Mona is a veteran writer for Pressenza, columnist for Enrich Magazine, and life coach. She holds webinars on writing and emotional health.
I kid you not, there is a global holiday that celebrates milk. It occurs every year on June 1. World Milk Day was proclaimed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
It is a day to be mindful when we spread butter on a slice of toast, or slather German whole grain rye bread (I mention German whole grain rye because by law, it must be 90% rye to be genuine) with carabao cheese.
On this day we celebrate milk and all its side products such as buttermilk, condensed milk, cottage cheese, cream, dried milk, ghee, ice cream, skim milk, whey, and yogurt.
And then there is that very simple glass of milk, which is sheer perfection for those who can tolerate lactose. Milk emerges in our diets in one way or another, throughout the year. But it’s good to know that it also has been awarded a day all its own.
How Milk Day came to be
Drinking milk has been done since the Neolithic age (9000 to 7000 B.C.). But some 20 years ago, the FAO noticed that several countries had special days in the year to celebrate milk. In Thailand, milk day occurred on June 1, and the FAO decided to follow suit. The first global Milk Day occurred on June 1, 2001.
It is well deserved for a beverage that, whether as milk or low fat dairy products, helps to reduce and/or prevent numerous chronic diseases and disorders such as osteoporosis, and bone fractures. It can also help one to maintain a healthy weight. Plus, there are nutrients like B vitamins, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, and vitamin D.
Milk has come a long way
Milk as a beverage gained popularity during the neolithic period when nomads ceased to be hunters and gatherers, and instead set up their own farms. They domesticated animals for their milk, among other things, and planted cereal grains for food.
Evidence of the above was discovered by a research team from the University of York. They examined the remains of seven people who dated back to the year 6,000 B.C. On the dental plaque of these remains, they found a milk protein, beta lactoglobulin.
At this time people were not yet lactose tolerant. So they only drank a little milk and focused on its side products like yogurt, cheese, kefir, and koumiss. Over time, people gained greater tolerance for lactose and could drink milk daily. New side products also emerged such as acidophilus milk, buttermilk, cream butter, and sour cream to name a few. Many cultures drank milk daily for its healthy qualities.
Spiritual qualities were also given through mythology. For example:
- In Western Africa it was believed that the universe was created from one drop of milk.
- In Greece, the goddess Hera formed the Milky Way from milk emanating from her breast.
- In ancient Egypt, the goddess Hersat, who took the form of a cow, provided milk (then called the beer of Hersat) to humanity.
In ancient Rome there were no telescopes to see the Milky Way more clearly. Instead, it appeared like a large white streak across the sky, which the Romans called Via Galactica or The Road of Made of Milk.
Milk skyrockets with the Industrial Revolution
Milk shot up in demand with the construction of the railroad trains. People who lived in cities such as London and Paris were too far away from farms. But the railroad made it easier to bring the milk to the cities.
The age of industrialization skyrocketed milk as a beverage. At this time too, dairies opened and new vaccines were being invented, particularly for smallpox, when it seemed to be that milkmaids were “immune” to smallpox.
Types of milk and their uses, then and now:
- Donkey milk. Cleopatra used sour donkey milk for bathing, to lessen wrinkles, and retain her beautiful skin. It has been scientifically proven that sour milk, when converted to lactic acid, can lessen small wrinkles. When pulled off the face, the skin looks smoother and is more blemish-free. This is why donkey milk is recommended for people with skin allergies.
Donkey milk is also similar to the milk of human mothers. It has a wealth of vitamins plus essential fatty acids. Plus it has less fat than cow milk. It is also recommended for infants with gastric problems.
- Dried horse milk. In Mongolia, dried horse milk was packed and brought by people who were going on a long journey. When they paused, they would reconstitute the milk and drink it.
- Mare’s milk. As of 2018, the milk of mares (female horse) has experienced a resurrection of interest from ancient days. The milk is high in vitamin C and iron, but low in fat. Its levels of lactose and casein more closely resemble human breast milk than cow milk. The taste has been described as sweet, and a tad nutty, similar to almond milk.
- Reindeer milk. Northern Europeans drank reindeer milk. However, it took two people to milk a deer, and only 1 ½ cups a day were made. A paper by A. Kozloz, featured in the journal Anthropologischer Anzeiger, noted that reindeer milk is used more frequently to make cheese bread.
- Buffalo milk. This milk is plentiful in India and parts of Asia. It has lots of calcium, protein, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin A, and less cholesterol than cow’s milk, among others. On the downside, it has 100% more fat than cow’s milk, which makes you more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and atherosclerosis.
