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Nutritional criteria of milk and their benefits on health

8 July 2016

Milk is an essential aliment throughout life. Its nutritional quality comes from its peculiar composition:

  • Lactose: most impostant component of milk dry matter. Milk owes its smooth and slightly sweet taste to lactose, a glucid which acts as a fuel especially for brain and muscles. Lactose also has an additional nutritional advantage: it improves dairy calcium utilisation by the body, by increasing its intestinal absorption and the assimilation of dairy proteins.
  • Lipids: lipids play an energetic role. Milk fat features:
    • Saturated fatty acids: they have interesting characteristics. Short chain saturated fatty acids are particularly well digested and are rapidly used as an energy source by the body. Others with long chain play a role in children nervous system development.
    • Unsaturated fatty acids: they are composed of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, that are known not to impact cardiovascular system, and of poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Milk contains few unsaturated fatty acids but its contribution to essential fat intake must not be neglected (linoleic acids and a-linolenic acids help maintaining membrane structures).
  • Proteins: Milk proteins are numerous and have high nutritional values, milk is a vital aliment thanks to these proteins. Our body uses indeed proteins to maintain a healthy state. Every day, throughout its life, the body destroys and renews part of the proteins especially during growth, pregnancy, nursing and old age in order to create new tissue.
  • Minerals: milk contains most of the minerals essential to the body, the most important are:
    • Calcium: 2 g.l-1 : Calcium circulates in the blood and helps renewing all body cells, throughout life. It fulfils many functions for vital organs and plays an important role to maintain bones.
    • Phosphorus: 0.9 g.l-1
    • Potassium: 1.5 g.l-1
    • Magnesium: 0.13 g.l-1
  • Vitamins: milk is a natural source of vitamins from the B-group:
    • B1-vitamin or thiamine, essential to proper running of nervous and muscular systems and to blood sugar metabolism (glucids).
    • B2-vitamin or riboflavin, essential to renew and maintain tissue. It is also indispensable to transform food into energy. It plays a role in vision and encourages growth.
    • B9-vitamin or folic acid, helps creation of red globuls and of nervous cells. It also prevents certain forms of anemia (iron deficiency).
    • B12-vitamin or cobalamin, helps creation of nervous cells.
  • Milk also provides fat-solubles vitamins:
    • A-vitamine or retinol: is active in transmitting light to the retina, it plays a role in protecting skin and mucous membranes and encourages growth.
    • D-vitamin or calciferol: is the anti-rickets vitamin. It helps calcium and phosphorus metabolism.

Various kinds of milk exist

Varioius kinds of milk are defined by two main criteria (fat content and heat treatment):

  • Whole milk: more than 3.5% fat by liter
  • Semi-skimmed milk: 1.5 to 1.8% fat by liter
  • Skimmed milk: less than 0.5% fat by liter
  • Milk with peculiar fat percentage: fat content must be clearly indicated.
  • Raw milk: milk undergoes no treatment except for refrigeration after milking.
  • Microfiltered fresh milk: milk is treated by microfiltration (filtration by a porous membrane to retain microbial flora of skimmed milk without modifying physicochemical composition).
  • Pasteurised milk: milk is heated at 72°C for at least 15 seconds before being cooled at less than 6°C
  • Sterilised milk: milk is heated at 115°C for 15 to 20 minutes before being cooled.
  • UHT-sterilised milk: Ultra-High-Temperature sterilisation, milk is heated at 140°C for 2 seconds.

Other criteria may influence milk classification:

  • Nutrient enrichment (vitamins, proteins, minerals…),
  • Lactose content modification,
  • Aroma,
  • Organic farming,
  • Condensed milk (sweetened or not),
  • Dry milk (milk powder),
  • Infant milk that comes from complex recipes in order to meet specific needs of infants and young children.

Click here to discover the numerous types of milk offered by FIT.