Milk is one of the most consumed foods by the population! Considered one of the primary sources of calcium, it is possible to find different types of milk, which vary according to the fat levels: whole, skimmed, semi-skimmed, lactose-free, etc.
According to nutritionist and master in public health Luciana Novaes, milk is highly nutritious and provides several benefits for our health. “Milk is a food that has several nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals,” he says.
Vitamin A is found in the most significant amount of milk. It has a powerful antioxidant agent, which helps fight the actions of free radicals in the body. Milk also contains iron and fatty acids, which make it even more beneficial for the body.
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According to Luciana, the main benefits of milk are:
- Promote growth, ensuring adequate bone development;
- Contribute to the formation and renewal of bone tissue, maintaining a reserve for adult life and reducing the chances of developing osteoporosis;
- Regulate the nervous system is essential for the muscle contraction and relaxation process;
- Increased resistance to infectious diseases is becoming critical, together with other minerals, to maintain the formation of our body’s defence cells.
- Control and lower blood pressure, as it improves the functioning of the cardiovascular system.
Source of calcium
Still talking about the benefits of milk, it is also the primary source of dietary calcium. “In addition to the high amount, the calcium in milk has a better absorption, which makes it very interesting for consuming this mineral,” says Luciana.
The specialist says the ideal amount of calcium we should ingest daily is 1,000 mg, corresponding to about 4 to 5 servings of milk or its derivatives throughout the day. Pregnant women may need up to 1,300 mg daily.
“They can be ingested as plain milk, as a vitamin, cheese or yogurt, which should be preferably consumed at breakfast, morning snack, afternoon snack and before bedtime,” he adds.
Essential for all stages of life
Many people doubt whether they can drink milk at all stages of life, but Luciana guarantees that milk consumption is recommended at any age.
“In childhood, it is essential for the development and formation of the organism because it provides protein, mineral salts and fat. In adolescence, milk provides conditions for rapid growth, aiding muscle and bone formation and the functioning of the endocrine system. During this period, milk is even more important since 95% of the total calcium in the bones will be stored between 18 and 22″, reports the professional.
Luciana also highlights the importance of milk consumption for pregnant women: “For pregnant women, it also becomes essential because during this period, the need for calcium increases, as the woman will need to maintain her reserve and ensure what is necessary for the baby’s development.”
Milk can also be a great ally in the weight loss process. Luciana says that those on a diet can continue consuming milk typically.
“It alone will not be able to promote weight gain, quite the opposite. As it is a food rich in protein and fat, it tends to give greater satiety, making the person avoid consuming other foods after hours”, emphasizes the nutritionist.
For milk consumption to become even healthier, the professional says the idea is to prefer it pure or with fruit, avoiding chocolate drinks.
“Chocolate products are ultra-processed foods with large amounts of sugar and even fat to give them creaminess. This combination greatly increases calories and provides excess empty calories with added sugars. He advises that healthier combinations can be adding fruits, cereals such as oats, using honey or oil seeds”,
In addition, Luciana reinforces the importance of always looking for a nutritionist for those who want to lose weight. “In the weight loss process, what will be most important is the set of daily meals, which needs to be planned by a nutritionist to ensure greater success.”
Types of milk
The types of milk vary according to the different forms of production. In addition to cow’s milk and other mammalian animals, there is also so-called vegetable milk, made from grains such as soy, nuts and almonds.
Animal milk is one of the only foods that aim to provide nutrients and immunological protection through antibodies for the newborn, which may explain its high nutritional value.
Cow’s milk, which is the most commercialized animal milk, is classified according to two different manufacturing processes:
Pasteurized milk undergoes a thermal shock process to minimize its concentration of bacteria. Its temperature is raised to 75°C for about 15 seconds and then cooled.
It is known as bag milk, packaged in bags, but some can also be placed in plastic and glass bottles.
This type of milk has a shorter lifespan, as the procedure does not kill all the bacteria in the milk, only those that can harm your health. Thus, proper refrigeration is essential so that the product does not spoil.
Its validity is from three to five days while closed. Once opened, it should be used within three days.
