Milk. Some love it, others hate it. Either way, milk is a huge part of worldwide culture - not just because it’s an incredibly popular drink, a versatile cooking substance, and something that’s well-known for keeping your bones strong. Milk’s renown worldwide because it’s a part of natural biology!
Milk is produced by the mammary glands of mammals after the birth of their offspring. Since milk is the primary source of nutrition for most mammals during their first few weeks, it goes without saying that milk is loaded with all sorts of essential nutrients. Human breast milk is undoubtedly one of the healthiest things a human being can consume, given that the provider of the milk has eaten a fairly healthy diet themselves.
What’s So Special About Milk?
Milk is a good source of vitamins and minerals, surprisingly so for something generally considered a beverage. Even more surprising is the whopping amount of complete high-quality protein found in the stuff.
Humans usually drink milk from other mammals - weird, right? Typically we use cow’s milk since cows are fairly easy to care for and produce a lot of milk. For prime nutrition, cow’s milk is harvested from cows before or soon after pregnancy.
MIlk contains a substance known as colostrum, which includes the antibodies that a parent’s body has developed over their lives. It’s absolutely crucial that the child receives these antibodies if they want to develop an immune system that’s strong enough to easily fight ofk sickness.
There are two types of milk that have been classified according to their use in nutrition:
Milk as a source of nutrition for mammals, including humans. This is the milk that’s produced by the parent female during and after pregnancy. It’s recommended that infants receive only breast milk for nutrition during the first six months of their lives to ensure their bodies properly adapt to the nutrients provided.
Milk as a food source for humans, from other mammals. Throughout history, adults weren’t able to consume milk - it was restricted to children who possessed the necessary enzymes to digest milk. A chance mutation several thousand years ago provided the necessary enzymes, though, and milk became wildly popular. Since females only lactate (produce milk) for a short period after pregnancy, humans have to drink milk from other animals to sustain their cravings for milk. Milk sold in commercial places doesn’t have the same colostrum that’s present in milk that parents provide their children during breastfeeding, however it still has quite a few nutrients that healthy body grow.
What Makes Milk So Good For You?
First you must ensure that you’re drinking good milk. Skim milk contains the least saturated fat compared to other types of milk and most dairy-containing products like cream and butter. Consuming too many dairy products can cause the body’s levels of fat to increase beyond a healthy amount.
One particular upside to the fat content in milk is that it contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is associated with all sorts of health benefits including improved immune function, stronger bone mass, blood sugar regulation and maintaining healthy body mass. A glass of milk provides at least 75 milligrams of CLA, moreso if the cows are fed grass during their growth.
Grass-fed cow’s milk also supplies a reasonable amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for many more of your body’s functions. A glass of milk provides around 50 milligrams of ALA (alpha linoleic acid) which is an extremely potent antioxidant fatty acid that helps the body regulate various systems.
About 75% of the fat in milk is saturated, but it’s still not entirely bad. Most of these saturated fats are medium-chain fatty acids, which are present in coconut milk. They’re easily used and digested by the body, and have even been suggested to improve immune health.
Aside from the fat content, here’s a breakdown on the other nutrients you’ll find in just half a glass of milk.
Vitamin B12 - 23% of your D.R.I. (Daily recommended intake)Vitamin B12 is helpful for metabolizing food into energy as well as maintaining roper cognitive functioning and communication between nerve cells.
Iodine - 19% of your D.R.I.Iodine’s a key component for your thyroid gland, which requires it for producing the enzymes that it’s used for. Iodine deficiency, largely eliminated in modern days, results in impeded thyroid function.
Vitamin B2 - 16% of your D.R.I.Like other B-complex vitamins, vitamin B2 helps your body create energy from the food you consume, as well as making sure your nervous system can communicate effectively and stays healthy.
Vitamin D - 16% of your D.R.I.]Vitamin D helps keep your skin healthy as well as maintaining the health of your bones, regulating your blood sugar and seeing your immune system healthy.
