The World's Healthiest Foods
Milk, 2%, cow's

In the United States, cow’s milk is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even need a description. Whether poured on breakfast cereal or enjoyed alone as a cold glass of milk, this beverage has become a staple in the American diet that can be enjoyed year-round.

Milk is available in a variety of forms that are differentiated by their fat content. The 2% designation refers to the percent of fat by weight that the milk contains. 2% milk is often referred to as reduced-fat milk since it contains less fat than whole milk, which is 3.5% fat.

 


Health Benefits

Cow's milk, the basis for all other dairy products, promotes strong bones by being a very good source of vitamin D and calcium, and a good source of vitamin K--three nutrients essential to bone health. In addition, cow's milk is a very good source of iodine, a mineral essential for thyroid function; and a very good source of riboflavin and good source of vitamin B12, two B vitamins that are necessary for cardiovascular health and energy production.

Cow's milk is also a good source of vitamin A, a critical nutrient for immune function, and potassium, a nutrient important for cardiovacular health.

Milk produced by grass fed cows also contains a beneficial fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Researchers who conducted animal studies with CLA found that this fatty acid inhibits several types of cancer in mice. In vitro (test tube) studies indicate this compound kills human skin cancer, colorectal cancer and breast-cancer cells. Other research on CLA suggests that this beneficial fat may also help lower cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis.

Calcium--A Mineral for A Lot More than Strong Bones

Cow's milk may be best known as a very good source of calcium. Calcium is widely recognized for its role in maintaining the strength and density of bones. In a process known as bone mineralization, calcium and phosphorous join to form calcium phosphate. Calcium phosphate is a major component of the mineral complex (called hydroxyapatite) that gives structure and strength to bones. A cup of cow's milk supplies 29.7% of the daily value for calcium along with 23.2% of the DV for phosphorus.

Building bone is, however, far from all that calcium does for us. In recent studies, this important mineral has been shown to:

  • Help protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals
  • Help prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Help prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them
  • Reduce PMS symptoms during the luteal phase (the second half) of the menstrual cycle
  • Help prevent childhood obesity(January 29, 2004)
  • Help overweight adults lose weight, especially around the midsection (June 30, 2004)


A prospective study published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association gives parents yet another reason to regularly include low-fat dairy products such as low fat cow's milk in their children’s healthy way of eating given the rate at which childhood obesity is rising in the West: consumption of calcium-rich foods was found to be negatively correlated with body fat.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., with the number of overweight children more than doubling in the last three decades, and the International Obesity Task Force recently reported that in the UK, childhood obesity is already three times higher than it was just over 10 years ago.

In this prospective longitudinal study, researchers at the University of Tennessee assessed the height, weight and dietary intake of 52 children (27 girls and 25 boys), starting when the children were 2 months of age and following them for 8 years. Dietary calcium and polyunsaturated fat intake were negatively related to per cent of body fat, while total dietary fat or saturated fat intake and amount of sedentary activity (hours/day) were positively correlated.

Earlier studies have also reported a negative association between calcium intake and body fat accumulation during childhood and between calcium intake and body weight at midlife. Each 300 mg increment in regular calcium intake has been consistently associated with approximately 1 kg less body fat in children and 2.5-3.0 kg lower body weight in adults. Taken together these data suggest that increasing calcium intake by the equivalent of two dairy servings per day could reduce the risk of overweight substantially, perhaps by as much as 70 percent. The current study’s lead author, Dr. Jean Skinner, advised that children should be encouraged to regularly eat calcium-rich foods, such as low fat milk and yoghurt and to increase physical activity. In addition, Dr. Skinner recommended that carbonated soft drinks and other nutrient-poor beverages be restricted since children’s intake of carbonated beverages and other sweetened drinks was found to be negatively related to their calcium intake.(January 29, 2004)

Trying to lose weight, especially around the midsection? A study published in the April 2004 issue of Obesity Research suggests that eating more calcium-rich foods, especially low fat dairy foods such as cow's milk, yogurt and kefir, may really help.

