-healthy dairy products in your diet can help support a balanced microbiome. A healthier gut can lead to a stronger immune system and better mental health. Combining the aforementioned dairy products with prebiotic-rich whole foods and healthy lifestyle habits , such as stress management, regular exercise, and avoiding processed foods, can significantly improve your overall health.

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