Phosphorous - 15% of your D.R.I.It’s responsible for ensuring that your cells can communicate - without phosphorous, your whole body would probably fall apart from being unable to communicate.
Calcium - 14% of your D.R.I.Calcium is the classic ‘bone’ mineral, known for improving the health of bones, as well as teeth, fingernails and hair. Calcium also plays a lot of important roles in your brain, allowing an influx or redux of different neurotransmitters.
Pantothenic acid - 9% of your D.R.I.Also known as vitamin B5, this nutrient plays similar roles - it helps your body create energy. This nutrient is particularly useful for helping your body metabolize fat, which makes it a great addition, if not a need, for those who consume high-fat diets.
Selenium - 8% of your D.R.I.Selenium is another nutrient that helps your thyroid function. It’s also a potent catalyst for the glutathione production in your body. Glutathione is one of the strongest antioxidants on the planet, and your body needs selenium to make it.=
These nutrients combine together to have some very powerful effects on the human body.
Milk also contains a lot of antioxidants and phytonutrients (organic nutrients) that help the body build its defenses better. Recent research has allowed us a deeper look into the effects of phytonutrients and how they work. Here are a few of the phytonutrients and antioxidants present in a glass of milk.
Beta-carotene, 16-40 micrograms. Beta-carotene is a huge component of what we call vitamin A, which is actually a whole bunch of different nutrients labeled under one name. Beta-carotene is great for helping your skin grow strong and healthy and keep your body’s production of antioxidants at an optimal level.
Isoflavones, a family of antioxidants, including (depending on the type of milk you’re buying)
Formononetin (found in cows fed red clover) is an isoflavone that promotes angiogenesis in the estrogen system.
Biochanin A (found in cows fed alfalfa) is a flavonoid that’s highly present in soy as well as alfalfa and makes its way into the cow's milk. It’s also shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and also inhibits the fatty acid amide hydro
Prunetin (count in cows fed birdsfoot) inhibits some toxic compounds like aldehyde that can damage the liver.
Secoisolariciresinol is a lignan antioxidant that is shown to slow the growth of breast cancer.
Matairesinol is a plant lignan, which the body uses to make entero lignans, which are then used by the body to help reduce the chances of cancer.
Health Benefits of Milk
Now that you understand a bit about why milk is so healthy or you, maybe you’d like to learn a bit about the specific health benefits that pertain to this delightful combination of nutrients. From improving your bone structure and cardio system to improving the function of your brain, the health benefits of milka are varied and apply to many areas of human biology.
Milk Improves the Strength of Your Bones
This is the benefit that milk is most commonly touted for. Since childhood, we’re taught to drink milk because of its immense content of calcium.
Calcium is essential for the development of healthy bones. Consuming calcium regularly since childhood helps to prevent disorders of the bone, such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Even those who develop the diseases can lower the symptoms by consuming milk regularly.
Consuming milk daily reduces the chance of fracturing your bones, and improves the speed at which broken or fractured bones heal. Calcium deficient people are more brittle and thus more at risk of breaking bones, and will be able to heal less effectively from broken bones.
Osteoarthritis, a particularly painful degenerative condition, currently has no known cure. However, consuming milk on the regular, according to a study published in the American College of Rheumatology Journal, has been shown to slow the progression of the disease.
Conclusion: Milk is a necessity for the development of strong bones. Consuming it starting
at childhood can ensure that your bones break less easily and heal faster when they do break.
2. Milk Improves the Look Of Your Skin
This secret has been around since the ancient Egyptian times. Cleopatra was known to take baths in milk to keep her skin stay soft and have a healthy glow. This works just as well in the modern age!
Drinking milk has a similar effect, though it may not be as immediate or obvious. Several of the nutrients responsible for this positive effect on human skin are:
Lactic acid, a nutrient that’s only available through the milk of various mammals. Lactic acid acts as a powerful exfoliant, and contains various enzymes that smooth the skin and retain its structure and strength to prevent the onset of age-related conditions.
Amino acids. Milk contains a number of amino acids that keep the skin looking fine and dandy.
