Milk : White Poison or Healthy Drink?

Over the past decade, milk has become somewhat controversial. Some people say that it is a necessary and nutritious food vital for healthy bones, but others say it can cause cancer and cause early death.

Who is right and why do we drink it despite this? 

Milk is the basis of any mammalian diet after birth when our digestive systems are immature and small. Basically, its food is powerful in boosting our body and helping us grow. Milk is rich in fats, vitamins, minerals and milk sugar - lactose. On top of that, for a while after birth, it also contains antibodies and proteins that protect us from infections and regulate our immune system. But it takes mothers a lot of effort to produce it. As a result, humans stop drinking breast milk and switch to their parents' diet. It's been like this for thousands of years. Until about eleven thousand years ago, when our ancestors settled in the first farming communities. Soon, they domesticated the first dairy animals: goats, sheep and cattle.

They discovered that dairy animals are able to eat unnecessary and plentiful food and turn it into nutritious and tasty food. It made a huge difference in terms of survival, especially in difficult times, groups with milk therefore had an evolutionary advantage. And thanks to natural selection, this changed the genes of communities that consumed a lot. This adaptation has to do with a specialized enzyme - lactase. Babies have a lot in their system so they can break down lactose, milk sugar and digest milk easily But the older we get, the less our body produces lactase enzymes. Worldwide, approximately 65% ​​of the population does not have the enzyme after infancy, which means that they are unable to digest more than about 150 milliliters per day.

This lactose intolerance is not spread evenly around the world, however. In some East Asian communities, for example, it represents up to 90% of the population In Northern Europe and North America, rates are lowest overall There are probably several reasons for this uneven distribution The trait was first introduced by a random mutation that occurred independently of each other in a few populations The fact that agriculture is increasingly replacing hunting and gathering creates a pressure for natural selection People able to digest lactose had more food on hand, which was an advantage The migration of dairy farmers to the north then propagated it, which probably reduced the populations which did not have the trait

Why is it so controversial? 

There are a number of claims regarding the negative and positive effects of milk on health. The negatives cover a wide variety, from fragile bones to cancer and from cardiovascular disease to intolerance and allergies So how do they stand? Some older studies have found a link between milk and a high risk of colon and prostate cancer But meta-analyzes have found no impact on your risk of cancer. On the contrary, the calcium in milk could even have a protective effect against colon cancer. Although it may be calcium in general, it is not clear that milk plays a role in this effect. Only studies on prostate cancer have shown an increased risk for people who consumed more than one and a quarter liters of milk per day. But again, the association is inconsistent and other studies find no effect. We discuss these studies in more detail in our sources document.

Overall, research suggests that if you drink between 100 to 250 milliliters of milk a day, cancer is not a concern. Likewise, meta-analyzes found no impact of milk or dairy products on your risk of heart disease, stroke or total mortality. Some studies have even suggested that high blood pressure may be more rare in people who eat a lot of dairy products, although the evidence is not strong enough to assert this with confidence. The case gets complicated when we look at the bones.

 A number of studies have found no positive or negative effects for adults. What worries most people most is the harmful amounts of pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. There are hormones in milk, but only in very low concentrations. For example, to get the same amount of hormones as the pill, we should drink about 5000 liters of milk, and even if you did, most of the hormones would be destroyed by your digestive system before they affect you, this is the reason why so many drugs are coated to protect it from our digestion.

 For pesticides and antibiotics, there are regulations in most parts of the world that only allow completely harmless amounts Milk that exceeds these thresholds is not allowed to be placed on the shelf There is therefore nothing special to fear. Besides allergies and those with lactose intolerance, the most well-known negative effects of milk are probably acne and general discomfort after drinking milk or eating dairy products, and here the effects are very real. For example, skim milk statistically increased acne by 24% Allergies to dairy products are particularly common in children, with one in 18 children in Germany suffering from them. In general, these allergies tend to improve or disappear as they age.

Is milk healthy then? 

Milk, whether from mothers, cows, sheep, goats or camels, is a nutrient-rich food. It contains all the necessary macronutrients and many micronutrients. Especially in areas where people are struggling to get enough calories, milk can contribute to a healthy life and reduce infant mortality. For those who live in the developed world, in general milk is not harmful if you are not allergic or intolerant to it. Especially for children, it is a good way to get large amounts of calcium and for vegetarians, it is a good source of vitamins b12 and B in general.

This does not mean that there are no other alternatives with the same effect. You don't need to drink milk to be healthy Milk is not a substitute for water either Milk is an energy food that the extra calories from regular consumption can contribute to being overweight Particularly flavored milk or chocolate milk is more comparable to drinks like lemonade than a healthy snack, and there is another thing to consider: Milk production has a significant impact on the global climate .

About 33% of cultivated land is used to feed pasture animals, including dairy cattle Even if the carbon footprint of dairy products has decreased since 1990 Milk production is still responsible for 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions even more than all the planes combined. Milk is a huge industry and, unfortunately, most of its production on industrial farms causes incredible suffering. The cows are impregnated again and again, separated from their young shortly after birth, and slaughtered after their tortured bodies are no longer productive. We cannot ignore the fact that a large part of the milk we consume comes from an industry it is basically torture and it contributes to climate change.

What about vegetable milk? 

In terms of protein levels and nutritional value, only soy milk can compare to cow's milk. The rest must be artificially fortified to achieve similar levels of vitamins and calcium. They can therefore be an alternative to milk. And another option may be available soon. Several startups have created non-animal milk which is nutritionally identical to dairy milk, for example, by fermentation with genetically modified bacteria This laboratory-grown milk can even be made into cheese, something that herbal alternatives struggle with because they lack casein and whey protein, the key ingredients that give the dairy its flavor and structure.

 The environmental impact is another story. 

Many milk alternatives use much less energy, less soil and less water to produce They therefore have a much lower environmental impact than animal milk. If you want to have the lowest possible negative impact on the planet, the best choice is whatever the regional dairy alternative. As with almost any subject, milk is complicated. It is not harmful to the majority of the population and is crucial for many people around the world. It is a good nutritious food, but also harmful to the planet and which causes a lot of suffering 

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