Culinary specialties Dietary supplements Nutrition

Milk – drink or not to drink?

On every second website about healthy diet we may come across discussions about milk and its bad or good influence on our organism and health. Milk, as other products belonging to this “controversial” group has both its supporters and enemies.

I would stand somewhere in the middle.

On the Internet, we may find thousands of anti-milk articles, which clearly undermine positive aspects of drinking cow’s milk that we have been instilled with.

What is the case then with milk? Drink or not to drink?

Milk for strong bones?

Cow’s milk has been accompanying humans for over eleven thousand years and until now it has been a base of nutrition in many homes all over the World. Researchers provide the consumers all the time with new, contradictory information on this topic.

We may hear that milk is a curse and is totally wrong, that it is the most processed product that we may found, while another time we hear well-known slogans “Drink milk – you will be great!” in the adverts.

There are a few studies, carried out mainly in Sweden at the University of Uppsala, on the basis of which we may conclude that milk is not a good product. However, as researchers themselves highlight, studies are not that detailed to make it necessary to changes all the recommendations regarding the intake of milk.

As clearly visible, there are no authoritative studies that would unambiguously prove that milk is harmful for generally healthy people.

We also don’t know which institution presenting research is sponsored by certain food concerns and which is totally independent. Therefore, we always should look for the truth somewhere in the middle.

Milk – its composition and nutritional values

One of the more important ingredients of milk is protein, which in 80% is composed of casein, out of which cheese is made.

Casein in milk appears as calcium caseinate and under the influence of lactic acid, casein is released from calcium, creating free casein.

Another very important ingredient of milk is fat. It is fat that to a large extent influences milk value, taste and thickness. Fat from dairy products is very healthy and all studies agree in this respect. Pure fat from dairy products is clarified butter and practically everyone can eat it.

Lactose also appears in milk, which is milk sugar. It is composed of glucose and galactose. Its content in milk ranges from 4,5 to 4,8%. Thanks to lactose and lactic acid produced from it, cheese does not rot and mature.

Vitamins contained in milk are also very important. The amount of vitamins is dependent to a large extent on the fact how animals are fed. Their value is considerably higher during summer, when animals eat more greens. Milk contains the following vitamins:

  • vitamin A (retinol) – milk contains around 36 mcg of this vitamin. Without vitamin A, the process of metabolism of proteins and steroid hormones would be impossible Retinol also takes part in the creation of our dental enamel. Moreover, this vitamin takes active part in creating our immunity.
  • vitamin E (tocopherol) – there is around 0,1 mg of vitamin E in milk. Milk is rich in this vitamin during summer period, as animals are more often released on pastures.
  • vitamin B1 (thiamine) – milk contains ca. 0,036 mg of thiamine. This vitamin has very good influence on nerves and facilitates our cardiovascular system.
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – milk contains around 0,170 mg of riboflavin. This vitamin is essential for the proper functioning of our central and peripheral nervous system as well as the immune system.
  • vitamin B9 (folic acid) – there is around 5mcg in milk. This vitamin is very important for every cell in our body. It is crucial from the very conception, as folic acid takes part in the synthesis of acids, from which DNA is created. In one sentence – vitamin B9 regulates the growth and functioning of all cells in the organism.
  • vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – milk contains around 0,40 mcg of cobalamin. This vitamins ensures well-being, has positive influence on our nervous system and also improves appetite and takes part in the transformation of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
  • vitamin B3 (niacin) – there is 0,10 mg of niacin in milk. Niacin takes part in the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, but also in cellular oxidation. Moreover, it regulates the secretion of gastric juices and takes part in the synthesis of many hormones.
  • vitamin D – milk contains around 0,03 mcg of vitamin D. This vitamin is produced in the organism under the influence of sunlight. It is mainly responsible for the proper development and mineralization of bones It plays an important function in regulating the calcium-phosphorus balance in the organism. It also increases the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from our digestive system. At the same time, it levels up disproportions of calcium to phosphorus. Milk products provide us with the above mentioned vitamin D, which is soluble in fats. Therefore, when we choose milk without fat, we deprive ourselves of this vitamin.
  • vitamin C – there is 1 mg of this vitamin in milk. It is essential for the production of the connective tissue, it supports our immune system.