Antioxidants prevent various environmental toxins from damaging the skin and causing skin cancer.
Vitamin A, particularly the present amount of beta-carotene, is a nutrient that’s very good at boosting the health of your skin via internal mechanisms, including assisting the action of antioxidants which can prevent the onset of aging, wrinkling skin.
Milk is also an effective hydrating agent for those who suffer from dry skin. You can make a mixture of milk and honey and apply it to your face. Let it sit for over ten minutes for maximum benefit and then rinse it off to see a nice improvement on the dryness of your skin.
Conclusion: Milk is a healthy and nutritious substance that’s not only good for quenching your thirst, but also for quenching your skin! It can be used as a re-hydrating substances both topically and internally that helps the skin flourish and look beautiful.
3. Milk Improves the Strength of Your Teeth
Another benefit to the great calcium content is its ability to strengthen your teeth! Teeth are reliant on calcium to develop properly, and consuming calcium on the regular is a sure way to ensure your teeth grow strong and healthy.
Milk helps prevent tooth decay journal and the development of cavities. It does this by protecting the surface of the tooth enamel from acidic substances, which many common foods such as citrus fruits (apples and oranges) and tomatoes contain.
Milk also provides a good source of energy and tasty hydration, which can help children avoid drinking excessive amounts of soft drinks, which further reduces the development of tooth decay.
To ensure maximum absorption of calcium to be used for teeth, vitamin D must be present in the body. This is why a lot of milk brands come supplemented with vitamin D.
Conclusion: Teeth are another solid part of our bodies that require calcium to grow. Consuming calcium in your diet will keep your teeth tough so they dull slower and will be less sensitive.
4. Milk is Good for Your Heart’s Health
Calcium does more for your body than just improve the strength of your bones. Most of the research focused on calcium is in this regard, but it’s been shown that calcium is also a strong prevention of heart disease including strokes.
Several studies have been done to prove this. Two studies in particular were done and show a positive link between daily intake of calcium and a reduced chance of developing strokes and atherosclerosis.
On top of this benefit, milk also contains magnesium and potassium. These two minerals both act as vasodilators (which means they expand th4e blood vessels in your body) and thus effectively reduces blood pressure. This further increases the blood and oxygen available to the organs in your body.
The combination of these two health benefits reduces the overall strain on your heart which makes it less likely to deteriorate and more likely to last longer as a functional organ.
Conclusion: Milk’s a great substance for those who want to help ward off
Cardiovascular health. When taken in reasonable amounts, milk can fight off atherosclerosis and other heart problems, mostly because of its magnesium and potassium content.
5. Milk Keeps You Hydrated
Being hydrated is quite possibly the most important aspect of surviving as a human being, aside from making sure that you breathe. People can over a week without eating, but can die without water after just three days.
Milk, despite having all these amazing nutrients and health benefits, is actually made of a considerable percentage of water. Milk is considered great for staying hydrated; some stay it’s the best rehydrator aside from water itself.
Conclusion: Milk is one of the best hydrating agents aside from water. It’s got a lot of water in it, but unlike plain water, contains a bunch of essential vitamins and nutrients.
6. Milk Can Help Protect Against Cancer
There’s been a suggested link between vitamin D consumption and the development of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. One study indicated that areas of the world that got the least amount of sunlight had a significantly higher chance of developing these sorts of cancers.
This indicates that lack of sunlight, which provides the necessary environment for the human body to produce vitamin D, could cause cancer (though remember, too much sunlight can cause cancer as well! It’s a tough balance.
Milk usually contains a healthy amount of vitamin D which can supplement those who need the nutrient. Similar to spending too much time in the sun, but not as intense, consuming too much vitamin D won’t give you cancer as quickly but it does come with the same risk.
Furthermore, several studies have suggested that increasing the amount of calcium and lactose in their diet can lower the chances a woman has of developing cancer of the ovaries.
Conclusion: Milk’s an effective fighter in the war against cancer and can prevent certain types of the disease.
