History and Background

The Origin of Milk and Milk Alternatives

Humans have been consuming other mammals’ milk ever since they started domesticating animals and developing agriculture during the Neolithic period. By observing human breastfeeding, it was easy for people to figure out that they could get milk from other animals who breastfed their young.

The livestock of cattle, sheep, and goats were initially kept for meat, followed by dairying, hair, and labor. They were first domesticated in Southwest Asia. However, humans had already been drinking milk around the world.

People have been drinking raw milk and consuming raw and fermented dairy products until pasteurized milk became available in the 1800s. It became mandatory in the U.S. in 1930. The pasteurization process was named after French chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur, whose germ theory gave evidence of foodborne illnesses. Pasteurization involves rapidly heating and cooling milk to kill most of the harmful microbes. The process also increased milk’s shelf life.

Not just anyone can pasteurize milk, though. Milk is a food that is available for public consumption in grocery stores and restaurants. Therefore, milk production is regulated by federal law. The authority that governs federal regulations on milk and milk products, dairy products, and animal products is the Agricultural Research Service.

Cow’s milk is the most well-known milk and what most people associate with the word. Whole milk has all the milk fat, while skimmed milk simply has the fat removed. However, some people cannot handle cow milk and seek out goat’s milk instead. Sheep’s milk also exists but is more expensive and difficult to find since sheep milk production occurs only during certain times of the year. It’s incredibly rich, sweet cream is most commonly used for making cheeses and sometimes, yogurt.

Many non-dairy milk products also exist as alternatives for people with health issues such as milk allergies, lactose intolerance, or diets that excluded milk and animal products. Although they are new to the U.S., coconut milk had already existed in India and Southeast Asia, and soy milk in China. Many non-dairy milks are plant-based and can be used in most of the same ways one would use milk and dairy products, such as non-dairy coffee creamers. These, too, are regulated by the Agricultural Research Service.

Non-dairy milk alternatives are made by blending filtered water with the soaked and pureed plants. They are then strained through cheesecloth. A list of popular milk alternatives include:

Almond milk

Coconut milk

Rice milk

Oat milk

Cashew milk

Soy milk

Milk Health and Nutritional Benefits

1. Vitamins and minerals

Cow’s milk has high levels of several vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin B12 and folate, important for brain development and prevention of birth defects.

Selenium, a trace mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. Not only does it have antioxidant properties, but it also aids our metabolism.

Calcium, the same mineral found in bones. The form in which calcium is present in bones is calcium phosphate, which combines calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus is the most prevalent mineral in the human body after calcium. When there’s not enough calcium in one’s diet, their bodies leech the calcium from their bones instead. Calcium phosphate is found in table salt and is also taken as a supplement to prevent and treat calcium deficiencies.

Potassium is another important mineral in the human body. It serves as an electrolyte, helps the kidneys filter waste, and aids in storage and energy usage. Milk is a good source of potassium. Even skimmed milk can provide enough potassium and phosphorus for one’s daily needs.

2. Probiotics

Drinking raw and fermented milk and dairy can reap the benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that promote digestive system health to boost immunity and improve mental health. Probiotic-rich products are also useful for people taking or who have taken antibiotics, which kill both good and bad bacteria.

When drinking raw milk was the norm, people would make clabber out of it by letting it sit out for a day or so. The milk would thicken and ferment, thereby growing more probiotics. U.S. consumers can still reap the benefits of fermented milk without drinking raw milk. One popular fermented milk product today is kefir.

Milk Side Effects and Detriments

1. Lactose intolerance

When there are people whose heritage did not have milk as a staple part of their diet, they do not evolve to cope with the side-effects of drinking it. Their genes do not have the mutation, and so they express lactose intolerance. Cow milk has a lot of lactose, or milk sugars, and is slightly acidic.

2. Digestion issues and allergies

Cow milk has large fat globules and so takes 2 hours to digest. It also doesn’t have a good amount of medium-chain fatty acids. This leads to issues such as bloating, gas, and leaky gut. Such issues are especially true regarding the beta-casein protein mutation in the Holstein breed of cow.

Goat Milk Health and Nutritional Benefits

1. Easy to digest

Goat milk takes a mere 30 minutes to digest. Goat milk has more medium-chain fatty acids than cow’s milk and is also slightly alkaline instead of slightly acidic. This leaves 93% of people who are allergic to cow milk to digest it with no side effects whatsoever.

2. Whey proteins

Goat milk has the highest whey protein levels, which increase muscle growth, transport nutrients, and manage weight levels. Naturally, consuming whey proteins via goat milk is preferable to the whey isolate found in whey powders since it does not cause the whey sensitivity issues some people have.

Goat Milk Side Effects and Detriments

1. Musky Taste

Certain goat breeds produce milk with an unpleasant flavor.

Sheep Milk Health and Nutritional Benefits

1. Protein

Per every 100 grams of milk, sheep milk has 5.4 grams of protein, while cow milk has 3.2 grams and goat milk 3.1 grams. Protein is an essential nutrient for developing cells, tissues and bones, and an important source of energy that satiates appetite.

