The wonderful world of milk

Filed on June 1, 2021

Lina Shibib, Clinical Nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals and Medical Centres, Al Safa, touches upon the many facets of milk

Milk is the first food humans consume - a nutrient-rich essence from the mother's body that is perfectly tailored to the needs of the newborn. The whitish liquid is also one of the most versatile foods of all: for thousands of years, humans have been making so many different products from this raw material - from creamy yoghurt to fatty cream and spreadable butter to a variety of cheese.

Not all milk is the same

When you look in the supermarket's refrigerator section, you are spoiled for choice: pasteurised or ultra-high temperature milk (UHT) milk, bottled or raw milk. There is a whole variety:

Fresh milk or whole milk: Milk is heated to kill germs and thus keep it preserved. Pasteurised milk is heated to around 75C for a few seconds and can then be kept for five to eight days. It also retains its flavour. Whole milk means milk with a fat content of 3.5 per cent. There is also low-fat milk with 1.5 per cent fat, skimmed milk with 0.3 per cent fat (not suitable for children) and milk with natural fat content, which must contain at least 3.7 per cent fat.

Homogenised milk: The milk is pressed through very fine nozzles. In the process, the fat globules are broken down and reduced in size; no cream can form on the milk.

UHT: It is heated to 140 C for a few seconds. This kills the bacteria it contains, but unfortunately all the B vitamins at the same time. The milk protein is also changed. The advantage is that the resulting UHT milk can be kept unopened for many weeks. Once opened, however, it spoils within a few days.

Raw milk: This milk comes more or less directly from the cow. It is sold only on farms and only up to 24 hours after milking. It is not heated or processed.

Preferential milk: It is produced only on certain farms that are subject to strict hygiene control. This milk is also not treated, must be sold by 96 hours after milking and should be heated at least for young children, pregnant women or people with weak immune systems.

Overall, minerals are not sensitive to heat, so their content does not change as a result of heating. Vitamin loss is about 10 to 20 per cent in pasteurised as well as UHT milk due to the short heating times. Since many vitamins are sensitive to light, you should use milk stored in brown glass bottles or in a Tetra Pak.

So how healthy is milk?

Milk provides us with energy in the form of sugar and fat, it is also rich in protein, the most important building material for all body cells, and in numerous vitamins and minerals (especially calcium, which is good for bones and teeth).

Milk is not by nature a refreshing drink for adults, so it should not be drunk to quench thirst like water.

The German Nutrition Society advises moderate consumption: about 250 gm of low-fat milk per day (the equivalence of about one glass) and two slices of cheese.

Are cheese, curd and yoghurt better for health than milk?

Eating cheese, curd, and yoghurt does not seem to be detrimental to our health - and may even be good for our psyche. This is because the foods contain microorganisms (called probiotics) that can settle in our intestines and are known to lift our mood, studies have shown.

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