Milk comes in so many forms that choosing the right kind can get confusing. Dev Goswami & Anindra Siqueira attempt to clear up the confusion
Ah, milk, the elixir of life! We’ve all had it, and we’ve all been told that it is the single greatest thing in the developed world. But, with something as popular as milk, there are always many questions. Different kinds of milk are always being introduced in the market. (Have you heard of camel milk? What about reindeer milk and yak milk?) And, there is quite a bit of debate surrounding how healthy all these different kinds of milk might be. Case in point, there are so many confusing terms associated with processed milk — low-fat, 2%, skimmed. There are even rackets that adulterate milk — sometimes with soap of all things!
Here we clear up the confusion about the different kinds of milk, tell you which type is best for you and how to check at home if the milk you get is adulterated. We also tell you about a few great ways to make your morning glass taste better and tell you what substitutes you can use if you’re lactose intolerant or just dislike the taste of milk.
THE STORY OF PACKS
Put it down to inertia or plain ignorance, but several people think that the loose milk that they get at their local dairy is comparatively safer and more reliable than the milk available in cartons or polythene pouches. Furthering the bias is the fact that loose milk at dairies is usually more expensive than the milk sold in plastic pouches. If it’s expensive, it’s got to be better, right? Well, not always. The extra money you pay is for freshness, but it doesn’t a guarantee safety. The milk at your neighbourhood dairy is usually just a few hours old, while the milk you get sealed in plastic bags is a day or two old; tetrapack milk can be even older.
But remember, age is just a number — and this more or less holds true with milk as well. What guarantees the safety of milk is the absence of any adulterants and the treatment it undergoes before it is sold to you. Fresh milk from dairies, quite obviously, does not go through any treatment.
“Essentially, it is raw,” Rabia Mistry, a dietician at Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar, tells us. On the subject of milk from a local diary, she adds, “Loose milk is often adulterated with water, detergent or other harmful chemicals to increase its shelf life.” So, what do you do? Well, the first thing to do is to look for a dairy that you trust. And, even when you find one, boiling the milk at home is a crucial safety measure.
Milk available in sealed polythene bags is safer as it undergoes pasteurisation (a method of heating liquid food to kill bacteria), but you’re still supposed to heat the milk before you drink it. Rabia explains. “The surface of polythene milk bags get contaminated during transport, and you can contaminate the milk while you’re pouring it out of the bag,” she says. With tetrapack cartons, on the other hand, you can almost always be sure of getting quality, safe milk — that is, if you buy from reputed brands. Rabia explains that tetrapack milk is usually processed and packaged under reliable standards. Besides, this kind of milk undergoes Ultra High Treatment (UHT), in which milk is heated to a temperature above 135°C for a few seconds. UHT sterilises the milk, increasing its shelf life and, as Rabia explains, making it fit for consumption without having to boil it.
So, essentially, it all boils down (pun intended!) to whether or not you need to boil the milk. With fresh, loose milk, boiling is a must; with polythene bags, heating or boiling is a good idea; but with tetrapacks, you don’t need to.
There are so many different types of milk available. Conventional varieties include cow and buffalo milk, but there are other types too. Since young ones of different animals drink milk almost exclusively, milk is a great source of protein. It also contains carbohydrates and calcium, both of which are important for growth. And, of course, it has a proportion of fat. Rabia says that because of its protein and calcium content, milk helps maintain weight, sustain energy levels and is good for bone health.
The exact composition of cow milk varies slightly depending on the breed, but it has higher levels of cholesterol than buffalo or camel milk. And, we don’t have to tell you that it is a good source of calcium. A small percentage of people are allergic to cow milk.
- Fat – 3-4%
- Protein – 3.5%
- Lactose – about 5%
Buffalo milk tastes quite a bit like cow milk, but has more protein and fat. Thankfully, cholesterol levels are lower in buffalo milk than in cow or goat milk, and it is a good source of calcium and vitamins. Unfortunately, because cows and buffaloes are closely related, if you’re allergic to cow milk, you will most likely be allergic to buffalo milk as well.
- Fat – 4%
- Protein – 7-8%
- Lactose – about 5%
Goat milk has a strong flavour when compared with cow and buffalo milk. It also has the highest cholesterol levels. However, goat milk is easily digested and is better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance. Only a small percentage of people allergic to cow milk show some reaction to goat milk.
- Fat – 3-6%
- Protein – about 3.5%
- Lactose – 4%
Camel milk is sweeter than other types of milk, and it has low levels of protein and a fair amount of fat. Cholesterol in camel milk is lower than that in goat or cow milk, and it contains immune-boosting and insulin-like molecules, so diabetics are advised to drink camel milk. It is also a good option for those who are allergic to cow milk.
- Fat – 3-5%
- Protein – 2.5-5%
- Lactose – about 5%
RIGHT TYPE FOR YOU
This is a debate that will never die down. There’s always new information and people claiming that a certain type of milk is the best.
