Three-part series on milk and dairy
Milk consumption is a subject that sparks a lot of controversy and raises a number of questions: Should we consume it or not? Raw or pasteurized? Grass-fed or not? Educating yourself on all of the milk options will help you find the healthiest choices for your family. As with anything we eat or drink, it all depends on where it comes from.
Since humans are mammals, milk is our first food. Mother’s milk is nutrient-dense and easily digested by her nursing baby. Milk’s ability to nourish and grow life outside of the womb fascinated our ancestors and lead to the development of dairying with ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats and yaks).
Thirty million years ago, the earth’s climate changed and favored plants that grew quickly and produced seeds to survive the dry period. This meant more grasslands and ruminant animals that fed on grasses. Evidence suggests sheep and goats were the first of the ruminants to become domesticated for dairying.
Dairy animals could produce the nutritional equivalent of a slaughtered meat animal or more each year for several years and did so in several daily increments. The development of dairying was a source of survival for humans.
Very quickly, humans discovered the many uses for milk. If it is left to stand, fatty cream rises to the top. This cream can be agitated and made into butter. Milk would naturally turn sour and acidic creating yogurts, kefirs and buttermilk. If the yogurt was drained, the curds could be salted and turned into cheese. Each culture that used ruminant animals for dairying discovered their own fermented milk drinks, cheeses and milk products. Today we have many uses for dairy, creating hundreds of products to consume either in beverage or food form.
Milk has been long associated with terms wholesome and healthy. Depending on how it was raised and processed will influence the nutrient levels and health benefits (we will get into this topic more over the next couple weeks). In general, milk and dairy products provide fat, protein and carbohydrates. Their fat is majority saturated fat, but also provides omega-3s and 6s, cholesterol and conjugated linoleic acid. Their proteins are dominated by casein and whey. And, their carbohydrates are in the form of sugars with lactose being the dominating sugar.
Milk provides vitamins A, C, D, K, E and B vitamins: B6, B12, thiamine, niacin, biotin, riboflavin, folate and pantothenic acid. It also provides the minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. Milk provides an abundance of nutrients because it is made to nourish a rapidly growing baby.
Over the next couple of weeks we will discuss the different “hot” topics related to milk, so you can make the best choices for your family. And, for those of you that have allergies or intolerances to dairy, you may find there are options for you that allow you to consume it, if you so desire.