Milk: Definition, Nutritional Profile, Types, Health Benefits, Risks, and Other


Milk is a natural food that comes from mammals. Animals, including humans, make milk to feed their babies until they can eat solid food. Milk can be good for your health, helping to keep your bones and heart strong. Milk has important nutrients like calcium and protein that help a growing body. However, studies about milk have mixed results, with some saying it is good for you and others saying it is not. Because of concerns about health, lactose intolerance and the treatment of animals, more people are choosing plant-based milk and dairy alternatives. For more research you can also visit Medical News Today.

What is Milk?

It is produced by the mammary glands of mammals, including humans. It comes from various mammals, such as cows, goats, buffalo, and sheep. Human breast milk is the best food for babies, but children and adults have been drinking dairy milk for around 10,000 years. In the United States., when people talk about “milk” they usually mean cow’s milk.

What is the Nutritional Profile of Milk?

It has a very impressive nutritional profile. It’s meant to completely nourish newborn animals. One cup (244 grams) of whole cow’s milk contains:

  • Calories: 146
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Calcium: 28% of the RDA
  • Vitamin D: 24% of the RDA
  • Riboflavin (B2): 26% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 18% of the RDA
  • Potassium: 10% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 22% of the RDA
  • Selenium: 13% of the RDA

It is a great source of vitamins and minerals, including some that many people don’t get enough of. It provides potassium, B12, calcium and vitamin D, which are often lacking in diets. It is also a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, and thiamine (B1). Additionally, milk is an excellent source of protein and contains many different fatty acids, like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3s. These fatty acids are linked to several health benefits, including a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease.

What are the Types of Milk?

Several different types of it are available today, such as:

UHT Milk:

UHT milk stands for ultrahigh temperature. It is heated to 130-140 C for 3-5 seconds, which kills germs and makes it shelf-stable. This means UHT doesn’t need to be refrigerated until today. Regular and UHT are mostly the same, but UHT may have slightly lower levels of some vitamins and minerals.

Powder Milk:

It is also known as dry milk, is milk that has had all its liquid removed through evaporation. It is shelf-stable, meaning it doesn’t need refrigeration. To use powdered milk, you add water according to the instructions, and then you can store and use it just like it.


It is made by fermenting regular milk with a special bacterial culture. This process adds flavor, aroma, thickness, and acidity to it.

Flavored Milk:

It is regular cow’s milk with added flavors and sweeteners.

Condensed Milk:

Condensed has some of its water removed and sugar added. It is mainly used for baking.

Evaporated Milk:

Evaporated has about half if its water removed through a special process. Unlike condensed it typically doesn’t have any added sugar.

Non Dairy Milk:

For people who can’t have cow’s milk or choose not to, there are many alternatives. These include almond, oat, cashew, coconut, rice, hemp, and soy. You can find them sweetened or unsweetened, and flavored or plain.

What are the Health Benefits of Milk?

Here are several types of it. Such as:

Milk and Bones Health:

Calcium is vital for strong bones, teeth, muscles function, and nerve communication. Health experts advise getting sufficient calcium to reduce the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. It is a great source of calcium. Cow’s milk is often fortified with vitamin D, which also supports bone health. However, while calcium is crucial, some studies question whether it effectively prevents osteoporosis or fractures, as highlighted in a 2019 review. Because of this uncertainty, scientists continue to research this topic.

Milk and Heart Health:

It contains potassium, which helps widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Increasing potassium intake while reducing sodium (salt) can decrease high blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease and strokes. Many Americans don’t meet the recommended daily potassium intake of 3400 (mg) for males and 2600 mg for females. Other potassium-rich foods besides it include:

  • Dried apricot
  • Oranges
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Lima beans
  • Spinach
  • Bananas
  • Prunes
  • Yogurt

However, it also has levels of saturated fat and high cholesterol, which can raise the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it’s best to consume dairy in moderation.

