The Milky Way: A whole galaxy of benefits

As commonly believed, milk is not meant only for infants and children. Here's why

woman pouring milkRight from our childhood we have all heard about the various benefits of milk. In fact, we were expected to drink a glass of milk every day. But as we grow older, we start shrugging away, either because we feel we are too old to drink milk, or, because we feel it could add to the calories. In the bargain, we lose the good nutrients available in milk.

Let us understand the beneficial effects of milk and the various types.

Benefits galore

Milk has a lot of health benefits. It is the only food, which has all the nutrients except vitamin C and iron. It comes in various fat percentages and thus you can choose to drink the type that suits you best.

  • Milk is a good source of protein and roughly gives an individual 3.2g per 100ml. For vegetarians this is the best protein source along with dals and pulses.
  • The other advantages are the presence of nutrients like calcium and folic acid along with vitamins A and D. Calcium, vitamin D and folic acid help in bone formation and strengthening while vitamin A helps in poor vision and blindness.
  • Lactose, which is a sugar present in milk, gives instant energy.
  • Milk contains riboflavin and vitamin B12, which aid in energy production and proper nerve functioning.
  • Milk helps to reduce the premenstrual syndrome in most women.

Choices to make

There are different types of milk available today and people often get confused about the one to buy. Let's go through each one in detail and understand which milk is better and which one needs to be consumed every day.

Whole milk

This is the most commonly used milk in our country. Whole milk is also known as buffalo's milk. It contains at least 3.25 per cent of milk fat and 8.25 per cent milk solids by weight. This means it derives 50 per cent of its calories from fat. Therefore, this milk is ideally not advisable for adults.

It is ideal for young children and underweight teenagers. Whole milk goes through various processes before consumption, but in some parts of India, whole milk is consumed raw, which could be unhealthy. The ideal way to consume milk is in the pasteurised [the process, which helps in killing the harmful bacteria] and homogenised [the technique to reduce the fat percentage in milk] forms. This helps in reducing the infection rate and also the fat per cent.

Cow's milk

This milk is gaining a lot of popularity in India, due to its rich nutrient content and low fat per cent compared to whole milk. Cow's milk is higher in calcium and proteins and has low percentage of fat. Due to its high calcium and protein content, it is beneficial for bone development and strengthening. Low fat also aids in weight reduction and a healthy body.

Cow's milk is rich in vitamin B12 which helps in nerve functioning. This is the only milk, which contains a good amount of potassium, to help maintain the electrolyte balance in our body.

Skimmed milk

Skimmed milk is milk [buffalo or cow] from which fat has been removed. Still, it has anywhere between 0.1 – 0.3 per cent of fat. It contains slightly more levels of calcium, but lesser levels of vitamin A, due to the fat reduction. This milk is watery and not as creamy as whole milk. It is very healthy for adults, but not recommended for children, due to the lesser fat percentage.

Condensed milk

When the water content in milk is removed by evaporation, it becomes condensed. But along with evaporation, sugar is added to make it into a sweet mixture. It can be made from whole milk or semi-skimmed milk. Condensed milk is available in cartons and readily used in preparations of confectionary, toffees and chocolates.

Powdered milk

This milk has a longer shelf life compared to the regular milk. It can be made with whole or skimmed milk. The advantage of whole milk powder is that it contains all the nutrients except vitamin, thiamine and vitamin B12. The skimmed milk variety lacks the fat and therefore lacks fat soluble vitamins. Thus, skimmed milk powder has lesser calories. The proteins, calcium and riboflavin remain the same in both.

Soy milk

This milk has similar amounts of proteins as cow's milk, but not the same amino acids [building blocks]. The best advantage about soy milk is that it has smaller amounts of saturated fat and negligible cholesterol. It is also a good source of lecithin and vitamin E.

Soy milk lacks casein [milk protein] and is beneficial for people who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk. Do not make soy milk at home; instead buy the processed one available in the supermarkets. This is because the natural soy milk has components which do not get digested by the human body. In processing, these components are broken down and therefore easily digested. It is also available in different flavours.

Organic milk

It is the new entrant in the market, but not commonly available. It comes from cows that have been grazed on pastures that have no chemical, fertiliser, pesticide or agrochemical used on it. This milk is more expensive than the regular milk. Research is still on in this area to check the extra benefits this milk has compared to the regular milk.

The other milk types available in the market are goat milk, camel milk, flavoured milk, jersey milk [available only in high-end stores, made with a special type of jersey cow], semi-skimmed milk, one per cent fat milk, filtered milk, and vitamin D-enriched milk.

Daily dose

The requirement for milk changes as per age. Infants rely completely on breast milk and slowly get weaned off to other milk as they grow older—they can be weaned off on cow's milk. Children—till they reach the teens—require at least two glasses of milk everyday, whereas adults, if vegetarian, require the same amount of skimmed or cow milk. If non-vegetarian, then a glass a day is also beneficial.

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Malavika Athavale
Malavika Athavale is a post graduate in Dietetics from SNDT University and runs her nutrition clinic in Mumbai. She also conducts educational workshops and consults leading corporate houses.

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