Ever since the day we were born, we have been drinking milk. For many of us, it was the bond that was first developed from our mother’s breast feeding, and continued through our lives. This connection between our first meals and our consumption of milk continues through the years, as the importance of calcium is stressed through our youth. All of this information that is pushed through our youth is not quite the same focus point for later on. Yet what is the story behind milk? What does it really provide for us, is it really important to drink milk daily, and what negative effects are there (if any)?
The milk that mothers produce has many functions. It obviously is provided as a nutrition source, giving infants the feed they require. Yet it also allows the mother to transfer some of their antibodies to the baby to prevent diseases and sickness. This nutrition also helps as the child cannot consume the food themselves; this food transfer is what defines mammals, as the ability to provide milk is what makes a mammal a mammal.
So, what is milk exactly? Milk is a nutritious substance produced in mammary glands of female mammals. It is a liquid primarily, and can be converted into a wide variety of other foods – cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, condensed milk, and more. Inside of these foods are plenty of varieties and flavors, like the infinite cheeses in the world, and flavors of yogurt. Also, there is another level of variety in dairy products based on the amount of fat in each; usually there are low-fat, non-fat and whole fat versions of many dairy products.
What are the positive benefits of milk products? The nutrition of milk products involves the fact that they provide a lot of calcium, and milk tends to contain high levels of vitamin D. Dairy can provide many of the amino acids we do not get typically, and has been a long-time included member of the four food groups. There have been studies that have shown that dairy products help reduce threat of certain types of cancer, and reduce heart disease and keep our bodies generally healthy.
The processes milk undergoes before reaching your table are typically the milking process where the milk is extracted from the cow, then pasteurization is performed, which heats the milk to kill bacteria, then is chilled to keep it fresh for a longer period of time. There is controversy over this process, as many people believe that many of the living organisms in milk that are beneficial to our bodies are killed in the process, however many harmful bacteria are killed as well, such as salmonella, tuberculosis, and polio.
Also, milk undergoes homogenization before packaging. Cream is made from separating the high-fat portions of milk from the lower-fat portions. The heavy grouping of fat rise to the top of milk when it sits, and when the cream is skimmed off the top, we get milk, and cream. The remaining fat in the milk would settle at the top in the carton, so homogenization forces the milk through narrow tubes at high speeds, breaking the fat molecules into small pieces that are not likely to reform into clumps.
Milk can have additives, such as chocolate, strawberry and banana flavoring; which have no effect on the milk aspects they just add sugar and possibly certain chemicals for coloring and flavor. Also, since the shift to indoor living, vitamin D is added, yet this effect can be substituted by an hour of time in the sun per week.
There is some controversy over the prominence of milk in our society, as researchers have discovered certain problems that can develop from heavy dairy consumption. A major issue is the draining of calcium from bones in order to help metabolize ingested dairy. Since the body uses calcium to help neutralize protein and other substances that have high concentration in milk and dairy products, there can be a shortage in times that require plenty of calcium. So in these instances, the body will pull calcium from the bones to make up the difference. This can lead, over time, to a deficiency of calcium in the bones. The fact that for so long calcium has been a major selling point for milk, leads people to develop distaste for allegedly misleading us.
Overall, it would be unwise to cut milk out of your diet. Dairy can help add texture and flavor to your meals, and should be consumed sparingly. Stick to the 2-3 portions recommended, and always choose low fat versions whenever possible. Choose skim milk, low-fat cheese, and margarine instead of butter. And be conscious of portion sizes, as cheese has quite a bit of fat, and other dairy products can contain saturated fats. Be aware and implement caution when selecting dairy and you should enjoy a healthy life with plenty of flavor.