Milk is an excellent source of calcium, proteins and vitamins. It contains vitamin B12, phosphorus, vitamin D, magnesium and, in short, nutrients that are essential for our health and bone building. It is even good for our muscles. There are different types of milk according to its origin (animal or plant), or composition (full fat, skimmed, semi-skimmed), not to mention all the versions enriched with different types of vitamins.
Types of milk according to composition
The classification of milk is based on the quantity of fat it contains. During processing all milk is centrifuged to separate the fat. The fat is then put back in the necessary proportion depending on the type of milk: full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed.
It is important to understand that when the fat is removed, many of the nutritional properties also disappear, such as some vitamins or essential fatty acids. In fact, the quantity of these nutrients may be reduced by as much as seven times in a skimmed milk.
What type of milk of animal origin has most properties?
On comparing the three most common types of milk (cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s), the one that stands out with the most properties is sheep milk.
- Cow’s milk contains least lactose. However, it is richest in vitamins (except vitamin C) and minerals, although also in fatty acids (saturated and monounsaturated) and
- Goat’s milk is very similar in composition –calories, protein and fats– to cow’s milk, although it looks more like human milk. It has antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-allergy properties.
- However, sheep milk has by far the highest density. It is much more digestive owing to its high triglyceride content; it has 80% more calcium and double the fat. But it has less cholesterol than the others.
Raw milk has also become fashionable. This kind of milk can be a source of microorganisms and cause infections. Moreover, apart from its higher fat content, it has no nutritional benefit over pasteurised milk.
Is milk really beneficial for adults?
Experts recommend consuming sufficient quantities of milk during childhood and adolescence to ensure the development of strong, healthy bones. Nevertheless, the consensus disappears when it comes to adults.
Some specialists question whether milk is the best food for absorbing calcium. In fact, this nutrient can be obtained –sometimes in greater quantities– from vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts, fish or seafood.
This might be why dairy consumption has fallen considerably in Spain in recent years, as recorded by the National Dairy Industry Federation. In 2019, Spaniards consumed 70 litres of milk a year, on average, compared to 77 litres in 2010.
Human beings are the only species that consumes milk in adulthood. Most animals stop consuming it when they are no longer babies. In fact, lactose intolerance –lactose being the sugar found in animal milk– is very common outside Europe and the USA.
Only 30% of the world population continues producing lactase, the enzyme required to digest lactose in adulthood. They are people who live in parts of the world where cows have been domesticated. In these areas, the human organism evolved to digest lactose some 10,000 years ago.
Benefits of plant-based milks
As a response to lactose intolerance, several new types of milk have appeared on the market: vegetable or plant-based drinks. Some of them are very healthy and a great alternative to traditional animal milk.
- Almond milk: This contains anti-inflammatory fats, and no gluten or lactose. However, nor does it have proteins and it contains phytic acid, which hampers the absorption of calcium, iron and zinc by our body.
- Soy milk: This has more or less the same quantity of proteins as animal milk and quality calcium. Moreover, it has no calories or carbohydrates. However, it is not tolerated by people with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Coconut or oat milk: These have many fats (the former) and carbohydrates (the latter) in relation to their low protein content. Specialists recommend limiting their consumption.
- Milk is a great source of calcium, vitamins and proteins.
- Specialists recommend consuming milk in childhood and adolescence to ensure correct bone development.
- Plant-based drinks are a good option for lactose intolerant people.