As intriguing as it might be to read up on the health benefits of these exotic beverages, let’s not lose sight of all of the good things that old-fashioned cows’ milk can do for us.
DW Fitness Clubs resident trainers and nutrition experts, Carly Tierney and Eddy Diget, have taken time to talk about why healthy milk products can give you an extra edge as you pursue your fitness goals.
Cow milk benefits
According to Eddy, if you were so inclined, you could live off cows’ milk and nothing else. It has pretty much everything you need to survive.
“Realistically, however, this would soon become a very boring regime,” he commented.
“Milk is an excellent source of protein, zinc and B vitamins. It also provides an abundance of calcium to strengthen bones.”
Regular cows’ milk contains magnesium and potassium. The latter is said to lower your risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease.
Can milk help me to lose weight?
The calories in milk come from three sources – carbohydrate, protein and fat – and, obviously, you can reduce your calorie intake by selecting a skimmed or semi-skimmed drink.
The exact number of calories in milk can vary between brands, but diabetes.co.uk estimates the calorie content in half a pint of skimmed milk to be around the 90 mark. This rises to approximately 190 in whole milk.
It has been claimed in the past that drinking cows’ milk can help people to lose weight, but this is still very much a bone of contention.
In 2010, the Daily Express ran a story that suggested adults who drink around two glasses of milk a day would lose an average of 12lb in weight after two years. The NHS picked numerous holes in the research, concluding that while dairy products have significant health benefits, there isn’t enough evidence to show that they can aid weight loss.
It’s an issue that has also divided our experts.
Carly told us: “[It is said] that calcium is thought to help break down fat more efficiently, leading to weight loss, although there is no hard evidence to suggest that dairy is a magic fat-loss food.
“While milk contains many nutrients, it also contains a relatively large amount of liquid calories which would be better spent on [solid food] when trying to lose weight. Alternative sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, bok choy, beans and canned salmon.”
Eddy, on the other hand, believes that those who discredit milk for having “too many calories” may need to reconsider.
“A pint of cows’ skimmed milk only contains about 0.6g of fat,” he added.
“Absorption of calcium is faster if taken by dairy products – milk and low-fat cheese – than by tablet, for example. Eating a tub of low-fat yoghurt and a matchbox-sized bit of cheese each day will fortify your calcium and other essential mineral intake.”
As you can see, the perceived benefits of adding milk to your diet in order to stimulate weight loss are highly debatable. It seems the most logical conclusion is to consume a sensible volume of milk as part of a healthy, balanced diet. As with anything, if you overdo it on the milk, you run the risk of piling on the pounds.
Can cows’ milk help me to build muscle?
Thankfully, milk’s muscle-building properties are more cut and dried.
Carly remarked: “Milk is deemed to be one of the best muscle-gaining foods ever. It’s a high-quality protein source, made up of around 20% whey (the most popular ingredient in protein powders) and 80% casein. Skimmed milk is a good, cost-effective choice. It’s high in vitamins and minerals and tasty and convenient too.
“Milk also contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, and can be amazing for recovery and repair. However, moderation is key and those wanting to get shredded might look for alternative, lower-carb protein sources.”
Of course, diet is only one part of the muscle-building battle – you need to do your part in the gym, too!
Is organic milk better for me?
NHS Choices recently published an article in response to a Guardian piece that had suggested that organic meat and milk could offer additional health benefits.
Interestingly, studies highlighted some differences in nutrient levels between organic milk and run-of-the-mill farmed milk. Most notably, there were more omega-3 fatty acids in the organic version, as well as greater iron and vitamin E content. Standard milk was found to have more iodine and selenium, which help to produce the thyroid hormone and protect against cell damage respectively.
However, the article stated that far more evidence is needed before it can be safely concluded that organic products carry more long-term health benefits than non-organic alternatives.
What are the best alternatives to cows’ milk?
Maybe you’re intolerant to cows’ milk, or perhaps you just want to try something different?
There are plenty of alternatives for you to consider. Some of these include:
Coconut milk: Rich in fibre and essential vitamins, coconut milk is lactose-free and is particularly popular among vegans.
Almond milk: A personal favourite of Carly’s, unsweetened almond milk is rich in vitamin E, which can boost your recovery after a heavy workout.
Soy milk: A fantastic protein source, soy milk has grown in popularity over the years. Vegetable proteins are said to cause reduced loss of calcium through the kidneys.
Rice milk: Another good dairy-free option, rice milk offers no shortage of vitamins. Be mindful of its higher carb content, though.