The nutritional profile of cow's milk

Diet and Fitness


Each Canadian chugs back an average of 58 litres – or about 245 cups – of milk products per year. What nutritional benefit do we get from of all of those bottles, bags, and jugs of milk? And what risks might milk pose?

Let's pour ourselves one imaginary cup of 2% cow's milk to learn more. In those 244 mL of milk, we'll drink 122 calories and 7 percent of our daily recommended intake of dietary fat and cholesterol. We'll also down 8 grams of protein and nearly one-third of the calcium and vitamin D that we'll need for today. Stirred in for good measure are B vitamins, vitamin A, and the minerals phosphorus and potassium.  

Working together, milk's nutrients yield several healthy benefits:

  • Milk builds bone. Calcium and phosphorus, along with vitamin D, make up milk's bone-building team. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones, but some of it circulates to help with nerve impulses and your heart's steady beat. Bone is constantly being broken down and re-formed, so you need to continually consume calcium to keep this balance in check. When more bone is being broken down than re-formed, you risk having bones that can break more easily. The phosphorus found in milk supports formation of bone and teeth, while vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium better. Milk happens to be one of the few food sources of vitamin D. 
  • Milk gives you an energy boost. A few of milk's nutrients are like your body's cheerleaders, helping you make the most of the energy-boosting nutrients you consume. Potassium and phosphorus help your body produce and use protein. The B vitamin riboflavin helps to release the energy locked inside of carbohydrates.   
  • Milk helps your heart. Calcium and phosphorus work together again, this time along with potassium (and other vitamins and minerals), to help keep your heartbeat steady. At the same time, riboflavin and vitamin B12 produce red blood cells.

So, milk does do some good for your body. And yet milk has its drawbacks.

  • Milk can be fattening. Drink one glass of whole milk, for instance, and you've downed 8 grams of saturated fat – nearly a quarter of the recommended daily limit. Choose lower-fat milks, such as skim or 1%.
  • Milk can be indigestible. Milk may also be tough for some bodies to digest, such as people who live with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.
  • Raw milk can be dangerous. Natural food fans may seek out raw milk, milk that has not been heat-treated or pasteurized. But milk that has not been safely pasteurized and treated may contain germs that could make people sick, including campylobacter, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.

If you can't tolerate drinking milk and worry about getting enough calcium, keep in mind that milk is only one rich source of calcium. You also get bone-building calcium when you eat tofu, leafy green vegetables, beans, and the soft bones of canned fish like salmon or sardines.

In some countries, cows may be injected with a hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) in order to boost their milk production. Canadian consumers can rest easier knowing that Health Canada has not approved the sale of rbST within our borders. That fact doesn't deter savvy milk buyers from opting for organic milk: Organic milk from pasture-fed cows has been found to contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and antioxidants.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

Why we drink milk – and why some people can't

Diet and Fitness


Our relationship with milk begins as soon as we're born. Baby mammals, including us humans, drink our mother's breast milk for nourishment. But after weaning, most mammals' bodies begin making less and less of a kind of digestive enzyme called lactase. Without enough lactase, we become lactose intolerant – unable to properly break down and digest lactose, milk's natural sugar.

In fact, a considerable percentage of people are lactose intolerant, which causes them to experience symptoms – including abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, gas, and nausea – within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming milk or milk products. So why do so many of us continue to drink milk?

Some theorize that the reasons why may be traced to our geographical origins. Rates of lactose intolerance are especially high among people of Asian, African, Indigenous, and Hispanic origin. And rates are quite low among those of Northern European ancestry. The thinking goes that sunny days were scarce in Northern Europe, depriving people of their main source of vitamin D. Run low on vitamin D, and your body is less efficient at absorbing the all-important calcium you consume. Milk provides a good deal of both calcium and vitamin D. So, it could be that over the generations, Northern Europeans adapted genetically to be able to digest milk so that they could benefit from its nutrients.

Experts wondered, too, why levels of lactose intolerance tended to be low in Northern Africa, when they were so high in other parts of the continent. As it turns out, this region is largely pastoral, meaning that the people keep domesticated mammals and take as much nourishment from their animals as possible. Milk is, after all, a plentiful source of protein. So, like the Northern Europeans, perhaps Northern Africans developed a tolerance to lactose in order to get maximum nutritional benefit from their animals.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

Lactose intolerance

Diet and Fitness


If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of adults are lactose intolerant to some degree. Exemplified as an inability to digest the natural sugar found in dairy foods, lactose intolerance affects both men and women equally, though certain ethnic groups (e.g., Asian, Hispanics) and those with existing medical conditions (e.g., people born prematurely) are affected more frequently.

Being lactose intolerant is not the same thing as having a milk allergy. Milk allergy occurs when a person's immune system reacts to one or more milk proteins. Unlike lactose intolerance, a milk allergy can be life-threatening and is usually diagnosed within the first year of a person's life.

Lactose, the natural sugar found in dairy, is a disaccharide sugar – meaning that it is formed by the bonding of the 2 simple sugars: glucose and galactose. Ordinarily the body produces an enzyme called lactase, which breaks the bond so that the 2 simple sugars can be absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolized. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to produce this enzyme, resulting in lactose remaining in the gut. This can lead to a variety of effects, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating.