In this study, 41 obese subjects, 32 of whom completed the study, were divided into three groups and put on diets designed to result in the loss of one pound per week for 24 weeks. All diets contained the same number of calories and were designed to provide subjects with a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day.

The first group received a low (430 mg/day) calcium diet. The second group got the same diet with enough supplemental calcium to bring their daily intake up to 1200 mg. And the third group ate a diet with enough dairy foods to provide about 1100 mg calcium each day. At the conclusion of the study, the low calcium group had lost almost 15 pounds, the high calcium group 19 pounds, and the high dairy foods group 24 pounds. Plus, fat lost from the midsection represented an average of 19% of total fat loss in those on the low calcium diet, 50% of the fat lost in those on the high calcium diet, and 66% of the fat lost in those getting their calcium from dairy foods.

Calcium also plays a role in many other vital physiological activities, including blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, regulation of enzyme activity, cell membrane function and blood pressure regulation. Because these activities are essential to life, the body utilizes complex regulatory systems to tightly control the amount of calcium in the blood, so that sufficient calcium is always available. As a result, when dietary intake of calcium is too low to maintain adequate blood levels of calcium, calcium stores are drawn out of the bones to maintain normal blood concentrations--which is where vitamin D comes in.

Vitamin D Ensures Calcium's Availability

Although typically categorized as a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D actually functions more like a hormone than a vitamin. Calcitriol, the most metabolically active form of vitamin D, works with parathyroid hormone (PTH) to maintain proper levels of calcium in the blood. In addition, calcitriol participates in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, and growth, which suggests that vitamin D may play a role in the prevention and treatment of various cancers. A cup of cow's milk supplies 24.4% of the daily value for this important vitamin.

More Help for Bone Health

The vitamin K provided by cow's milk is also important for maintaining strong bones. Vitamin K1 activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. Therefore, without enough vitamin K1, osteocalcin levels are inadequate, and bone mineralization is impaired. A cup of cow's milk provides 12.2% of the daily value for vitamin K.

It's not just its calcium and vitamin K that makes milk a bone-friendly food, cow's milk and fermented milk products such as yogurt also contain lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein that boosts the growth and activity of osteoblasts (the cells that build bone).

Not only does lactoferrin increase osteoblast differentiation, it also reduces the rate at which these cells die by up to 50-70%, and decreases the formation of osteoclasts (the cells responsible for breaking down bone) thus helping to prevent or reverse osteoporosis. In addition, lactoferrin also increases the proliferation of chrondocytes, the cells that build cartilage. For building bone, enjoying both milk and yogurt seems a good idea since lactoferrin's effects were found to be dose-dependent, stimulating an up to a 5-fold increase in osteoblasts at higher doses.

A Good Source of Protein

Cow's milk is a good source of low-cost high-quality protein, providing 8.1 grams of protein (16.3% of the daily value for protein) in one cup. The structure of humans and animals is built on protein. We rely on animal and vegetable protein for our supply of amino acids, and then our bodies rearrange the nitrogen to create the pattern of amino acids we require.

Dairy Products Protect against Gout

Gout, a common type of arthritis whose onset typically involves the big toe, has been linked to eating foods high in purines (organ meats, meats, shellfish, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and Brewer’s yeast). A study published in the March 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that eating meat or fish increases the chances of developing gout, but adds a new point of protective data: eating more dairy actually decreases gout risk.

Purines, one of the nucleic acid building blocks of DNA and RNA, contribute to gout since they are metabolized to form uric acid, which if produced in excess, can deposit in joints causing pain, redness and swelling.

In addition to eating lots of meats and fish high in purines, consuming too much alcohol, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and simple sugars can also increase the risk of gout.

Alcohol increases the rate of uric acid production and also impairs kidney function, thus slowing the excretion of uric acid. Consumption of refined carbohydrates, simple sugars and saturated fats—all of which promote obesity—also result in increased uric acid production and decreased excretion.

