Cow’s milk is rich in protein and calcium and is a great source of nutrients, making it suitable for people of all ages. However, some people are allergic to cow’s milk. Fortunately, though, there are alternatives that have nutritional values similar to those of cow’s milk such as nut milk and goat’s milk. But before we look at goat’s milk, let's understand why some people are allergic to cow’s milk. There are two main reasons:
• Lactose Intolerance. Cow’s milk contains a sugar called lactose which requires the enzyme lactase for digestion in the small intestine. If the body only has a small amount of lactase or is unable to produce it, the lactase deficiency will lead to the lactose not being digested and accumulating in the large intestine until it forms into gas and fluid. This can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, and nausea which usually occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after drinking cow’s milk.
• Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy. Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy is most commonly found in infants from birth, with most of the parents having a history of allergy or the mother having a provoked allergic reaction due to pregnancy. The condition affects the skin (erythema or hives), the respiratory tract (chronic stuffy nose, mucus, runny nose, dry cough, snoring, wheezing), and the gastrointestinal tract (vomiting, acute diarrhea, diarrhea or chronic constipation). In most cases, as the child ages, symptoms gradually improve and disappear. One possible way to kick this allergy is to abstain from cow’s milk for a year. Parents who are worried that their child won’t get enough nutrients may give them another kind of milk such as mother's milk, goat’s milk, and others.
Benefits of goat’s milk
Goat’s milk is rich in nutrients. One cup (250 ml) provides 9 grams of protein, not to mention good levels of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. In fact, its nutrient profile doesn’t differ much from cow’s milk. Other properties that make goat’s milk a good alternative include:
• Having protein that is easily digested – When goat’s milk meets stomach acid, it clots into milk that is softer than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk contains twice the amount of beta-casein protein as cow’s milk. It also contains 8 times less Alpha S1 protein and casein than cow’s milk, making it easier to digest. This is why doctors often recommend that patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease or gastritis drink goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
• Having a type of fat that has smaller molecules than cow’s milk – The percentage of medium- and short-chain fats in goat’s milk is greater than in cow’s milk. Because the enzyme is better at digesting fat, the body takes less time to digest goat’s milk than cow’s milk.
• Containing less lactose than cow’s milk – Goat’s milk contains 4.1% lactose; less than the 4.7% lactose in cow’s milk.
Those allergic to cow’s milk protein may also be allergic to goat’s milk protein but there is less chance because the amount of allergy-causing protein differs in each type. Those allergic to bovine serum can drink goat’s milk without allergic reactions. As for those with impaired lactose digestion, goat’s milk won’t make the symptoms go away but it will help relieve them.
These days, there are lots of different types of milk to choose from. There’s lactose-free cow’s milk that is kinder to those with lactose-deficiency. There’re plant-based milks such as soy milk which provides similar protein to cow’s milk. And there’s almond milk which is low calorie, so good for weight watchers, and rich in vitamin E. Those allergic to nuts have other options such as rice milk and corn milk, both of which provide energy similar to cow’s milk but with less protein content. However, they also tend to have higher sugar levels, so select carefully.
Those concerned should consult a medical professional to determine the cause of the allergy and choose a suitable substitute for cow’s milk.
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• Mayo Clinic
• The Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Association of Thailand
• Chula Book Center
• Pobpad website
• Faculty of Pharmacy Mahidol University