Is drinking milk good for you?

No one questions the benefits of breast milk for newborn babies but more and more people say no to cow milk. There is a stereotype that milk is bad for the health of adults. We tried to understand whether we should avoid the dairy department in supermarkets.

Let’s discuss myths and truths about milk.

First, let’s find the definition of “milk” according to the legislation. There are many strictly regulated definitions. For example, according to the Technical Regulation for milk and dairy foods “whole milk is milk the components of which are intact and have never been adjusted”.

Today consumers can often see a label “milk product”. It means that the product contains only milk without non-dairy proteins and fats.

There is another label “milk-containing product” which means that the product can contain some other ingredients except milk but milk dry solids weight ratio must be, at least, 20%.

Those who prefer to read the information in source materials, there are 102 terms for dairy products in the Article 4 of the law.

Now let’s pass to the myths and widely acknowledged opinions.

Myth: adults do not need to drink milk

This is one of the most widespread myths about milk. It is believed that milk is absolutely useless and even bad for the adults because, they say, people can not digest milk when they get older.

Actually, adults can and should drink milk except a small percentage of people with lactose intolerance. The key benefit of milk is its balanced composition of many useful nutrients and micro-elements.

For example, calcium from dairy products is digested much easier than calcium from other sources because in milk it is combined with protein. According to Arthritis Care & Research, a glass of milk a day could help slow the progression of arthritis.

Besides, the optimal level of Vitamin D which is found in abundance in milk, stimulates production of serotonin, the hormone of happiness.

Peter Elwood, professor with expertise in Epidemiology in Penarth hospital, Wales have been studying 5 000 men for 10 years and came to conclusion that those who drank milk and eat butter (instead of spreads) had a lower risk of heart attacks.

Myth: milk can be “alive” and “dead”, alive milk contains “good” bacteria

The truth is, there is no “alive” or “dead” milk. There are no such good bacteria in milk. They can be harmless but not good or healthy. Milk is valuable for the humans for its calcium, protein and other microelements but not for bacteria.

For the same reason, do not confuse milk that turned sour and thick soured milk that is made with safe starter cultures. The milk that got sour at home is spoiled milk and it may turn sour because of E. coli.

Myth: only fresh raw milk is healthy

Indeed, fresh milk from the cow has antibacterial properties but only within 2 hours after milking. After that, bacteria start to multiply as a result of milk contact with the environment. So you risk when you buy raw milk even from a farmer you know very well.

Modern farms and manufactures do their best to prevent milk contact with the environment and even with the air. Milk is running along the closed tubes into airtight containers and then shipped to a factory. Ideally, it should be less than 2 hours from milking to milk processing and responsible producers strive to this ideal.

Myth: store bought milk is all about GMO and antibiotics

It is prohibited to add antibiotics in any milk, pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized or sterile. People often associate the word “homogenized” with GMO (the latter are harmless, anyway). However, these are two different terms. Homogenization is filtering out the fat to make 1.5%, 2.5%, 3.2% milk. Even one cow can give milk with different fat content depending on the food and cow’s mood. Homogenization allows to make milk with the same fat content but not through enriching it with fats, on the contrary, through defatting.

To get rid of pathogenic bacteria, it is enough to boil milk

This is true. However, boiling milk for too long destroys almost all nutrients including calcium and dairy protein, the key building element for muscle development and bone strengthening.

Now we will talk about how to make milk safe but not useless.

Ultrapasteurization is the best way to pasteurize milk

Pasteurization is the process of heat processing a liquid or food to 60°C for 60 minutes or 70-80°C for 30 minutes. This process destroys pathogenic microorganisms and helps to prolong the shelf life of foods. At home, people often use pasteurization for making preservations. While pasteurization kills all vegetative forms of microorganisms, their spores can survive and under favorable conditions they start to multiply rapidly. For this reason, pasteurized products such as milk, beer etc., are stored at low temperatures and for a short period of time.

There is also a process of sterilization which is a complete elimination of all microorganisms including bacteria and their spores, fungi, virions etc. Milk is sterilized at over 100°C for 20-30 minutes. Heat processing changes functional properties of milk protein (casein, albumin, lactoglobulin and others) but does not impact their nutritional value. Speaking about fats, due to homogenization (passing through a fine filter) which is performed before pasteurization, large fat drops are divided into smaller ones; their surface is enlarged and fats are easier absorbed.

However, today we have even more advanced techniques such as ultra-pasteurization. Ultra-pasteurized milk is taking more shelves in supermarkets. This frightening word “ultra-pasteurized” is sometimes written in small print leaving the most common “pasteurized”.

In 1989, the American Institute of Food technologies acknowledged ultra-pasteurization “the most important achievement in food science of the 20th century”. Ultra-pasteurization allows producing milk of good quality and consumers do not have to bother and boil it before drinking. A liquid is heated for 2-3 seconds at 130-150°C and then cool it down to 4-5°C.

Pathogenic microorganisms are completely destroyed. After such processing, the shelf-life of milk is 6 weeks and more at room temperature. Bacterial flora and bacterial spores that cause milk to get sour are eliminated and natural useful properties are preserved. What is more important, milk sugar (or lactose) is not killed and mineral salts (for example, calcium), vitamins and healthy enzymes are also preserved.