The pasteurized milk may be classified as type A, B or C. “The milk classifications as A, B and C correspond to a specification of the milk producers, according to the milking, hygiene and storage facilities, to identify the quality of raw milk,” explains Luciana.
This type of milk goes through a superheating process to eliminate its bacterial load, which is precisely why its name in English is the ultra-high temperature (ultra-high temperature).
The milk is heated between 130°C and 150°C for two to four seconds and quickly cooled to less than 32°C. As a result, all microorganisms are eliminated, which makes it possible to store them for a more extended period.
It is the famous carton milk, or “long life milk, ” as it has a longer shelf life and does not need to be stored in the refrigerator before opening.
When kept unopened, the shelf life is about four months without refrigeration. After opening the package, it must be kept refrigerated and consumed within three days.
Milk of vegetable origin
Vegetable milk can be prepared from soy, almonds, nuts, rice or other foods. Luciana says vegetable drinks cannot be directly compared with milk despite being considered healthy.
“These are different products, rich in other nutrients, having the appearance of milk, but with a different composition. The biggest feature is that we have casein as a protein in milk, which is not present in plant foods. Which is an advantage for people who have developed an allergy to this protein”, he explains.
The consumption of vegetable milk is growing increasingly, especially among vegans, who do not consume any food of animal origin. For this reason, Luciana says that these drinks have gone through an increase in nutrients.
“Today, due to the large consumption of these drinks, there are several products with the addition of calcium, vitamins and minerals; so that they resemble the composition of milk and can be a substitute of very close quality, making life easier for the public who have some condition that makes it difficult to ingest milk and for vegetarians and vegans.”
The nutrients in these beverages vary depending on the food used for preparation. Meet some:
Almond milk is a source of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, calcium, phosphorus, iron and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Almonds are also rich in monounsaturated fats that help you have a healthy heart.
Rice milk is cholesterol-free and a good source of proteins, which benefit the immune and nervous systems. It can also be enriched with other nutrients, such as calcium and vitamins of the B and C complex, which prevent premature aging of cells and delay the actions of free radicals.
Rich in fatty acids that become a source of energy for the body and also benefit brain and heart health. As a good source of vitamin C, coconut milk helps keep the body healthy, free from colds, flu and other inflammation.
Lactose and gluten-free, it becomes a good alternative for the intolerant and people with celiac disease. It contains fibres that promote intestinal transit and phytomelatonin, which ensures a good night’s sleep and reduces insomnia symptoms, helping the body relax.
Lactose-free is rich in protein, fibre, and B vitamins and has some calcium concentration. Soy milk is also free of cholesterol and less fat in its composition.
It is also possible to find milk from sesame, chestnut, yam, sunflower and walnuts. However, it is always essential to consult a nutritionist to make an individual assessment and get better information about the benefits and harms of consuming any vegetable milk.
Differences between whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk
All these types of milk can be found in supermarkets and classified according to their fat content, which also interferes with their caloric weight.
Luciana explains: “Currently, the legislation allows all milk to be marketed in full versions (original fat), standardized (3% fat), semi-skimmed (1.5% fat) and skimmed (0.5% maximum fat)”.
Whole milk is the most consumed and the least chemically processed. It is also the type of milk that has a higher amount of fat in its composition.
According to Luciana, whole milk is the most suitable for children and adolescents who are growing up, as it has an essential fat for cell formation.
“Children and adolescents should preferentially consume whole milk and dairy products for the perfect development of growth, as long as there is no contraindication for its use,” he says.
Semi-skimmed milk has properties very similar to whole milk. However, it goes through a process in which the milk fat is reduced.
With only 1.5% fat, semi-skimmed milk is indicated for adults who want to lose weight gradually and naturally.
“The semi-skimmed milk becomes better for adult consumption due to its reduced fat content, to prevent the development and aggravation of diseases,” adds Luciana.
Skimmed milk has only 0.5% fat, indicating that people who need to reduce or control the amount of fat in their diet for those who already have hypertension or high cholesterol.
During the fat removal process, part of the vitamins are lost, as in the case of vitamins A and D. Therefore; a professional must recommend the drink in a balanced eating plan.
