Each Canadian chugs back an average of 58 litres – or about 245 cups – of milk products per year. What nutritional benefit do we get from of all of those bottles, bags, and jugs of milk? And what risks might milk pose?
Let's pour ourselves one imaginary cup of 2% cow's milk to learn more. In those 244 mL of milk, we'll drink 122 calories and 7 percent of our daily recommended intake of dietary fat and cholesterol. We'll also down 8 grams of protein and nearly one-third of the calcium and vitamin D that we'll need for today. Stirred in for good measure are B vitamins, vitamin A, and the minerals phosphorus and potassium.
Working together, milk's nutrients yield several healthy benefits:
- Milk builds bone. Calcium and phosphorus, along with vitamin D, make up milk's bone-building team. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones, but some of it circulates to help with nerve impulses and your heart's steady beat. Bone is constantly being broken down and re-formed, so you need to continually consume calcium to keep this balance in check. When more bone is being broken down than re-formed, you risk having bones that can break more easily. The phosphorus found in milk supports formation of bone and teeth, while vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium better. Milk happens to be one of the few food sources of vitamin D.
- Milk gives you an energy boost. A few of milk's nutrients are like your body's cheerleaders, helping you make the most of the energy-boosting nutrients you consume. Potassium and phosphorus help your body produce and use protein. The B vitamin riboflavin helps to release the energy locked inside of carbohydrates.
- Milk helps your heart. Calcium and phosphorus work together again, this time along with potassium (and other vitamins and minerals), to help keep your heartbeat steady. At the same time, riboflavin and vitamin B12 produce red blood cells.
So, milk does do some good for your body. And yet milk has its drawbacks.
- Milk can be fattening. Drink one glass of whole milk, for instance, and you've downed 8 grams of saturated fat – nearly a quarter of the recommended daily limit. Choose lower-fat milks, such as skim or 1%.
- Milk can be indigestible. Milk may also be tough for some bodies to digest, such as people who live with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.
- Raw milk can be dangerous. Natural food fans may seek out raw milk, milk that has not been heat-treated or pasteurized. But milk that has not been safely pasteurized and treated may contain germs that could make people sick, including campylobacter, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.
If you can't tolerate drinking milk and worry about getting enough calcium, keep in mind that milk is only one rich source of calcium. You also get bone-building calcium when you eat tofu, leafy green vegetables, beans, and the soft bones of canned fish like salmon or sardines.
In some countries, cows may be injected with a hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) in order to boost their milk production. Canadian consumers can rest easier knowing that Health Canada has not approved the sale of rbST within our borders. That fact doesn't deter savvy milk buyers from opting for organic milk: Organic milk from pasture-fed cows has been found to contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and antioxidants.
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