2. Boosts immunity

Vitamins A and E are antioxidants and are both important for the immune system. Vitamin A is particularly good for eye health, and Vitamin E for skin health.

3. Promotes Bone Mineral Density

Calcium, zinc, and magnesium are all present in sheep milk, which strengthens bones. Sheep milk helps to prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bone mineral density decreases as we age.

4. Lowers Cholesterol Levels

Sheep milk has plenty of monounsaturated or” good” fats, which help prevent the onset of heart conditions like heart attacks, strokes, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. 25% of the fat content is made up of medium-chain fatty acids known as triglycerides, which reduce fat deposits and convert protein into energy.

5. Regulates Blood Pressure

Sheep milk has high levels of key amino acids for the human body. It translates to a natural way of regulating blood pressure levels and protecting heart health by reducing strain on arteries and blood vessels.

6. Prevents Birth Defects and Other Issues

Folate is an especially vital B vitamin that prevents neural tube defects in babies. Several other B vitamins are present in sheep milk to help regulate metabolism and female hormones for female reproductive health.

Sheep Milk Side Effects and Detriments

1. High Fat and Calorie Content

Due to its richness, sheep milk is not recommended for people with weight-related conditions or trying to lose weight.

Goat and Sheep Milk Comparison

Goat milk is structurally similar to human milk. Both goat and sheep’s milk are naturally homogenized, meaning they have small fat globules. They both also have more medium-chain fatty acids. These qualities make them easier to digest than cow’s milk. Finally, they both have less lactose than cow’s milk, so they are tolerated better for lactose-intolerant people and people with sensitive stomachs or digestive systems.

Alternative Milks’ Health Benefits

1. Longer shelf life (at or below 40 degrees F)

Unopened alternative milks in the pantry can last up to a month beyond the expiration date printed on the packaging. Greater resistance to high temperatures also makes them preferable for people living in hot climates. Depending on whether they have sealed packaging, they may not need refrigeration until they are opened. When opened, they can stay fresh for 5-7 days. If unopened, they can stay fresh in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

2. Fortified with vitamins and minerals

Whole cow’s milk has trace amounts of vitamin D, so it is fortified to increase it. Skimmed milk is likewise fortified with vitamin A to replenish what it lacks. Similarly, plant-based milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Common ones are Calcium, Riboflavin, Zinc, Iron, Folic Acid, B vitamins, and vitamins A, D, and E depending on the plant-based milk in question.

3. Unique health benefits

Not only do alternative milks have less fat than dairy milks, but they also have fewer calories and cholesterol. They are equally popular for people with dairy allergies and those on plant-based diets or simply want to consume fewer animal products. Soy milk is naturally rich in antioxidants, but rice milk is a popular alternative for people who are allergic. Cashew milk is similar in flavor to almond milk.

4. Better for the environment & widely available

Although plant-based milk production frequently uses more energy to produce than that of dairy, the process requires fewer resources and emits less carbon and other greenhouse gases. People can find them in the dairy and organic sections of their grocery stores.

Non-dairy milk products also exist. Cheese alternatives use tofu, soy or coconut milk, nutritional yeast, and cashews mixed with nut milk. Coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and bananas are popular natural butter alternatives to plant-based margarine. Coconut oil, avocados, and bananas are best for baking, while olive oil is best for sauteing foods.

Alternative Milks’ Side Effects and Detriments

1. Allergies

Alternative milks are not recommended for people who are allergic to nuts or the other plants used in the beverage.

2. Low protein

Protein is a vital nutrient. Alternative milks lack the protein levels that dairy milks have and cannot be fortified with it.

3. Cannot be frozen

The water in the alternative milks separates and forms ice at the top. This makes it impossible to successfully reconstitute for consumption.

Conclusion & Review

Milk production is overseen by the Agricultural Research Service. This research agency ensures the quality and safety of our foods available for public consumption. One of their responsibilities is monitoring dairy processing plants to prevent infectious diseases from spreading via milk consumption. This monitoring includes regulating the pasteurization process and the legal requirements for the fortification of vitamins in minerals in both dairy and non-dairy milk. Doing so ensures that consumers get sufficient daily dietary requirements.

While pasteurization kills most harmful microbes in dairy milks and such illnesses are uncommon, they still occur. Many people are also lactose-intolerant or have stomachs that are sensitive to all dairy products. Sheep milk is difficult to produce, and goat milk is distasteful to some people, while both are not as common as cow milk. These facts make them less viable as alternatives to cow milk for the general population.

In recent years, there has been a higher occurrence of health issues and increasing interest in the plant-based diets of vegetarianism and veganism. The demand has produced a variety of dairy milk alternatives and different flavors for consumers to choose from. It is now possible for anyone to consume a non-dairy beverage that fits their diet and health needs. The most common are almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, and cashew milk. There are new non-dairy milks such as hemp, flax, tiger nut, sunflower, hazelnut, macadamia, and pea. There are also blends such as almond/oat.

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