“For adults and the elderly, the consumption of skimmed milk is indicated due to its reduced fat content, to prevent the development and worsening of diseases, such as dyslipidemia, as, as is already known, food can be a triggering factor for these diseases,” says the nutritionist.
Other Milk Variations
Powdered milk is heat-treated and dehydrated milk. “Liquid or fluid milk is sanitized, cooled and kept at 5ºC, subjected to pasteurization and fat standardization. Powdered milk is the same milk, which will undergo a dehydration process”, explains Luciana.
The nutritionist says that this thermal treatment given to the food is intended to eliminate possible bacteria that can contaminate it and lead to the transmission of diseases.
“When the milk goes through the hygiene process called UHT, it is taken for a few seconds at high temperatures and immediately cooled and filled under hygienic conditions in hermetically sealed packages. In the case of powdered milk, it is pasteurized, concentrated and dried”, he explains.
Therefore, powdered milk does not have much difference in nutritional value compared to its liquid version. Luciana only says that the powdered version may be added with soy lecithin to help dissolve it in water.
Standardized milk goes through the same production process as semi-skimmed milk. However, this version keeps the amount of fat intact (3%). Thus, the drink has more vitamins and minerals that nourish the body.
Zero lactose milk is indicated for those intolerant to this substance. In this case, the drink goes through lactose exclusion but guarantees the nutrients in milk, such as proteins, calcium, carbohydrates, etc.
Luciana explains that this type of milk breaks down the natural sugar in the food, transforming it into galactose and glucose, smaller molecules easily absorbed in our bodies.
The professional explains that what breaks down lactose is an enzyme called lactase. When we produce little of this enzyme, the lactose arrives in the intestines in one piece. As a large molecule, it creates difficulty in digestion and absorption.
This process causes the body to suffer, increasing gas production and cramps and disrupting bowel function. It can also cause body pain, migraine, among other problems.
“Since there is no way to guarantee that all the lactose has been broken down, the industry adds lactase to this type of milk to ensure that it can say it is lactose-free and does not harm the consumer’s health,” he explains.
And for those who think that this milk is also healthier for those who do not have an intolerance, you are wrong:
“Lactose-free milk only benefits lactose intolerant people. Breaking down lactose does not change the rest of the milk’s composition nor gives it fewer calories. And the consumption of these products by people without the problem can contribute to the emergence of intolerance since the production of the enzyme only happens from the body’s need to consume products with lactose”, explains the specialist.
Goat milk appears as another option for milk of animal origin. Regarding the differences in cow’s milk, Luciana says that milk of animal origin generally does not differ much from each other and has the same nutrients.
However, according to the nutritionist, goat milk has some slight advantages: “Goat milk has better digestibility and has lower allergenic potential. Its consumption has increased in children because even though the protein composition of goat and cow’s milk are similar, goat milk has a reduced as-1-casein content; this improves the digestive process and decreases the chance of gastroesophageal reflux.“.
In addition to goats, it is possible to consume milk from animals such as sheep, mares and camels.
Luciana says that consuming milk will only harm children allergic to cow’s milk protein (APLV) and people with intolerance or any health disorder that makes it difficult to digest this food.
The professional emphasizes that just like any food, milk must be consumed in a balanced way, in a balanced diet. But she warns about a necessary precaution:
“Milk should never be consumed with large meals (lunch or dinner), because in these meals there is a greater supply of iron and it competes with calcium because both are absorbed through the same channel. This can lead to competition between the two minerals and inadequate absorption of either one.”
Is it reasonable to drink milk before bed?
In addition, the professional comments on a much-discussed subject: is drinking milk before bed good or bad?
According to her, the effect is positive, as it can guarantee satiety, preventing the person from getting up at dawn to snack.
“Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is part of the formation of serotonin, a hormone that helps the body relax and feel good. Drinking at night is a great way to help people with difficulty relaxing and sleeping,” he concludes.
My name is Ellie Lauderdale, MD and I am USA based professional Nutritionist .
I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and board certified specialist in sports dietetics who is trained in integrative medicine. I have worked with hundreds of clients, from those suffering with chronic disease to professional and olympian athletes. My goal is to help optimize you from the inside so that you can feel, perform, and look your best on the outside.