Milk’s Identikit Explained According To Its Macronutrients (Protein, Fat, And Sugars)

Every time you think about milk, you probably, even instinctively, associate it first with its heap of calcium, don’t you?


That being the case, time to read where milk’s greatest nutritional benefits are situated:


  • Protein

    Milk’s main nutritional value is often attributed to its amount of calcium. This is only partially true; actually, the most valuable of milk’s qualities is its pool of excellent proteins, which are nestled in a lower quantity of calories, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than its dairy derivatives (cheeses) and other animal-origin foods (eggs, meat and fish). As a matter of fact, milk proteins are classified as having a complete profile in terms of their essential amino acids, protein elements that the human body cannot synthesize but that it needs for growth and cell renewal. Therefore, it is easy to see why milk is the food par excellence for newborns, guaranteeing them proper body growth.
    Other foods, such as parmigiano and mozzarella cheeses (see table below), perform better as a reserve of calcium than milk; but, as already mentioned, they are also more caloric and contain more cholesterol and saturated fat. Consuming these foods every day would be unwise, whereas you can afford to consume a glassful of milk every day.

(Per 100 g)
Whole milk
Parmigiano cheese
Mozzarella cheese
61 kcal 392 kcal 254 kcal
3.2 g 35.7 g 24.3 g
3.5 g 25.8 g 15.9 g
Saturates 1.9 g 16.4 g 10.1 g
Cholesterol 10 mg 68 mg 64 mg
4.8 g 3.2 g 2.8 g
Sugars 5 g 0.8 g 1.1 g
113 mg 1,184 mg 782 mg



  • Fat

    When buying milk, the second most common criterion for the purchase, the first being the choice between pasteurized or UHT (ultra-high-temperature processed) milk, is often based on fat concentration (whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk). When making this choice, you might think that by buying low-fat milk or skimmed milk you are doing yourself a favor in regard to your diet. Actually, the percentage of fat in whole milk is not high (3.5-4%), so unless you have to monitor your cholesterol levels in a low-calorie diet prescribed by a doctor, I personally recommend whole milk as it tastes better and won’t have a negative impact on your body shape. Moreover, fat-reduced versions of milk in Europe and North America are slightly cheaper than whole milk for two central reasons. The first is that milk’s cream, before being skimmed, is pasteurized and homogenized and then added back to the milk according to the different percentages of fat marketed. The second is that milk’s cream is a more highly-valued ingredient for the dairy industry, which needs it to produce butter.


  • Sugars

    Milk’s sweet aspect is made up almost entirely of a type of sugar found only in milk (5% of its total volume) and from which it draws its name: lactose. This sugar is formed from two components, known as monosaccharides: glucose and galactose. Milk sugar has a sweetness about 6 times lower than glucose alone. This is why lactose-free milk tastes sweeter than regular milk, as its glucose is present in its free form thanks to the inclusion of the digestion-inducing enzyme, lactase, which makes it tolerable to those who are deficient in this enzyme. A lactase deficiency is variable among the global population. The causes can be either genetic-/ethnic-related or induced temporarily by the dietary style: in particular, people of North and Central Europe, accustomed to consuming cow’s milk, have low incidences of lactose intolerance (between 5 and 30%). Whereas, Southern Europeans, Asians, Africans and Americans in general show a medium (50%) to high incidence (70%). Despite the fact that these numbers may look high, the symptoms manifest only in cases of severe intolerance. The synthesis ability of the enzyme lactase, in fact, is greatly reduced following the weaning stage, and when the cause of its absence is genetic, symptoms can manifest not only in adults but, in rare cases, also in newborns.
    Today, the market offers food products made from milk suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. Apart from the highly digestible lactose-free milk, lactose-intolerant consumers can purchase aged cheeses, like Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmesan, and yogurt. In the former, the lactose is found almost entirely in the whey, a by-product of cheese production and pressing. In the latter’s case, yogurt contains lactic acid bacteria that break down the lactose.




The milk of primates, including humans, is the sweetest (7g lactose per 100g milk); in fact, the main role of lactose is to provide the newborn with galactose for the synthesis of cell components in the nervous system. Jenny’s milk (female donkey) is the closest to human milk in terms of its nutritional composition and immunological properties. Of course, while breast milk is the best during a newborn’s first period of life, the most commonly used powdered milk for newborns is cow’s milk due to costs.