Health

Milk debate rages on

...In the meantime, check out these health benefits

BY DR WENDY-GAYE THOMAS

Sunday, November 03, 2019

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MILK has been enjoyed throughout the world for thousands of years; it's a nutrient-rich fluid that female mammals produce to feed their young.

The most commonly consumed types come from cows, sheep and goats. Although western countries drink cow's milk most frequently, milk consumption continues to be a hotly debated topic in the world of nutrition, so one might wonder if it's healthy or harmful.

From early childhood, we are told that milk is good for us, so even when children beg for a soda, parents often insist on offering milk instead — and with good reason. The nutritional profile of milk is impressive. Look at the facts.

Just one cup (244 grams) of whole cow's milk contains:

• Calories: 146;

• Protein: 8 grams;

• Fat: 8 grams;

• Calcium: 28 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Vitamin D: 24 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Riboflavin (B2): 26 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Vitamin B12: 18 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Potassium: 10 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Phosphorus: 22 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance;

• Selenium: 13 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance.

Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including “nutrients of concern”, which are under consumed by many populations. Worthy of note is potassium, which is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density, and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.

The nutritional content of milk varies depending on factors like its fat content and the diet and treatment of the cow it came from. For example, milk from cows that eat mostly grass contains significantly higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, organic and grass-fed cow's milk contains higher amounts of beneficial antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, which help reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress.

Protein is necessary for many vital functions in your body, including growth and development, cellular repair and immune system regulation. Milk is considered a “complete protein”, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for your body to function at an optimal level.

Higher consumption of milk and milk products has been linked to greater whole-body muscle mass and better physical performance in older adults. Milk has also been shown to boost muscle repair in athletes.

In fact, several studies have demonstrated that drinking milk after a workout can decrease muscle damage, promote muscle repair, increase strength, and even decrease muscle soreness.

Milk benefits bone health

Drinking milk has long been associated with healthy bones. This is due to its powerful combination of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and (in grass-fed, full-fat dairy) vitamin K2. Approximately 99 per cent of your body's calcium is stored in your bones and teeth.

Milk is an excellent source of the nutrients your body relies on to properly absorb calcium, including vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, and magnesium. Studies have linked milk and dairy to a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially in older adults.

Milk is not for everyone

Although milk may be good for some, others can't digest it or choose not to consume it. Many people can't tolerate milk because they're unable to digest lactose — a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance affects around 65 per cent of the world's population. Others choose not to consume milk or dairy products due to dietary restrictions, health concerns or ethical reasons.

The dairy milk we buy in the stores carry a number of potential issues.

These include allergic reactions to its proteins (which are listed among the “Big Eight” foods that account for 90 per cent of all food-allergy reactions in the United States); intolerance to lactose, the carbohydrate or 'milk sugar' in milk, resulting in stomach cramps, bloating and other gastrointestinal issues; concerns over hormones in the milk, antibiotics in milk; and ethical issues regarding the use of animals.

As a result, various types of non-standard dairy milk and non-dairy milk substitutes are now available.

There are, however, individuals who get their milk supplies directly from farms. Raw milk can harbour dangerous microorganisms, posing serious health risks.

Pasteurisation, coupled with a comprehensive food safety programme, can greatly reduce or eliminate the possibility of food-borne illness resulting from dairy products. Pasteurisation kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature. Because of the high demand for milk worldwide, a number of countries export the product. In fact, milk exports totalled US$28.6 billion in 2018.

The global sourcing of milk has come under intense scrutiny as a result of recent incidents of illnesses due to consumption of contaminated milk. Studies conducted by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that outbreaks from raw milk continue to threaten the public's health.

To overcome these challenges, strict adherence to prescribed procedures based on comprehensive risk analysis have been instituted worldwide to regulate the processing and marketing of milk.

Despite the fact that many countries restrict or outlaw the sale or distribution of raw milk, numerous advocates are demanding the right to purchase and consume it. As recently as 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration reported that consuming raw or partially heated raw milk and raw milk products caused 200 Americans per year to become ill. Yet proponents insist that, despite the potential for illness, pasteurisation destroys or damages many of milk's valuable nutrients, including the “good” bacteria that are marketed as health supplements known as probiotics.

Pathogen control

While pasteurisation eliminates pathogenic organisms that may be present in raw milk, post-pasteurisation contamination is an ongoing challenge. Therefore, it is imperative to establish food safety programmes that combine strong controls with vigorous surveillance.

As the debate rages on about the safety of dairy products, local company Technological Solutions Limited (TSL) continues to provide technical, environmental and scientific support services in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean that address the challenges of food safety. These include training and safety programmes and laboratory services to keep the food-producing sector informed of the global trends and regulations, which, if not applied, could cost businesses billions of dollars to correct food safety issues.

TSL on July 1 consolidated all its laboratory services under TSL Laboratory Services Limited (TSL Labs), which is accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). This means that TSL has transferred its former ISO 17025 accreditation to A2LA — an internationally recognised accreditation body in the US that offers a full range of comprehensive laboratory and laboratory accreditation services.

Dr Wendy-Gaye Thomas is group technical manager, Technological Solutions Limited, a Jamaican food technology company. E-mail her at: wendy.thomas@tsltech.com


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