There are also a lot of valuable mineral salts, such as:

  • calcium – around 118 mg. Calcium is a basic building block of our bones and teeth, it is essential for the proper activity of cells. It takes part in metabolism, in the process of muscle contraction and blood coagulation.
  • phosphorus – ca. 85 mg. This element is also responsible for strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus takes part in the conduction of muscle stimuli and helps to maintain acid-base balance in our organism.
  • magnesium – 12 mg in milk. It strengthens our bone structure, tones nerves, facilitates the work of grey cells. Magnesium improves our memory and thinking, thanks to its proper concentration in the organism, it ensures better sleep and our concentration is better.
  • iron – 0,01 mg. It protects us from infections, improves our immunity, is the component of many proteins. As a result of iron deficiencies, anemia, fatigue and headaches appear.

When milk may be harmful?

The most radical opponents of milk enumerate many aspects of its bad influence, starting from the composition, through the influence on health, to the influence of technological processes on nutritional values of milk. There are no contraindications or reasons to completely eliminate milk from diet, apart from such exceptions as: lactose intolerance and allergy to cow’s milk protein. In Poland, around 20-25% of the society have such problems. Deficiency of lactase makes it impossible to break down lactose into glucose and galactose. This in turn is the cause of osmotic changes and the flow of liquids to the lumen of the small intestine, which may appear as stomachache, nausea, bloating or diarrhea. Moreover, it is worth thinking about eliminating milk (and sometime also other dairy products) in case of autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto and also in case of various skin or intestinal problems. Even people who don’t tolerate lactose may test other dairy products, such as good-quality kefirs and yogurts, where lactose is in the fermented form and constitutes a product which is much easier assimilable for the organism. One of the main reasons why milk has become bad for the majority of the general public are frequent gastro-intestinal problems after drinking milk or eating cheese. Therefore, why do we demonize something that is a problem for 20-25% of people and for 75-80% is not? I think that listening and observing our own organism is the most important issue in this whole situation. Healthy reason is a fundament, as it is hard to make any decision in this hustle and bustle, which doesn’t make it any easier.

Straight from a cow or UHT?

Not only composition of milk, but also the way of its processing causes controversy. On shop shelves we may find pasteurized milk and UHT. And UHT provokes the most emotions due to its long durability. I am going to answer the questions: what are the differences and does processed milk have any nutritious values?

Proponents claim that we should drink milk straight from a cow. I don’t see anything wrong here as long as we are sure and convinced that a given animal is healthy, as many bacteria permeates to milk, including Salmonella, bacteria E. coli or Listeria, but also other bacteria causing various diseases. If you have milk from a well-tried source, you may drink it. However, I admit that although pasteurized milk is characterized by slightly lower content of vitamins in comparison to raw milk, a potential threat stemming from bacterial infection makes me support pasteurized milk for safety.

What is the case with UHT? How do sterilization and pasteurization look like?

The process of pasteurization consists in heating milk for around 15 to 20 minutes to the temperature of 69-90˚C. UHT milk is produced by the process caused sterilization and is heated to the temperature of 135-150˚C, which is maintained for a few seconds. There is no doubt that both these processes differ. The process of milk sterilization is a more aggressive process in comparison to pasteurization. However, both these processes cause the loss of nutritious values of milk. It is obvious that these losses are considerably lower during pasteurization. It is estimated that milk loses around 3-4% of thiamine, up to 5% of vitamin E and up to 10% of other vitamins contained in milk.

It is worth adding that heat processing doesn’t influence the content of calcium in any of these cases. UHT milk is packed aseptically, in cartons made of laminate, which consists of six layers with aluminum foil. Research that was carried out by biochemists from Gdansk University of Technology did not confirm the supposed “permeation” of ingredients from the packaging to the product that lands on ship shelves.

Summary

Drinking milk causes many contradictions and controversies. However, it may be noticed that a lot of slogans that are spread find no support in the research. Many of these studies were based on assumptions. I think that milk has been unnecessarily demonized.

The largest misunderstanding is the fact that disadvantages of milk are presented using an example of people with intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk protein and are presented in the context of totally healthy people, who have no problems after drinking milk or eating dairy products. Therefore, in case of such controversial topics, we should not draw our own conclusions on the basis of one book or the opinion of one man. We should rely on the observations of our organism. However, I believe that drinking a lot of milk will not bring anything positive, so we need to find a golden mean.

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Jack Howard

Jack Howard

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