7. Milk Helps Your Muscles Grow
Think about it. Milk is only around because it’s supposed to be the first food introduced to baby mammals. This means, naturally, it’s going to be full of goodies that help promote the formation of proper bones and tissues.
Turns out mammals need similar types of protein and nutrients to grow. This means that people who drink cow’s milk can still reap the benefits of the milk, and likely vice-versa.
The protein contained in milk is a high-quality protein that contains all necessary amino acids. Whole milk, while being high in fat, also makes a long lasting source of quality energy which can prevent the body from burning its own muscle tissue instead of energy.
Making sure your muscles are in good shape is vital to make sure your body’s metabolism functions properly. It also helps to make sure you can maintain a healthy weight by enabling you to lose weight easier and by preserving your lean muscle mass.
Complete proteins also improve the repair rate of your muscles. This means you’ll heal quicker after a workout if you’re consuming milk than if you’re not. More than 20 studies have been done in this that all show that increasing the amount of milk in your diet will enhance the muscle growth and strength improvement seen during resistance training.
Conclusion: Milk’s a great drink for people who are exercising and want to build muscle. Its high quality protein assures quality muscle growth.
Precautions & Warnings About Milk
While drinking milk carries with it a whole bunch of awesome health benefits, you’ll want to make sure you pay careful attention to the potential negative side effects. After all, too much of anything can be a bad thing.
Lactose intolerance is the big no-no for people who shouldn’t consume milk.
As we discussed earlier, milk is the only type of nutritional substance that mammals consume that contains lactose A lactose intolerance, as you may have guessed, is an inability to tolerate this particular type of sugar. Lactose intolerance can cause a whole slew of unpleasant symptoms if someone who’s intolerant drinks milk.
Lactose intolerance is caused when a person doesn’t produce enough lactase. Lactase is necessary for the body to break down lactose for smooth digestion. Since humans, and other mammals, were not intended to consume milk past infancy, many of our bodies still have not adjusted to this modern change in diet. Up to 15% of Europeans and shockingly high percentages (80 to 90) of other ethnicities (Asian, Hispanic, and African) don’t produce lactase into childhood.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include:
Bloating, an uncomfortable sensation that can sometimes be accompanied by a physically bloated belly. Since this is caused by a buildup of gas, it’s expected that lactose intolerance can also cause:
Flatulence, the expulsion of often unpleasant smelling gas produced by bacteria in the intestine.
Diarrhea or extremely watery stool
A difficulty in absorbing nutrients from other food sources because of gastrointestinal distress
To combat lactose intolerance, one can drink lactose-free milk. These types of milk often include additional enzymes that help intolerant people digest lactose. You could also take a lactase supplement to help urge your body towards being able to digest lactose.
2. Milk allergies and hypersensitivity
These two conditions are different from lactose intolerance.
Milk allergies, as well as most other types of allergies, are caused by an extreme immune response to a certain stimulus. In this particular situation, the presence of lactose in the human body would cause an excessive reaction that produces an antibody known as immunoglobulin.
The symptoms of this particular allergy include many things.
Wheezing, difficulty breathing and worsening of asthma or other breathing conditions
Diarrhea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues.
Eczema, an unpleasant, itchy skin condition recognized by splotchy red patches on the skin
Rhinitis, an inflammatory condition of the nose
Severe cases of lactose intolerance (and several other types of typical allergies) can, but are not very likely to, produce the following:
Pneumonia, a serious lung condition marked by fluid collecting in the lungs and extreme difficulty breathing. Untreated, pneumonia can lead to death.
Anaphylaxis, a reaction to allergies that is often fatal. Anaphylaxis can cause the throat to swell up to the point where the individual can no longer breathe, causing them to suffocate and die.
3. Overconsumption of phosphorous or potassium
These two minerals are contained in quite high qualities in milk.