Milk and Cancer:

It contains calcium and vitamin D, which are thought to have potential benefits in reducing the risk of cancer. Calcium may help protect the lining of the gut, potentially lowering the risk of colon and rectum cancer. However, too much calcium has been linked to prostate cancer. Vitamin D may play a role in regulating cell growth and could help protect against colon cancer and possibly prostate and breast cancer. However, high levels of vitamin D have also been associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Many factors contribute to cancer risk, and cancer development is a complex process that takes time. Therefore, studying its causes and risk factors is challenging. Scientists still need to conduct more long-term research to establish the facts.

Milk and Depression:

Having enough vitamin D helps the body produce serotonin, a hormone connected to mood, appetite, and sleep. Studies, including a 2020 review, have linked low vitamin D levels to clinical depression. Many manufacturers add vitamin D to cow’s milk and are plant-based.

Milk and Muscle Building:

It helps baby cows grow quickly, so it’s logical it could aid muscle growth in humans too. It is packed with high-quality protein, which has all the essential amino acids needed by the body. It also contains a lot of energy in the form of saturated fat, which can prevent the body from using muscle mass for energy. Low-fat offers the benefits of it with less fat.

Milk and Osteoporosis:

Osteoporosis, a condition marked by reduced bone density, is the main risk for bone fractures among older adults. One of the roles of cow’s it is to support bone growth and development in young calves. Cow’s milk appears to have similar effects in humans and has been linked to higher bone density. The high calcium and protein levels in it are believed to be the main factors behind this effect. However, recent evidence is conflicting. Some studies have not found a link between dairy consumption and osteoporosis.

Milk and High Blood Pressure:

Having abnormally high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease. Dairy products have been associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure. The combination of calcium, potassium, and magnesium found in it is believed to contribute to this effect. Other factors, like peptides produced during the digestion of casein, may also play a role.

Milk and Weight Gain:

Several studies have found a connection between drinking it and a reduced risk of obesity. Interestingly, this benefit has only been seen with it. For instance, one study involving 145 three-year-old Latino children discovered that those who drank higher-fat were less likely to be obese. Another study, which included over 18,000 middle-aged and elderly women, showed that consuming more high-fat dairy products was linked to less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity. It contains various components that might help with weight loss and prevent weight gains. Its high protein content, for example, can help you feel full for longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating. Moreover, it contains conjugated linoleic acid, which has been studied for its potential to aid weight loss by boosting fat breakdown and inhibiting fat production. Additionally, many studies have found that diets rich in calcium are associated with a lower risk of obesity. Evidence suggests that people who consume more dietary calcium are less likely to be overweight or obese, as high levels of dietary calcium can promote fat breakdown and inhibit fat absorption in the body.

What are the Risks of Milk?

Some individuals opt not to consume dairy products like it for various reasons. These reasons may include:

  • Following a specific diet, such as vegan diet or paleo diet.
  • Seeking to alleviate conditions like acne or other health concerns.
  • Having an allergy or sensitivity to lactose (the sugar in it) or casein (the protein in it).
  • Concerns about dairy farming practices and their environmental impact.
  • Concerns about the potential presence of hormones like estrogen in it.

Some argue that humans are the only species that continue to drink it after weaning, suggesting that milk consumption may be unnatural and unnecessary. Some individuals are concerned about the hormones present in dairy such as estrogen and growth hormones, and how they might affect their health. A 2016 study found that mice exposed to high levels of estrogen in it experienced hormonal changes. However, it’s important to note that these estrogen levels were much higher than what is typically found in cow’s. As of now, scientists have not discovered any evidence suggesting that the hormones in dairy can have adverse effects on humans.

Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivity:

Many people drink it without any negative effects. However, some individuals may experience adverse reactions.

A Milk Allergy:

An allergy is distinct from lactose intolerance. When someone with it allergy consumes it, their immune system responds abnormally, producing allergic antibodies like immunoglobulin E. For these individuals drinking it can result in symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Blood in the stool

An allergy should avoid it and dairy products, including butter, whey, yogurt and cheese.