Rabia tells us, “Different types of milk differ in their nutritional value, but it is the difference in taste of goat milk, cow milk, buffalo milk, camel milk and other types of milk that plays a big role in people’s choice of milk.” Cow milk contains calcium, protein and vitamin D (in most cases, added), so you can drink it if you want to build muscle or if you follow a rigorous workout routine. It is also good for the health of your heart. However, skip it if you feel gassy, bloated or experience other digestive issues after drinking cow milk.
Some people drink raw cow milk, which is unpasteurised, simply because they like the taste. Studies have been inconsistent in showing whether it really has substantial benefits over pasteurised milk, but skip it if you’re pregnant. Also, raw milk isn’t recommended for children because it could contain Listeria and E. coli bacteria that children may not be able to fight off as easily as adults.
Like we’ve already mentioned, goat milk is digested easily and is a good option for those with lactose intolerance because it has lower lactose content than cow milk. However, since it is a bit high in calories (cholesterol), skip it if you’re trying to lose weight. If you are lactose intolerant, you can consider lactose-free milk. It is normal cow milk from which the lactose has been removed, and it contains the same nutrients as milk.
If you’re thinking of giving your children cow milk, here’s what the U.S. Department of Health recommends. You should start giving your children whole milk when they turn a year old, switch to semi-skimmed milk from two years onwards, and give them skimmed milk only when they’re five-years-old. However, always confirm with your doctor about what’s best for your infant.
And don’t forget that you can drink different kinds of milk depending on your nutritional requirements. For example, if you have a strenuous workout routine, you’ll need more energy, so drinking milk that has a higher fat content should help. Rabia tells us, “If you want to gain muscle weight, a glass of buffalo milk along with sugar fruit syrups and chocolate syrups or milkshakes are good options. You can also eat milk products such as cheese and paneer for healthy weight gain. On the other hand, if you want to lose weight, low-fat milk that is double-toned and double-boiled, and which has had the cream removed at home is a good option. Low-fat milk can be a part of your weight-loss routine because it will help you satiate hunger pangs and prevent binge eating.
MAKE IT INTERESTING
Not everyone likes the taste of milk, but after reading this article, we’re sure that most of you will understand the importance of consuming milk in some form. However, what do you do when you can’t stand the taste? Well, the best solution is to turn it into a milkshake. It usually masks the taste of milk, especially if you pick strong flavours such as strawberries. For a true delight, add some chocolate syrup along with a few nuts and raisins, blend and enjoy a healthy chocolate smoothie! Rabia tells us that milk flavoured with haldi (turmeric) is usually preferred by elderly people. You can also convert the milk into curd, and then use it to prepare lassi or eat it with fruit.
Milk contains lactose, a naturally-occurring sugar, but some people lose the ability to digest lactose, which can lead to gas, abdominal pain and bloating. The severity of your lactose intolerance will determine whether you need to avoid milk and its products. Some people can consume small quantities of milk products, while others need to avoid dairy completely.The condition can be brought on by genetic factors or due to conditions such as celiac disease. The most common form of lactose intolerance is one that develops over time — a genetic mutation is believed to be the root cause, which leads to a gradual decreases in the production of lactase (an enzyme that is needed to digest lactose). This makes you intolerant to lactose.
The Numbers Game
Low-fat milk, skim milk, whole milk... there’s so many different kinds of milk out there! If it really is possible to manufacture low-fat milk, why is that not the only kind of milk being consumed? And how is low-fat milk different from skim milk? Yes, it’s all very confusing, so here we’ve tried to make sense of it all:
This is milk as it is obtained. There is nothing added or removed to disturb its natural fat content.
This type of milk has a fat composition of 2% and achieves the best possible balance between taste and fat.
The fat content of this type of milk is even lower than in 2% milk — this one has only 1% fat.
No-fat/ skim milk
Technically,milk can never be called “no-fat” because there is some amount of fat left in it. But, this milk has as much fat removed as is physically and chemically possible. The amount of fat in this milk usually hovers around 0.5%.
Why milk is adulterated with soap (which is so harmful) we have no idea! But, here are a few things you can do to check if the milk you’re drinking is adulterated or contaminated.
Put a drop of milk on a smooth glass surface — a large hand mirror, for example — and tilt it. If the drop rolls down slowly leaving a white trail behind, the milk is pure. If, on the other hand, it rolls down quickly without much of a trail, it has been watered down.
Put a few drops of iodine solution or tincture of iodine into half a cup of milk. Starch is present if the mixture turns blue.
Add half a teaspoon of soybean or arhar powder to a teaspoon of milk in a test tube or tall glass and shake well. Leave it aside for five minutes and test the mixture with a red litmus paper. If the litmus paper turns blue, urea is present in the milk.
Synthetic milk turns yellowish when heated and leaves behind a soapy feeling when a drop is rubbed between your fingers. It also has a bitter aftertaste.