If you’re overweight, more sedentary than most, and have a slow metabolism, buffalo milk may not be good for you. It would be best that you consult your doctor before you make any change in your milk.
- Camel milk. This milk compares well to cow’s milk in terms of calorie, carbohydrate, and protein content. It is richer in the B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, iron, and calcium. It also is rich in healthy fats, for example, linoleic acid, long-chain fatty acids, and unsaturated fatty acids which are good for the brain and heart. On the downside, it’s lower in saturated fat. .
- Sheep milk. This milk has more concentrations of vitamins A, B, and E, plus greater richness in magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium in comparison to cow’s milk. It also tops the latter in terms of fats and proteins, making it the better choice for manufacturing cheese.
- Goat milk. Up to 72% of dairy consumed globally is goat milk. This is true largely in developing countries where goats are easier to handle than cows. What’s more, goat milk is preferred to cow milk in many countries. The milk is thicker, creamier, and more nutritious. It also has many health benefits. Goat milk is rich in protein, fats, and calories. It’s also better for the heart, poses less risk from milk allergies, and is easier to digest, according to WebMD.
Plant Based Milk
Lately there has been a great deal of interest in plant based milk, mainly by vegans, and people who feel that dairy farms are not mindful of the wellbeing of its animals. Plant based milk has been the alternative. Here are a few:
- Soy milk. For people who have trouble digesting milk, dietitians say that soy milk is the best alternative. Soy milk is basically made from pulverized soy beans. It is very nutritious, containing calcium, Vitamin B-12, and vitamin D. Its main ingredient is soybeans. However, if you’re a vegan or are concerned about genetically-modified organisms (GMO), you may want to pass on soy milk. Up to 95% of soybeans were genetically modified in 2015, and a report noted that the GMOs weren’t harmful to people.
- Almond milk. Kim Larson, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and a Health & Wellness Coach, says that almond milk is the top selling plant-based milk to date. However, Larson said this milk has very few almonds in it. One eight ounce glass of this milk may contain only four to six almonds. Water, vitamins and sweeteners are added to the milk. Eating almonds will give you more of the nuts’ beneficiary qualities. These nuts are rich in vitamin E, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and fiber.
- Rice milk. This is a viable alternative if you are allergic to nuts and unable to eat dairy. Vitamins are added to this milk but like most plant based milks, this one lacks protein. Angela Lemond, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and owner of Lemond Nutrition, said that rice milk is less nutritious than almond milk.
- Cashew milk. Lemond compares this milk to almond milk, in the sense that there are very few cashew nuts in a glass of this milk. However, cashew has more saturated fat than almonds do. Many of the nutrients in the milk are added, and overall, there is a low protein content.
Overall, Larson says that plant-based milks aren’t the healthier alternative. than animal - based milk. She compares the fame of these milks to a ‘health halo’, and I suppose she’s right. Besides, you can’t milk a plant.
Both Larson and Lemond agree that plant-based milk is not comparable to animal milk, and they cite the superiority of cow's milk, namely:
- It has naturally occurring vitamins of all kinds, including Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12.
- It also has naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and melatonin.
- Lemond also recommends skim milk for those who are on a diet and have high levels of cholesterol.
Whole milk is best for people who lead an active lifestyle.
Note: Originally published in Enrich Magazine, June 2021
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on September 13, 2021:
Hi Flourish Anyway, I was a bottle-fed baby, but you're right, it's strange that people drink the milk of other animals. Especially now with a juicer, you can make your own healthy drinks from fruits and vegetables. Plus, as you said, we can get all our vitamins from food. Thank you for the insight:):):)
Dear Ms. Dora, how interesting to know that you grew up on goat's milk:):):). I personally grew up on cow milk. Your grandmother sounds like a very strong woman. Maybe your strength and faith were handed down to you by her. Grandmothers rock!!!
Hi MG, how wonderful to hear from you:):):). Thanks for the visit and for your kind comment.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 13, 2021:
I've stopped drinking animal milk but drink soy milk. I just find it strange that humans are the only mammals that consume another animal's milk after infancy. It just seems so unnecessary. I mainly drink water as a humane and healthy alternative and get my vitamins through food.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 13, 2021:
Thanks for bringing the observance of this day to our attention. Here's to milk and all it's good for. I grew up on mostly goat milk from goats raised by my late grandmother, so kudos to her. Thanks also for the historical and manufacturing information.
MG Singh from UAE on September 13, 2021:
Very interesting article on an everyday commodity.