Lactose Intolerance:

Some individuals don’t produce enough of an enzyme called lactase, making it difficult for them to digest it. Lactase breakdown lactose, the sugar in it. This can sometimes be a temporary issue, like during an infection. For those with lactose intolerance consuming milk can lead to symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea. However, the degree of lactose intolerance varies among individuals. Some may tolerate products with low lactose levels, like yogurt and hard cheese, while others may not tolerate even small amounts of it, such as in coffee. Lactose-free milk contains added enzymes to assist with lactose digestion. This can help alleviate or eliminate these symptoms.

Casein Sensitivity:

Casein is a protein found in it. For individuals with a sensitivity to casein, consuming milk can cause inflammation in the digestive system and elsewhere in the body. Anyone experiencing symptoms they suspect may be related to dairy products can consult a dietitian. Trying an elimination diet or undergoing food sensitivity testing can help determine if a dairy-free diet is necessary.

What Substitutes are there for Dairy Milk?

It is sourced from animals like cows, goats, sheep, and camels. It contains various nutrients that offer potential health benefits. However, alternatives to dairy are also widely accessible. Many individuals have shifted away from animal-derived milk for various reasons. Some may have allergies or lactose intolerance while others adhere to a vegan lifestyle due to ethical concerns regarding animal products. As a result, there is now a wide array of non-traditional dairy and non-dairy substitutes on the market. These alternatives have diverse nutritional profiles, flavors, colors, and textures. They are derived from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, and grains.


Cow’s is a significant source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, and calcium along with other essential nutrients. Many experts link diets that include dairy with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. The nutrient composition of milk also supports bone health. A single 244-gram cup of whole it provides:

  • 7.69 grams of protein
  • 149 calories
  • 276 mg of calcium
  • 24.4 mg of magnesium
  • 322 mg of potassium
  • 112 mcg of vitamin A
  • 4.55 grams of fatty acids
  • 24.4 mg of cholesterol

For individuals discontinuing dairy, it’s crucial to obtain these nutrients from other sources. Some alternatives offer a similar nutritional profile to dairy containing calcium naturally or fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A. However, not all its alternatives provide the same level of nutrition. When exploring alternatives, it’s essential to review the packaging to understand the nutritional content.

Alternatives Options:

Several alternatives are available for people who do not wish to consume dairy.

Soy Milk:

It is a popular alternative to dairy with a history dating back to 1365 in China. Many cultures have incorporated soy into their diets for centuries. Today it is made from soybean extract using methods similar to ancient techniques. It comes in sweetened, unsweetened, and flavored varieties like dark chocolate, and vanilla, as well as low-fat or full-fat options. Its producers often fortify it with calcium vitamins A and D, and riboflavin similar to dairy manufacturers. It also contains a similar amount of protein per serving making it the closest alternative to cow’s nutritionally. One cup of 244 grams of plain it contains:

  • 105 calories
  • 12 grams of carbohydrates, including 8.91 grams of sugar
  • 6.34 grams of protein
  • 3.59 grams of fat
  • 2.68 mcg of vitamin D
  • 2.07 mcg of vitamin B12
  • 300 mg of potassium
  • 0 mg of cholesterol
  • 0.488 g of fiber

Different brands of it may have slightly different compositions depending on factors like flavor, sweeteners, or additional fortification with vitamins and minerals. It contains isoflavones, natural antioxidants associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. According to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming at least 10 mg of isoflavones daily is linked to a 25% decrease in breast cancer recurrence. One serving of it contains about 25 mg of isoflavones.

Almond Milk:

It is another popular alternative, is made from ground almonds, water, and often a sweetener. Manufacturers may also enrich almond milk with vitamins and minerals. It has a creamy texture similar to it. One cup of sweetened it typically provides only about 1.02 grams of protein, much less than dairy milk or soy milk. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, and fortified it often contains this vitamin. However, it has a higher water content than actual almonds, so it’s better to eat almonds for a direct source of vitamin E. It lacks the same vitamin, mineral and fatty acid content as dairy milk unless fortified. Therefore, it’s not a suitable alternative to breast milk or formula for infants unless it’s fortified. Depending on the added sugar content, it may have fewer calories than cow’s milk. Different brands vary in the amount of almonds and added nutrients so it’s important to check the packaging. Some people use it in recipes for items like ice creams. Other nut milk options include cashew, hazelnut, and walnut milk.

