What is in Goat Milk?
Goat milk is packed full of nutrients. A single glass contains approximately one quarter of your daily calcium and vitamin A. It is rich in phosphorus and, if fortified for commercial sale, vitamin D, which are all essential for bone health.
According to the Journal of Dairy Science, “Goat milk has been an important part of human nutrition for millennia, in part because of the greater similarity of goat milk to human milk, softer curd formation, higher proportion of small milk fat globules, and different allergenic properties compared to cow milk.” Protein levels in goat milk vary by breed as well as season, type of feed, and stage of lactation. For instance, Toggenburg goat milk is 2.7 percent protein while Nubian goat milk is 3.7 percent protein by volume. On average, a cup of goat milk provides 18 percent of the recommended daily value of protein for a 2,000 calorie diet. Milk from dwarf goats is higher in fat, protein, and lactose than that of other breeds.
How Does it Compare to Cow Milk? Who Should Drink Goat Milk?
According to Michelle, “People may choose goat milk as an alternative to traditional cow milk dairy products for a variety or reasons. While cow milk and goat milk nutritional profiles may be similar at first glance, there are several small but potentially significant differences that can impact tolerance and palatability.”
Lactose: Both goat milk and cow milk contain lactose as their primary source of carbohydrate. Many people, especially as they age, have difficulties tolerating lactose and may struggle to meet the USDA guidelines of three servings of dairy per day. Goat milk is slightly lower in lactose than cow milk. Switching from cow milk to goat milk products may help those with mild to moderate lactose intolerance continue to enjoy dairy’s valuable contribution to a balanced diet.
Protein: Although the main protein in both cow and goat milk is casein, the forms of casein between these milks is slightly different. In cow milk it is alpha (α-s1) casein. In goat milk it is beta (β) casein. Allergies occur when immunoglobulin E (IgE), part of the body’s immune system, binds to food molecules. A protein in the food is usually the problem. Because the proportions of these proteins are slightly different between the two types of milk, sometimes people who have an allergic response to cow milk will tolerate goat milk just fine.
Fat: Smaller fat globules in goat milk can be broken down and digested more quickly than cow milk. Goat milk also has a higher proportion of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), a special type of fat that bypasses normal fat breakdown and instead is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. MCT is better tolerated in people who have issues absorbing fat and, in some studies, has even been shown to help with weight loss.
Are There Any Dangers?
As a pediatric dietitian, Michelle has seen firsthand the dangers of feeding goat milk to infants. “Goat milk can be a great supplement for children and adults, but is not appropriate for infants. In the early 1900s, infants fed primarily goat milk would commonly develop anemia from the lack of folate and B12. The problem was so prevalent that it was nicknamed ‘Goat milk anemia,'” she warns. “Today we will still see children come to the hospital with goat milk anemia, typically as a result of parents giving homemade infant formulas. Even when used as part of a custom recipe to address these deficiencies, providing goat milk to infants can result in vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies, poor growth, impaired kidney functions, and even seizures if the recipe is too diluted.”
“While friends or strangers on the internet may have stories of infants surviving and even thriving on goat milk,” Michelle warns, “some people smoke cigarettes their whole lives and don’t get cancer; that doesn’t make it safe. Mom’s breast milk is the optimal food for baby. If that is not an option, then a commercially prepared infant formula would be the recommended alternative.” She adds, “I’ve seen studies where researchers in other countries are working to develop goat milk based infant formulas. Such formulas have previously been available in Europe but are now being removed from the market due to safety concerns from the European Union. Infant formula is the most closely monitored food substance in this country. Precisely because infants are one of the populations least suited to handle pathogens and improper nutrition.”
She also warns about substituting goat milk in people with milk protein allergies. “Many people who are allergic to cow milk will also be to goat milk. Consult a physician prior to trialling goat milk in a cow milk allergic patient especially in patients with anaphylactic type reactions.”
What about Raw Goat Milk?
A Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation which champions raw milk benefits claims, “Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12, and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens, is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.” It adds, “Real milk that has been produced under sanitary and healthy conditions is a safe and healthy food. It is important that the cows are healthy (tested free of TB and undulant fever) and do not have any infections (such as mastitis).”
The Center for Disease Control says most of the nutritional benefits of drinking milk are available from pasteurized milk without the risk of disease that comes with drinking raw milk. “Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. While it is possible to get food-borne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” While most healthy people will recover from an illness caused by harmful bacteria in raw milk — or in foods made with raw milk — within a short period of time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life threatening. Pregnant women run a serious risk of becoming ill from the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause miscarriage, fetal death, or illness or death of a newborn. “Drinking raw milk or eating raw milk products is like playing Russian roulette with your health,” says John Sheehan, director of the Food and Drug Administration‘s Division of Dairy and Egg Safety. “We see a number of cases of food-borne illness every year related to the consumption of raw milk.”
Many people who believe goat milk will taste odd or “goat-y” are pleasantly surprised once they actually taste it. Don’t be afraid to give it a try and when planning a healthy, balanced diet, don’t overlook goat milk benefits. Because of the differences in lactose, fats, and proteins, people with both intolerances and allergies to cow milk often tolerate goat milk with no problems. However, infants should never be fed goat milk because of the severe health risks. It is easy to pasteurize your goat milk at home by heating it to 63°C (150°F) for at least 30 minutes or 72°C (162°F) for at least 15 seconds. Then enjoy a safe, healthy glass of deliciousness.
Originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
Goat Milk: Composition, Characteristics. Encyclopedia of Animal Science
Getane G, Mebrat A, Kendie H. Review on Goat Milk Composition and its Nutritive Value. Journal of Nutrition and Health Sciences. 2016:3(4)
Basnet S, Schneider M, Gazit A, Gurpreet M, Doctor A. Fresh Goat’s Milk for Infants: Myths and Realities- A Review. Pediatrics. 2010: 125(4)