People with kidney disease or who have been informed that their kidneys aren’t as strong as they should be should avoid milk. The kidneys are responsible for processing and removing excess potassium and phosphorous from the body, and if they’re not working properly, the body can’t get rid of the waste ,
Phosphorous overdose is often caused by a lack of calcium being present in the body. A lack of calcium combined with too much phosphorous can cause an overdose - calcium helps the body to effectively absorb phosphorus and to excrete the excess. High levels of phosphorous demand more calcium, and without that calcium, an overdose can occur. Symptoms and dangers include:
A heightened risk of cardiovascular disease
Calcification of tissues leading to things like kidney stones
Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disease
Inability to process and digest minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc
Potassium overconsumption (known properly as hyperkalemia) isn’t very common and only occurs when potassium is present between 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/L in the human body. This usually happens with kidney dysfunction, and can also be caused by insulin deficiency, metabolic acidosis, blood cell damages. Overconsumption of potassium supplements, or drugs containing potassium like common birth control pills or anti-inflammatories, can also cause hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia carries some pretty serious symptoms, including:
Decreased blood pressure, which can cause dizziness
Stomach cramps, diarrhea and other intestinal upset
Irritability and unstable moods
Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
Tingling in the hands and feet
Life-threatening symptoms such as
Respiratory failure causing death by a lack of oxygen
Flaccid paralysis in the extremities,
Long-term damage to blood pressure digestive and kidney function
Despite being effective at fighting some forms of cancer, milk has also been indicated to increase the risk of developing prostate cancer in humans.
5. Causing iron deficiency in children
Cow’s milk is not recommended for babies under a year old.
Babies of this age need an adequate intake of iron, and cow’s milk doesn’t contain nearly as much iron as human breast milk does. Feeding a child cow’s milk instead of human breast milk will lead to them developing an iron deficiency, which can lead to long-lasting conditions like anemia.
Additionally, consuming cow’s milk at such an early age carries the risk of causing bleeding in the infant’s sensitive gastrointestinal tract.
6. Causing children to develop diseases
Again, this is more likely to affect people who were fed milk at an early age of under a year old.
Being fed milk as an infant carries with hit the risk of developing a lactose allergy in the future.
Consuming dairy as an infant can lead to insulin resistance, which would eventually lead to the development of diabetes. Infants who avoid drinking cow’s milk for the first three months of their lives have been shown to have up to a 30 percent lower chance of developing diabetes.
Cow’s milk, particularly large-scale commercially produced milk, is likely to contain at least trace amounts of hormones and antibiotics used to promote the growth of the cow.There may also be dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls present in the end product, which are dangerous to human beings.
Consuming these substances from a young age, or even in middle-age, can negatively affect the development of your nervous system, your immune function, and your reproduction
How to Select and Cook with Milk for Maximum Benefit
Now you know a bit about milk, the nutrients it contains and how they help your body, and the dangers of consuming too much milk. If you’re sure that you can drink milk without it affecting you negatively, by now you’re probably wondering if there’s any other way to consume milk and reap its awesome benefits besides just drinking it.
The good news is, there sure is! Milk is a wildly popular cooking ingredient. It’s used in all sorts of baking, sauces, breakfasts, desserts, soups - you name it. It even makes a great ingredient in some snacks that can be whipped up right away, like:
A quick smoothie made by a banana or a kiwi, or your other favourite fruits, with a glass of milk.
Milk, added with raisins or cranberries, cinnamon or nutmeg, to brown rice can make an awesome rice pudding.
Hot chocolate can be made by mixing milk with dark chocolate (made from pure cocoa) with honey or maple syrup into a saucepan and cooking on low heat while stirring often.
Milk makes a great addition to oatmeal or other hot cereal, potentially with added berries
Selecting and storing your milk
Make sure you follow the expiry date on any dairy product. Consuming expired dairy can lead to a whole lot of adverse reactions, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, sweating and fevers.
Even if the expiry date is fine, you might want to smell the top of the milk jug to make sure it doesn’t smell rotten. Some establishments aren’t careful about making sure their products are refrigerated properly at all times.
