Choosing Fresher Milk Offers Greater Nutritional Benefits

Choosing Fresher Milk Offers Greater Nutritional Benefits

Milk is considered to be a nutrient dense food owing to its high concentration of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. As a result it is recommended that milk and dairy foods are included in the diet daily to help ensure an adequate nutritional intake. It is well known for its calcium content, but is also rich in magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and a number of B vitamins; these have a range of functions in the body from maintaining bone strength to supporting the immune system and promoting the body’s metabolism. The proteins in milk are easily digestible, making it a great source of this nutrient needed by the body for growth and the replacement of worn and damaged tissues. However, those with lactose intolerance can’t digest milk adequately, not due to its protein content, but rather the milk sugars it contains; besides using a dairy-free alternative to milk, they can supplement their diet with soy protein isolate. Although those with cow’s protein intolerance additionally need to avoid dairy produce and some vegetarians do so out of choice, milk is an ideal dietary inclusion for the majority of people. While the benefits of milk are widely accepted, what many people do not realise is that its nutrient profile can vary.

The changing nutritional content of milk

With so much interest in the nutritional content of milk, it is important to remember that not all milk is equal with regards to this. Besides their varying fat contents, there are other differences to be aware of.

Although the protein content of milk is typically 3.5%, a number of factors can influence this, which include the breed of cow, their age and health, the time after calving and the feed they are given. Notably grass fed cows have milk with a higher protein content than cows fed grain; feeding grass additionally increases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and antioxidants present in the milk and all of these nutrients have been linked to benefits for cardiovascular health. The quality of the protein is also higher in milk that is fresher.

Although milk proteins are not affected by the pasteurization process, with storage their quality can deteriorate. This largely relates to the impact that exposure to light has on the amino acids of which milk proteins are composed. It appears that two amino acids in particular are susceptible to this, which are methionine and cysteine. Not only does this have nutritional implications for protein synthesis within the body, as both are essential amino acids during childhood and methionine remains so in adulthood, but it also affects the taste of the milk and how it responds when used in cooking.

Interestingly the milk content of the B vitamin Riboflavin also declines with exposure to light; this vitamin plays an important role in the processing of carbohydrates, protein and fat within the body and a deficiency of the vitamin is still seen in some people in the UK. The quantity of other B vitamins present in milk also fall over time, but not to the same extent as is seen with riboflavin. It appears that the minerals present in milk are more stable than its vitamins, so their content remains more constant.

Many reasons for choosing fresh local milk

Most customers are unaware the milk they buy in a food store may be a week old and has been sourced from a different part of the UK. The reduced protein and B vitamin content seen with time after milking is one of a number of reasons why it is best to use milk which is produced locally; purchasing milk the same day that it has come from the cows helps to ensure you can maximise on the nutritional benefits. Using local milk also helps to support farmers in your area. With so many dairy farmers struggling to keep their businesses going due to the low price they receive for their milk, as many as three farmers daily stop producing milk; they need as much help from local people as they can. It is additionally a more environmentally sound choice to choose milk that has come from your region, rather than that which has travelled hundreds of miles to reach the fridges of a supermarket; such transportation contributes towards carbon-dioxide emissions, thought to be a contributing factor towards global warming. Finally, knowing which farm your milk has come from inspires confidence; with recent scandals consumers will increasingly want to know more about the source of their food, which is more difficult for other milks that have been mixed together with that from various farms. There are therefore many positives for choosing fresh local milk and if more people were aware of these, no doubt the demand for this would increase.

By Lily Salisbury

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