Make America Mooo Again

Milk is cool with farm-to-table freshness

By Cherie Messore

Milk has been called “nature’s perfect food” for generations. Packed with nutrients and protein, cow’s milk is budget friendly and easily available.

By the 1980s, soy milk bubbled up in popularity, followed by almond and other nut ‘milk’ beverages in the early 2000s, touting reduced fat and cholesterol benefits.

Other factions jumped off the milk wagon, too, claiming that dairy products (from cows fed low-quality feed and antibiotics) were putting Americans at risk.

Despite this, milk is still out front with refreshed scientific studies proving that modern animal care practices and healthier cows produce dairy products full of flavor and nutrition with healthful benefits for everyone. In fact, the 2017 State of the Industry report from Dairy Foods magazine said that milk is “on trend” because of its nutritional value, wholesomeness, and farm-to-table delivery.

“It is a challenge to get the nutrition we need in our daily intake without dairy products,’ says Michelle Barber, nutrition specialist for the American Dairy Association. “Studies with adults and kids have shown how missing those nutrients can have a negative health impact. The truth is, not all non-dairy milks have the same nutrients as real milk. For instance, dairy milk has eight times the protein of almond and rice milks which also contain a long list of added ingredients, like sugar, syrups, salt, thickeners and stabilizers. Real milk’s ingredient list is short and simple, with only ingredients you know.”

Nutrition experts agree that dairy products are important ingredients in a healthy diet.

“A glass of milk has nine essential nutrients plus protein and gives us a fuller feeling, especially whole milk. Those are important benefits,” said Bridget O’Brien Wood, food service director for Buffalo Public Schools.

Wood feeds thousands of students every day, and dairy products are prominent on the menu. “What’s really popular right now are smoothies and yogurt parfaits,” she said.

“Milk is still our beverage of choice,” she says. “Water lacks calories and nutrients. Children need calories to grow, and while there is naturally occurring sugar, it’s not added sugar. Dairy milk is more wholesome,” she says.

Dairy product consumption isn’t limited to school lunches. “Milk isn’t just for kids, although it is especially important for growing kids who need the nourishment that milk provides,” Barber, the American Dairy Association representative, said.

She says that milk also helps to build and maintain bone strength which is even more important for maturing baby boomers and older Americans.

Athletes have even rediscovered milk as a more healthful recovery drink. Physician Greg Miller, chief science officer for the Chicago-based National Dairy Council, says, “Research shows that milk — both white and chocolate — can be just as beneficial for the body as some sport drinks because milk contains four things your body needs after a workout.”

These four nutrients in milk, according to Miller, are: carbohydrates, the primary source of energy for athletes; high quality protein to help rebuild and repair your muscles. Protein contains the essential amino acids your body needs to build and maintain your muscles and help your body work properly; and fluids and electrolyte to replace  lost minerals  like  sodium, chloride and potassium. Miller says, “Rehydrating with milk can help replenish your body’s fluids and electrolytes lost in your sweat.”

Milk is also less expensive that processed energy drinks and much more wholesome.

Consumers may be confused about dairy’s benefits, according to Kendra Lamb, a fifth generation dairy farmer who also serves on the board of directors for Milk for Health on the Niagara Frontier.

Even though there are nearly 800 dairy farms in the eight counties of Western New York, “People are removed from the farm,” she says, “They don’t understand the process of producing milk.”

At Lamb’s farm in Genesee County, 2,400 cows are milked three times a day. Milk is immediately tested for purity and is stored in refrigerated vats until the milk truck takes it to a nearby milk plant for pasteurizing, a simple heat process which doesn’t diminish its nutrient values. Then it’s ready to be bottled or made into yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products.

Lamb says, “While there are lots of different labels on milk in the grocery aisle, please don’t miss this: ALL milk is free from antibiotics.  If a cow is ill and our veterinarian recommends that we administer medication, she will be milked in another location and her milk is kept separate so it can’t enter the food supply. There are lots of safety checks along the way to make sure our food supply remains pure and safe.”

Whole milk fat products get a bad rap sometime, but more recent research tells a different story.

Miller says, “While the advice from dietary guidance is to choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, the science is evolving. As noted in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and as research continues to show – regardless of fat content – dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are associated with improved bone health, especially in children and teens, and reduced risk of CVD, Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults. Whole milk dairy foods can be a part of a healthy eating styles, you will just want to be mindful of other food choices to balance saturated fat and calorie intake.”