Make sure you always refrigerate your milk! Keeping it in the heat can make it turn sour. This happens relatively quickly, too - even a glass of milk left out during the day can go sour.
Make sure the container is sealed tight when you put it back in the fridge. Milk can absorb the flavour and smell of other foods near it. It’s also best to store your milk in the fridge instead of on the door, so it's not exposed to warm air every time the doors opened.
Amazing Milk Recipes for You to Try
Here’s a few basic milk recipes that can provide you some food to eat, but more importantly, a lot of these recipes are homemade versions of products used for cooking in other recipes. Using these recipes can save you a few bucks or a trip to the grocery store!
You don’t need a whole lot of ingredients to make your own milk. Depending on your flavour and texture preference (creamy or light) you will want to use whole or 2% milk. Most yogurt recipes require that you use yogurt as one of the ingredients - this is pretty silly considering you want to make yogurt.
You will need:
Two cups of milk
Seven chili peppers
Wash off your peppers and remove the stems. Keep the peppers - the stems are what we need for our recipe.
Get your milk ready. If you bought your milk at the store and it’s pasteurized, heat it to 110 degrees. If it’s raw, heat it to 180 degrees first ,then cool it to 110. Once it's heated, mix in your stems and pour the whole thing into a glass jar.
Culture your mixture! You can use a dehydrator, heating pad, or yogurt maker, and simply wait for the bacterial culture to develop. Check it often. It will start to gel when it’s becoming cultured.
Once it’s cultured, take out your stems and enjoy!
This is a great recipe for a lot of reasons. Mozzarella is used in a huge number of recipes, and a lot of people find it to be pretty expensive. Making it at home is a bit more time consuming, but it’s certainly more rewarding and can save you a few bucks on top of that.
This recipe makes about a pound of mozzarella cheese.
You will need:
One and a quarter cups of water
One and a half teaspoons of citric acid
A quarter teaspoon of rennet, or a quarter tablet
A gallon of whole or 2% milk
A teaspoon of kosher salt
A pot that holds at least 5 quarts
Measuring cups, spoons
A knife, at least eight inches
A spoon with slots
A microwave-safe bowl
Gloves for handling
Get a cup of water ready in one bowl and a quarter cup of water in another bowl..Mix the citric acid into the cup of water and rennet with the quarter cup of water.
Heat up the milk by pouring it into the big pot, then stir in the citric acid before it reaches 90 degrees. When it reaches 90 degrees, remove from heat and add the rennet.
Stir for 30 seconds, then cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes. It should set enough in these minutes for you to continue, feeling like soft tofu. If it’s still too liquid-like, cover the pot and let it sit for five more minutes.
When it’s set, cut it into sliced cheese curds by following this method:
Keeping the cheese in the pot, ready your knife.
Make several cuts through the curds vertically, all parallel with each other. Then cut several horizontally, creating a pattern like you’d see on a grid.
Put the ot back on the stove and heat them up to 105 degrees fahrenheit. Stir very gently, trying not to break them.
When the curds clump together and the whey separates from them, you can take them off the heat and stir a bit harder since they'll be getting more solid. When they’re mostly separated from the way, take them out of the pot and put them in a microwave-safe container.
Nuke them for a minute, strain out the whey, fold the curds over on themselves a couple times. They should be loose like cottage cheese.
Nuke them again for another 30 seconds and keep doing this until they reach 135 degrees. Sprinkle salt over the cheese and mush it into the curds. Stretch and fold the curds over themselves until they begin to solidify and become more like mozzarella.
When the curds are sufficiently hard you can roll them into a ball and store in the fridge.
Milk is a very commonly consumed substance, and it’s used to make a lot of the foods we eat on a regular basis. Despite milk being commonplace, not a lot of people are fully aware of its nutritional benefits - or of its dangers.
Milk can be a very great thing for young infants, and it can hel them mature into strong, healthy adults. However, over-consumption of milk or dairy products can lead to a lot of adverse reactions.
Be sure you’re cautious about the milk you consume! Always check the expiry date and the current smell of your milk before using it.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.