Not surprisingly, in this study, in addition to men eating the most meat and purine-rich fish, both obese men and those drinking alcohol also had more gout.

The study, an analysis drawn from data collected during the prospective Health Professionals Followup Study on 47,000 adult men, revealed that among those who ate the most red meat, fish or seafood of any type, risk of gout was increased by as much as 50%. In contrast, risk of contracting gout decreased with increasing intake of dairy products. Men consuming the most dairy products cut their risk of gout by almost 50%! Although some vegetables like beans, peas, lentils, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms are also high in purines, no association was found in this study between eating purine-rich plant foods and an increased risk of gout.

B vitamins for Energy and Cardiovascular Protection

Cow's milk is a very good source of riboflavin and a good source of vitamin B12 . Both B vitamins are important for energy production. Vitamin B12 plays a pivotal role as a methyl donor in the basic cellular process of methylation, through which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B12 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

In addition to its function as a methyl donor, vitamin B12 plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells and prevention of anemia, is also needed for nerve cells to develop properly, and helps cells metabolize protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) plays at least two important roles in the body's energy production. When active in energy production pathways, riboflavin takes the form of flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) or flavin mononucleotide (FMN). In these forms, riboflavin attaches to protein enzymes called flavoproteins that allow oxygen-based energy production to occur. Flavoproteins are found throughout the body, particularly in locations where oxygen-based energy production is constantly needed, such as the heart and other muscles.

Riboflavin's other role in energy production is protective. The oxygen-containing molecules the body uses to produce energy can be highly reactive and can inadvertently cause damage to the mitochondria and even the cells themselves. In the mitochondria, such damage is largely prevented by a small, protein-like molecule called glutathione. Like many "antioxidant" molecules, glutathione must be constantly recycled, and it is vitamin B2 that allows this recycling to take place. (Technically, vitamin B2 is a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione reductase that reduces the oxidized form of glutathione back to its reduced version.) Riboflavin been shown to be able to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in people who suffer from them. One cup of cow's milk supplies 14.8% of your daily needs for vitamin B12 and 23.5% of the DV for riboflavin.

A Good Alternative Source of the Omega 3 Fat, Alpha Linolenic Acid

The results of a new research project conducted at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, confirm that organic milk is a good source of omega 3 fats. When compared to conventional milk, organic milk was found to contain up to 71% more omega 3 and to have a better ratio of anti-inflammatory omega 3: pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.

The scientists believe the more natural diet of organically fed cows, which is rich in red clover, resulted in the animals' production of milk much richer in omega 3..

Sally Bagenal, Chief Executive of the UK's leading organic dairy foaming cooperative, OMSCo, said, "This research confirms the potential health benefits of switching to organic milk and cheese – particularly for those groups who don't consume the recommended amount of oily fish…"

Drinking just 10 ounces a day of organic milk provides approximately 10% of the UK’s DRI for the omega 3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid. Organic cheese is an even better source, with a matchbox sized piece of organic cheese providing up to 88% of the RDI of this omega 3 fat.

Promote Healthy Thyroid Function

Cow's milk is a very good source of iodine, which as a component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), is essential to human life. The thyroid gland adds iodine to the amino acid tyrosine to create these hormones. Without sufficient iodine, your body cannot synthesize them. Because these thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body and play a role in virtually all physiological functions, an iodine deficiency can have a devastating impact on your health and well-being. A common sign of thyroid deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, commonly called a goiter. Goiters are estimated to affect 200 million people worldwide, and in all but 4% of these cases, the cause is iodine deficiency. One cup of cow's milk 39% of the daily value for iodine.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is critically importance for the health of epithelial and mucosal tissues, the body's first line of defense against invading organisms and toxins. The epithelium is a layer of cells forming the epidermis of the skin and the surface layer of mucous and serous membranes. All epithelial surfaces including the skin, vaginal epithelium, and gastrointestinal tract rely upon vitamin A. When vitamin A status is inadequate, keratin is secreted in epithelial tissues, transforming them from their normally pliable, moist condition into stiff dry tissue that is unable to carry out its normal functions, and leading to breaches in epithelial integrity that significantly increase susceptibility to the development of allergy and infection.