Rice Milk:

It can be suitable alternatives as it’s often free from soy, gluten, and nuts. However, those with allergies should always check the label before consuming it. It typically contains boiled rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. It’s high in carbohydrates and low in protein compared to dairy milk. The calorie content depends on whether sweeteners have been added. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1 cup of plain it contains:

  • 115 calories
  • 2.37 grams of fat
  • 22.4 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.68 grams of protein
  • 288 mg of calcium
  • 26.8 mg of magnesium
  • 65.9 mg of potassium
  • 154 mcg of vitamin A
  • 2.44 mcg of vitamin D2 and D3
  • 0 mg of cholesterol

It is often thin and watery, so it’s ideal for cooking or baking. This type of milk isn’t naturally rich in calcium. Those replacing cow’s milk with rice milk might consider choosing a calcium-fortified variety.

Coconut Milk:

It is perhaps the milk alternatives closest in texture to whole milk. It’s relatively high in fat, with a 1-cup serving providing about 5.08 grams of saturated fat. Since it’s naturally soy and gluten-free, coconut milk is often a good option for those with multiple food allergies. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the facility producing it operates in an allergen-free environment. List most nut milks, it adds a flavor that works well in baked goods. Despite its similar texture to it, It has a different nutritional profile. Depending on the brand and ingredients, it likely contains less protein than dairy milk. According to the USDA, 1 cup of it contains 0.21 grams of protein.

  • Other Non-Dairy Alternatives
  • New milk alternatives emerging in the market include
  • Quinoa
  • Flax
  • Oat
  • Potato
  • 7-grain milk, made from oats, rice, wheat, barely, triticale, spelt, and millet
  • Sunflower
  • Hemp

Alternatives to Standard Dairy Milk:

For Individuals with lactose intolerance who still desire cow’s milk, lactose-free it is available. Lactose-free it offers the same nutritional value as regular it. Some consumers worry about the presence of hormones or antibiotics in it, but these concerns are often unfounded. It undergoes testing for hormones, antibiotics, and other contaminants at the dairy farm. If any of these contaminants are detected, the product is not shipped for processing. Due to these concerns, many people choose organic, raw, and unpasteurized cow’s milk. However, some of these products, such as raw milk, may carry other health risks not found in conventional pasteurized milk.


Which milk is highest in protein?

Sheep’s milk has the highest protein content among various types of it, with 14.7 grams per one cup or 8 ounce serving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Which type of milk is best?

Cow’s milk is considered the healthiest option to drink if you can tolerate it, as it offers the highest nutritional value. Cow’s provide numerous health benefits, including aiding in improving muscle mass and bone health.

How is milk good for you?

It serves as an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium which plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health. Nutritionists advise incorporating it and other dairy products like yogurt and cheese into one’s daily diet as part of a balanced eating plan.

Which protein is rich in milk?

It contains a protein called casein.

Is milk good for hair?

Proteins and lipids found in it help strengthen hair, while calcium promotes hair growth and helps prevent hair loss. It also contains other nutrients beneficial for hair health, such as vitamins A, B6, biotin, and potassium, which contribute to keeping hair soft and shiny.

Can I drink milk at night?

It contains protein and healthy fats, so drinking it before bedtime can help you feel full. This habit can help people who crave snacks before sleep and reduce overeating and excessive calorie intake at night.

Is 2 glasses of milk a day good?

Drinking 2 glasses of milk daily can be part of a healthy diet for many people, providing essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. However, whether it leads to weight gain depends on your overall calorie intake, activity level, and individual metabolism.

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