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Health Food of the month - Milk

October 2016

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Sea Bass



Diet & Supplements Index

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Crying over so many milks!

When did all these odd milks start to come into our lives? In the days of our childhood, there was milk, or no milk! Oh and the occasional tin of evaporated or condensed milk for a treat.

Today you go to any supermarket and you will be regaled with shelves of different types of milk. What does it all mean?!

Traditional natural milk is what most of us understand; milk collected from a dairy herd. In the past people often drank milk direct from the cow (or goat), but in some cases this definitely led to various health problems. Today for safely milk goes through a number of processing techniques before it reaches our homes; pasteurisation is the process we are most likely to come across here in the UK.

This system heats the milk to kill off potentially harmful micro-organisms such as pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and moulds which can be in the milk after initial collection from the cows. After heating, the milk is cooled fast and then should be stored in a refrigerator to keep it fresh for as long as possible.

Today much of our milk is homogenised as well as pasteurised. Homogenised milk undergoes a special process to break up the fat globules in the milk so that they are spread evenly through the milk. With homogenised milk, you won’t get that k layer of cream at the top of the bottle or carton.

With normal standardised milk, the minimum fat content will be 3.5%.

For many years though milk has also been produced with varying fat content; we are probably most familiar with semi skimmed milk(processed to produce a fat content of 1.7%) and skimmed milk where the nearly all the fat has been removed to leave a fat content of between 0 to 0.5% although on average it is 0.1%.

Reducing the fat content alters the make up of the milk, as the fatty cream contains the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. With skimmed milk especially, there are lower levels of vitamin A. However, during the processing, many milk suppliers replace lost vitamins.

More recently, different “milks” have been appearing which can be puzzling because they have no link with our traditional connotations of milk. Almond milk for instance is made by grinding almonds in a blender with water, then straining out the almond pulp. The production of soya milk is similar, usually produced by soaking dried soy beans in water and then grinding them.

So why are all these different milks, including today rice milk, hemp milk, and so forth, called milk.
There have been lobbyists from the dairy industries who have tried to force the government to ban the word milk when it doesn’t come from mammals, so that soya milk would become soya beverage or even soya milk.

But so far they haven’t been successful and some have said that milk is a reasonable name for any food suspended in water.

The other aspect is that these so called milks can often be used as real milk replacements in dishes such as cereal, mashed potatoes and smoothies. If they were called for instance soya juice, people might be more reluctant to consider pouring it over their morning porridge or into their tea.

In a way it is all just too much choice. Even the fairly obvious and hugely popular trend to replace full fat cows’ milk with low fat or skimmed milk is now under controversy as a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition mentioned when it said that milk fat may not be as bad as originally thought  as it doesn’t appear to increase heart disease risk and can be associated with lower risks of obesity.

The good news is that whether you choose full fat or skinny, most cows’ (and goat) milk products are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Traditional cows’ milk is an easy and pleasant to include in a diet and is rich in calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin A, B vitamins and iodine.

Choosing specialist milks need careful research. For instance, almond milk contains reduced protein and no calcium. Soy milk only contains 200 mg of calcium a litre, six times less than cows’ milk (although today many soy milk products are fortified with extra calcium to bring it up to the same levels as cows’ milk). Rice milk lacks nutrition and coconut milk is loaded with saturated fat and calories.

Perhaps the market has simply become too complex...which is why there is a trend towards whole cows’ milk again. Life can just be too busy to obtain a Masters Degree in milk before you visit the supermarket!


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