So, when our vitamin A levels are low, we are much more susceptible to infections such as recurrent ear infections or frequent colds, or we may wind up with an immune system that is overactive, leading to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, low vitamin A levels in Third World countries are blamed for the huge amounts of complications and deaths due to childhood diseases like measles. When children in these areas are given adequate amounts of vitamin A, the number of deaths from these illnesses drops dramatically, just one demonstration of the importance of vitamin A for strong immune function. Drink a cup of cow's milk, and you will receive 10.0% of the daily value for vitamin A.

Protect Your Heart with Potassium

An important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. . A one cup serving of cow's milk provides 10.8% of the daily value for potassium.

Dietary Calcium Does Not Promote Kidney Stones

Doctors in the U.S. have routinely recommended that people who have had kidney stones avoid calcium-rich foods since most kidney stones are largely composed of calcium. One important downside of this approach has been an increased risk for osteoporosis as calcium is critical for maintaining healthy bones. Fortunately, research now suggests that exactly the opposite advice is the best way to prevent kidney stones.

In older women and men, those consuming more foods rich in calcium and potassium, and drinking lots of fluids, have already been shown to have a lower risk of forming kidney stones.

The most recent study, published in the April 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at the effect of diet on kidney stone formation in younger women. More than 96,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study aged 27 to 44 years participated in this 8-year study. Those who ate the most calcium-rich foods were found to be 27% less to form kidney stones compared to those who ate the least.

While taking supplemental calcium did not appear to increase risk, it didn’t lower it. Other dietary factors that lowered kidney stone formation risk were eating foods high in phytates—a chemical in high fiber foods such as whole grains that binds minerals (37% risk reduction), drinking lots of fluids (32% risk reduction), and eating animal protein (16% risk reduction). Eating foods rich in sugar (sucrose) raised risk of kidney stone formation by 31%.

Description

In the United States, cow’s milk is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even need a description. Whether people pour it over their breakfast cereal or drink a cold glass of milk as is, this beverage has become a staple in the American diet.

Milk is available in a variety of forms that are differentiated by their fat content. The 2% designation refers to the percent of fat by weight that the milk contains. 2% milk is often referred to as reduced-fat milk since it contains les fat than whole milk, which is 3.5% fat.

Milk is the basis for a variety of different dairy products including cheese, yogurt, kefir and ice milk.

The scientific name for a dairy cow is Bos taurus.

History

The practice of drinking cow’s milk is ancient, thought to date back as early as 6,000 – 8,000 B.C. Milk and other dairy products were so highly valued in ancient Egypt that only the very wealthy could afford to consume them. Beginning in the 5th century A.D., the milk of cows and sheep began to be especially prized in Europe, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that the demand for cow’s milk began to outpace that of milk from sheep. Dairy cows did not make an appearance in America until the early 17th century, when they were brought over from Europe. Milk pasteurization began in the very late 19th century, although it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that a more refined technique, ultra-high temperature pasteurization, was introduced.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Re-inspire the kid in you. Enjoy some cookies and milk.

Blend together milk, a banana and your other favorite fruits for a delicious shake.

Add milk, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg to a pot of cooked brown rice to make rice pudding.

Make hot chocolate by combining milk, unsweetened dark chocolate and honey in a saucepan over low heat. Stir frequently.

Splash some milk over your morning bowl of hot cereal.

Safety

Allergic Reactions to Cow's Milk Products

Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Common symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include: chronic gastrointestinal disturbances; frequent infections, e.g. ear infections, bladder infections, bed-wetting; asthma, sinusitis; eczema, skin rash, acne, hives; bursitis, joint pain; fatigue, headache, migraine; hyperactivity, depression, insomnia.

Individuals who suspect food allergy to be an underlying factor in their health problems may want to avoid commonly allergenic foods. Cow's milk is one of the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions. Other foods commonly associated with allergic reactions include: wheat, soy, shrimp, oranges, eggs, chicken, strawberries, tomato, spinach, peanuts, pork, corn and beef.. These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.

Lactose Intolerance
Lactose, or milk sugar, forms about 4.7% of the solids in milk. Many individuals lack the enzyme, lactase, that is needed to digest lactose. For this reason, food intolerances to cow's milk are among the most common food intolerances seen by healthcare practitioners.
Cow's Milk and rBGH

Cows may be treated with a compound called recombinant bovine growth hormone rBGH. Canada has banned the use of this hormone in cows, based on research from Canadian scientists. Their report on rBGH noted that cows injected with the growth hormone reportedly have a 25 percent increase in risk of mastitis, an 18 percent increase in the risk of infertility and a 50 percent increase in the risk of lameness. Another independent Canadian scientific committee found there was no direct risk to human health. Several U.S. groups have opposed the use of the hormone. One concern is that cows with mastitis are treated with antibiotics. The best way to ensure that you buy milk that has not been treated with rBGH is to buy organic dairy products.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Milk, Cow, 2%
1.00 cup
121.20 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
iodine 58.56 mcg 39.0 5.8 very good
tryptophan 0.10 g 31.3 4.6 very good
calcium 296.70 mg 29.7 4.4 very good
vitamin D 97.60 IU 24.4 3.6 very good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.40 mg 23.5 3.5 very good
phosphorus 232.04 mg 23.2 3.4 very good
protein 8.13 g 16.3 2.4 good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 0.89 mcg 14.8 2.2 good
vitamin K 9.76 mcg 12.2 1.8 good
potassium 376.74 mg 10.8 1.6 good
vitamin A 500.20 IU 10.0 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Choi HK, Atkinson K, Karlson EW, Willett W, Curhan G. Purine-rich foods, dairy and protein intake, and the risk of gout in men. N Engl J Med. 2004 Mar 11;350(11):1093-103.
  • Ciampa L. Consumer groups seek to ban growth hormone for dairy cows. Linda Ciampa CNN.com. June 15 1999.
  • Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen. Organic milk—good alternative source of omega 3s. University of Aberdeen Press Release, December 8, 2004.
  • Cornish J, Callon KE, Naot D, Palmano KP, Banovic T, Bava U, Watson M, Lin JM, Tong PC, Chen Q, Chan VA, Reid HE, Fazzalari N, Baker HM, Baker EN, Haggarty NW, Grey AB, Reid IR. Lactoferrin is a potent regulator of bone cell activity and increases bone formationin vivo. Endocrinology. 2004 Sep;145(9):4366-74.
  • Curhan GC, Willett WC, Knight EL, Stampfer MJ. Dietary factors and the risk of incident kidney stones in younger women: Nurses' Health Study II. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Apr 26;164(8):885-91.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Hajjar IM, Grim CE, Kotchen TA. Dietary calcium lowers the age-related rise in blood pressure in the United States: the NHANES III survey. J Clin Hypertens 2003 Mar-2003 Apr 30; 5(2):122-6.
  • Heaney RP, Davies KM, Barger-Lux MJ. Calcium and weight: clinical studies. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Apr; 21(2): 152S-155S. .
  • Jiang J, Wolk A, Vessby B. Relation between the intake of milk fat and the occurrence of conjugated linoleic acid in human adipose tissue. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Jul;70(1):21-7.
  • Margen S and the Editor, Univ of California at Berkley Wellness Letter. The Wellness Encyclopedia of food and nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates 1992.
  • Skinner JD, Bounds W, Carruth BR, Ziegler P. Longitudinal calcium intake is negatively related to children's body fat indexes. . J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Dec;103(12):1626-31.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Yeager S and the Editors of Prevention Health Books. The Doctor's Book of Food Remedies. Rodale Books 1997.
  • Zemel MB, Thompson W, Milstead A, Morris K, Campbell P. Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obes Res. 2004 Apr;12(4):582-90.

This page was updated on: 2005-05-06 20:55:32
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation