Milk is an opaque white liquid produced by the mammary glands of female mammals.
In almost all mammals, milk is fed to infants through breastfeeding, either directly or, for humans, by expressing the milk to be stored and consumed later. Some cultures, historically or currently, continue to use breast milk to feed their children until as old as seven years.
In many cultures of the world, especially the Western world, humans continue to consume milk beyond infancy, using the milk of other animals (in particular, cows) as a food product. For millennia, cow's milk has been processed into dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and especially the more durable and easily transportable product, cheese. Industrial science has brought us casein, whey protein, lactose, condensed milk, powdered milk, and many other food-additive and industrial products.
Processed milk began containing differing amounts of fat during the 1950s. A serving (1 cup or 250 ml) of 2%-fat milk contains 285 mg of calcium, which represents 22% to 29% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) of calcium for an adult. Depending on the age, 8 grams of protein, and a number of other nutrients (either naturally or through fortification):
- Vitamins D and K are essential for bone health.
Iodine is a mineral essential for thyroid function.
- Vitamin B12 and riboflavin are necessary for cardiovascular health and energy production, and B12 is difficult to get outside of animal products or else as supplemental pills.
- Biotin and pantothenic acid are B vitamins important for energy production.
- Vitamin A is critical for immune function.
- Potassium and magnesium are for cardiovascular health.
- Selenium is a cancer-preventive trace mineral.
- Thiamine is a B-vitamin important for cognitive function, especially memory
- Conjugated linoleic acid is a beneficial fatty acid that inhibits several types of cancer in mice, it has been shown to kill human skin cancer, colorectal cancer and breast cancer cells in vitro studies, and may help lower cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis; only available in milk from grass-fed cows.
Studies show possible links between low-fat milk consumption and reduced risk of arterial hypertension, coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer and obesity. Overweight individuals who drink milk may benefit from decreased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, a study has shown that for women desiring to have a child, those who consume full fat dairy products may actually slightly increase their fertility, while those consuming low fat dairy products may slightly reduce their fertility due to interference with ovulation. However, studies in this area are still inconsistent.
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