There are 4 different classifications for those who are lactose intolerant:

  • Primary lactose intolerance is environmentally induced and arises in societies that do not typically consume dairy. While lactase production decreases for most individuals as they age, the decrease is often most dramatic in infants that are weaned in populations that do not regularly include dairy in their diet. These individuals can lose up to 90% of their ability to produce lactase during their first 4 years of life. As a result of a traditional non-dairy diet, it is speculated that almost all Asian and Native American populations are lactose intolerant.
  • Secondary lactose intolerance is also environmentally induced and is a consequence of certain gastrointestinal disorders. At times, secondary lactose intolerance may temporarily result from exposure to intestinal parasites or arise in sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, or celiac disease.
  • Congenital lactose deficiency, is a genetic disorder present at birth that prevents individuals from producing lactase.
  • Developmental lactase deficiency occurs when a child is born prematurely at 28 to 32 weeks. The ability to break down lactose normally develops during the later parts of pregnancy. This usually improves as the child gets older.

Doctors are able to diagnose lactose intolerance usually through a breath test. You can also get a good idea of whether or not you are lactose intolerant simply by cutting out lactose from your diet for 1 to 2 weeks and seeing if your symptoms resolve. It is not considered a serious disease and often requires no treatment beyond the use of over-the-counter pills and drops that contain lactase.

Lactose intolerance is a very manageable condition and those that suffer from it do not need to avoid dairy altogether. They can still enjoy smaller quantities of low-fat or fat-free milk, or consume milk products in combination with other foods. Sour cream, yogurt, and ice cream may also be included in the diet, as lactase may already be present due to the bacteria used to produce these foods. Hard cheese and cottage cheese also contain smaller quantities of lactose. There are also low-lactose and lactose-free products in the market that can replace traditional dairy items.

If you are lactose intolerant, you should also consider that lactose is often used as a food additive and may be present in some boxed, canned, frozen, and prepared foods like bread, cereal, lunchmeats, salad dressings, cake and cookie mixes, and coffee creamer.

People with lactose intolerance should also make sure that each day's diet includes enough calcium – a mineral that is traditionally associated with dairy products. Calcium is essential for the growth and repair of bones and a deficiency may lead to osteoporosis. Depending on your age and medical history, you may need anywhere from 200 mg to 1200 mg of calcium per day.

Non-dairy sources of calcium include dark green vegetables such as broccoli, or fish with edible bones such as salmon and sardines. Since milk is also a source of vitamin D, ensure you find a supplement that provides enough vitamin D for your needs (usually between 400 IU and 800 IU per day).

More of a nuisance than a nightmare, living with lactose intolerance is easily manageable with the appropriate considerations. A carefully chosen diet that is supplemented with calcium when needed, or with lactase-containing pills and drops, is the answer to minimizing symptoms.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

Alternatives to cow's milk

Diet and Fitness


People with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can still enjoy a tall, cold glass of refreshing milk, a chunk of cheesy heaven, scoops of frozen sweetness, or a stir of cream into their coffee. Alternatives to cow's milk include:

Nut milks (e.g., almond, cashew): Since nuts boast high calcium, so does the milk that results from soaking and grinding them. Softly textured, lightly-coloured, sweet-tasting almond or cashew milks also have less fat than cow's milk and are easier on people with lactose intolerance and milk allergies. 

Coconut milk: Squeezed from the meat of mature coconuts, coconut milk is quite high in calories and saturated fats. Because of its rich, sweet flavour and high fat content, you should only add a little bit of it to anything. Coconut milk contains a good deal of iron and vitamin C, but it doesn't get anywhere near the levels of calcium in other types of milk.

Goat's milk: Like cow's milk, salty-sweet goat's milk is high in calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, protein, and potassium. With slightly less lactose than cow's milk, goat's milk can be a problem for those with lactose intolerance. Occasionally, people with milk allergies may also be allergic to goat's milk.

Rice milk: Grain milks, like the ones made from brown rice, look like cow's milk, but taste milder and grainier. Rice milk contains less protein but more carbohydrates than cow's milk. Some of the carbs are starch and fibre from the rice, but most of it comes from being sweetened with sugar, vanilla, chocolate, or other sweet flavours.

Soy milk: Soak soybeans, crush them, cook them, and then filter and strain the liquid that's left, and you have the basis of soy milk. Flavours are often added, like vanilla or chocolate. Because it's made from soybeans, this milk substitute boasts the legume's nutritional benefits – protein, fibre, B vitamins. Some products contain added calcium and vitamins A and D. But unlike cow's milk, soy milk is low in fat and free of cholesterol. Since it contains no lactose, it's good for those with intolerance. Occasionally, people with milk allergies may also be allergic to soy milk.

Oat milk: Oat milk comes from blending oats with water and then filtering and straining the liquid that's left. Compared to other plant-based milks, oat milk usually has slightly more protein and fiber. It provides similar amounts of calcium as other plant-based milks.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: