Many of us are focusing more on our health these days. We’re working out, trying to get enough sleep and discovering the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. We’re also learning that the foods we eat have a direct effect on our bodies—helping us feel stronger, sharper and more energetic—and consuming nutrient-rich meals contributes to healthy skin and bones.
A lot of nutrients are even considered “essential,” meaning they’re required for normal body functions like eyesight and muscle movement. Certain proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals aren’t made by our bodies in sufficient quantities and can only be obtained through diet. Luckily, many essential nutrients are conveniently found in dairy milk, and incorporating milk into our daily recipes is a delicious, convenient and affordable way to ensure our meals are nutrient-rich.
How is milk beneficial to our bodies? Let us count the ways: In partnership with Dairy Farmers of Ontario, we break down 15 essential nutrients found in dairy milk, and why they’re crucial to a healthy diet.
The word “protein” often evokes images of meat, but for many of us trying to reduce our consumption, milk is also an excellent source of protein. With more than 25 percent of the recommended daily value found in a 250mL cup of milk, a milk smoothie or creamy vegetable soup can be just as nutrient-rich as a portion of meat. Protein not only helps build strong muscles, body tissue and antibodies, it’s an important building block of bones, cartilage, skin and blood. This, of course, makes protein crucial for women focused on their fitness, and pulls double-duty by helping to reduce hunger and appetite by leaving you fuller for longer. Additionally, it’s natural to lose bone mass as we age, which can put women at higher risk of osteoporosis after menopause, but protein found in milk helps maintain the health of our bones. Give it up for milk for helping us age gracefully.
If you’re physically active and into fitness, potassium should always be top-of-mind. Not only do minerals and electrolytes support muscle function—helping you lift that much more, or run that much faster—potassium also aids the muscles controlling your heart and breathing. Luckily, a cold glass of milk is a source of potassium, and combined with some granola is a great pre- and post-workout snack to ensure our muscles are getting the nutrients we need to perform at our best.
Calcium might be the nutrient that milk is best known for, at more than 15 percent of your daily value per 250mL cup. It’s no wonder so many of our breakfast foods include a serving of milk to ensure our day gets off to a healthy start—breakfast shake or bowl of cereal with milk, anyone? Calcium helps form strong bones and teeth. For kids, this is especially important to ensure they grow tall and strong, and when we’re older, calcium helps slow down bone-density loss, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis. Moreover, if your body doesn’t receive enough calcium, it takes it from your bones and teeth, where 99 percent of the body's calcium is found. The heart, muscles and nervous system also requires calcium to function properly, as does blood clotting and lowering blood pressure. Calcium just might be milk’s MVP!
Like calcium and other nutrients, Vitamin A helps maintain strong bones and teeth. It also plays a leading role in maintaining a strong immune system—which is especially important during cold and flu season—as well as healthy skin and membranes. However, it’s true superpower is in the development and maintenance of night vision. At more than 25 percent of the daily value of Vitamin A in a 250mL cup, we’re not saying that drinking milk will give you night vision to rival your cat, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is like the body’s composter: it helps break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats we consume, and turns it into energy. Your metabolism has riboflavin to thank.
At more than 25 percent of the recommended daily value in a 250mL serving, milk is an excellent source of Vitamin B12. So what does this essential nutrient do exactly? Well, it aids in the formation of red blood cells, which carries oxygen throughout our bodies. Healthy red blood cells are typically small and round in shape, and when Vitamin B12 is in short supply, red blood cells can become larger and irregular in shape, causing difficulty moving from the bone marrow into the bloodstream. Thus, Vitamin B12 plays an important role in our metabolism and energy levels. Luckily, it’s easy to ensure you’re getting your daily intake of Vitamin B12 by indulging in a milk-infused latte.
Vitamin B6 might be the underdog of essential nutrients, but shouldn’t be ignored. It not only aids in metabolism by helping to turn food into energy, and aiding in tissue formation, it can also be important to hormonal health for women and improving mood. So go ahead and reach for that bar of milk chocolate when you’re in a slump!
Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)
Like all B vitamins, Vitamin B5 helps with metabolism and tissue formation by breaking down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to use as energy. And at more than 15 percent per 250mL cup, milk is a good source of Vitamin B5—try including a glass of milk with your breakfast every morning.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is especially important in the growth and development of kids. Not only does it help with metabolism and tissue formation, but aids in maintaining a healthy nervous and digestive system. Having a hard time getting your kids to eat their vegetables? Try adding milk, pasta noodles and cheese for a creamy casserole dinner.
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Similar to niacin, thiamin aids in metabolism by helping to convert carbohydrates into energy for the body, which is not only vital to the growth and development of kids, but important for adults who need to get through their busy day. As temperatures cool, combine milk, butter, potatoes, herbs and cheese in a casserole dish in the oven to make a hearty and hot potato gratin—a meal the whole family will love.
Milk is fortified with Vitamin D—calcium’s bestie—and is essential to the absorption of other nutrients, especially calcium, which helps the formation of healthy bones and teeth. It’s also been shown to decrease your chance of developing heart disease and plays an important role in warding off depression and anxiety. Stay positive about your diet this winter by adding milk to oven-roasted vegetables, like cauliflower or butternut squash, in a blender for thick and creamy homemade soups.
Zinc is essential in the activity of more than 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and more, yet the body doesn’t produce or store zinc at all. So it’s vital to ensure that it’s part of your daily diet by starting off each morning with milk-stewed oats for a hearty oatmeal. Zinc is also important for healthy skin and wound healing by aiding with collagen synthesis, and it contributes to your immune function by helping with the development and function of immune cells. Pack extra nutrients—and flavour—into a baked chicken breast for dinner by adding onions, sliced mushrooms and a creamy milk-based sauce.
Milk is a good source of selenium, containing over 15 percent of your daily value per 250mL cup, and selenium plays a role in metabolism, thyroid function and protecting the body from damage caused by oxidative stress. Some of our vices and our daily stresses can lead to oxidative stress in the body, which damages healthy cells. Selenium acts as a dietary antioxidant by keeping free radicals produced by metabolic processes high, so after a late night out with friends, chill out and restore your health with an antioxidant-packed blueberry-milk smoothie.
Here’s something to smile about: milk provides a good source of phosphorus—at more than 15 percent per 250mL cup—and phosphorus not only aids with metabolism but helps with the formation and maintenance of strong bones and teeth.
Scheduling a strenuous workout? Plan ahead and fuel up on magnesium accordingly, which helps with muscle function and performance, including the heart muscle. Milk is a source of magnesium, and can be added to healthy muffins with fruit, nuts and seeds as a great grab-and-go option.
With so many essential nutrients found in milk, drinking a glass a day or adding it to recipes seems like a no-brainer; plus, it pairs deliciously with a cookie!