The Impact of Milk in Your Coffee – The Good And The Bad

By | April 18, 2017
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The coffee world is familiar with the use of milk in preparing coffee drinks. Milk’s ability to create perfectly stable foams makes it a favourite among barista coffee makers and customers alike. There are several components found in milk that largely contribute to this ability, and it is these same products that enable the creation of many other daily products found in the market like yoghurt, ice cream, cheese and dairy drinks. Milk proteins and milk fat have crucial importance when creating stable milk foams of stability and attractive texture. However, milk foam creation is not as easy as it sounds. It is an intricate interplay that you have to juggle between harmonising milk proteins – that stabilise air bubbles – with milk fat (which is loved for adding flavour, but an agent of destabilising milk foam)

The Contents of a Cup of Milk

But before we get into the details of how to best merge your milk with coffee, let’s consider briefly what a cup of milk entails.

  1. Milk Fat

According to lab analysis 4 – 5% of cow’s milk is made up of fat. And not just fat but a complex combination of various types of fats. Milk-fat-globules, which range from ~0.1 to 10 micrometres, provide a membrane that gives protection to the milk fat from degradation or oxidation by enzymes that generate an off-flavour in milk. Triglycerides are surrounded by a membrane that consists of phospholipids, protein and glycerides, and together they form the milk fat globule.

  1. Milk Proteins

There are two classes of proteins that can be found in milk, the whey and casein proteins. These proteins are found on the top surface of milk fat globules after homogenization of milk. The caseins represent ~80 percent of total protein of the 3 – 4% of the protein in cow milk. The remaining percentage is composed of the whey proteins and small aggregates also referred to as individual proteins. However, extended aggregation of both whey and caseins proteins through heating using sterilisation (e.g., 10 min at 115 degrees Celsius) and UHT treatment (e.g., 140 degrees for 5 sec) can cause extra viscosity. But such effects can be limited through commercial pasteurisation (e.g., 72 degrees for 15 sec). Scientifically, it is the milk proteins that merge with the coffee globules to give rise to the signature taste that characterises lattes and cappuccinos. And the flavour gets better if the coffee was hot in the first place.

  1. Homogenised milk

Homogenization is used to reduce the level milk fat globules from forming a cream layer on top of milk which normally occurs during storage. Milk creaming occurs due to lower concentration of fat contained in the milk. Slowing the creaming process is achieved through reduction of milk fat globules sizes. Homogenisation involves passing of milk through a small valve at great pressure. The process disrupts the fat globules. The science applied here is the creation of more space for the surface area of the flat globules, which makes it possible for proteins to get absorbed by the surface occupied by fat globules. In short, the moral of the story is that no two cartons of milk are the same – the same way no two coffee companies churn out the exact similar quality of coffee. In the same spectrum, there isn’t a universal metric measure for how much milk you should add to your black coffee. It all comes down to personal preference, whether you like your coffee ‘Italian’, ‘French’ or American’ or the style you grew up taking. They are good recipes that outline that, nonetheless.

The Effects of Milk in Coffee – Good or Bad?

Now that you already know what is really in every cup of milk you pull out your fridge, it is only fair if we delved a little of the impact of adding dairy to your daily cuppa. (See what I did there?) And far from the analogy – that milk only enhances the flavour and colour of your coffee – it turns out that there’s actually more to it that what meets your eye and nose every morning. It’s not just a matter of mere preference anymore. But before we get started it is good to acknowledge that regular consumption of coffee is, in fact, healthy. Some of the major benefits associated with coffee include enhancing your memory and lowering risks of developing liver cancer. Nevertheless, depending on how you take your coffee, there are unique benefits that you stand to enjoy.

Current Research on the Effects of Milk in Coffee

Researchers at Nestle’s Research Centre, located in Switzerland, recently discovered the lasting release of beneficial polyphenols after coffee intake. These scientists then moved on to examine how non-dairy creamer and milk are affecting the availability of these important nutrients. Their research is helping people get a better understanding of whether there is a big difference in consuming black coffee or coffee with milk.

What are Polyphenols?

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Polyphenols is the name of the antioxidants found in coffee. These antioxidants are quite important as they are linked with various health-promoting benefits. Nevertheless, their availability in humans is an area that is yet to be thoroughly studied. Nestle scientists are keen on understanding the exact polyphenol bio-availability to enable the delivery of optimum amounts of these important antioxidants in the coffee they produce.

Research Findings

In the current research, healthy adults were given various varieties of coffee from instant coffee to coffee with milk. After they had finished their drinks, the researchers waited 12 hours and then collected blood samples from all the participants. Polyphenol equivalents in blood plasma (ferulic, iso-ferulic and caffeic acids) were measured, and the overall bio-availability of the various coffee varieties was established. The results of the study showed that the addition of milk to coffee didn’t have any effect on polyphenol bio-availability. Nevertheless, while adding a non-dairy creamer to coffee delayed the time the polyphenol equivalents appeared within the blood, it did not affect to overall amount delivered. To sum up, polyphenols eventually reached the bloodstream regardless of which coffee was consumed.

Evaluating the Results

Coffee is one of the best sources of antioxidants, especially polyphenols, and antioxidants are important in keeping the body healthy. The study by Nestle researchers finally showed that an equal amount of polyphenols is delivered in the black coffee and the alternative of coffee without milk. Nevertheless, the scientists are keen on advancing their study of bioactive ingredients in coffee so as to deliver them to the consumers in a great tasting and effective way.

Should You Drink your Coffee Black or White?

  1. Don’t Add Milk if you Want to Lose Weight

Apparently if you want to lose weight and are actively working towards that goal, having your coffee without milk for a while will help you achieve your goal. Black coffee has significantly lower calories as compared to having coffee with both milk and sugar. In fact, at only 4.7 calories per cup, black coffee will assist you in keeping track of your calorie intake during your weight loss period. In contrast, coffee that contains sugar and milk has an astounding 56.6 calories.

  1. Add Milk to Your Coffee in the Evening

Having pure black coffee energises you, giving you much more mental awareness and clarity since there’s no cream or milk to limit its effects. Thus, drinking a cup of black coffee in the evening may end up keeping you awake for a long time late into the night. Taking the additional 50 calories from coffee with milk would be the healthier option and will keep you from disrupting your sleep patterns. For those who already have difficulty sleeping at night, experts recommend not having any coffee, whether black or with milk, after sunset. Otherwise, if you are planning on doing something important in the evening and are starting to feel sleepy, taking black coffee will be more effective at keeping you awake for longer.

  1. Add Milk if you Suffer from Acidity

People with acidity are advised to avoid taking coffee, particularly black coffee since it has an extremely high pH level. Besides, having concentrated black coffee also increases acid concentration in your urine. Thus, the best option is not only having coffee with milk but also ensuring you drink enough water and add watery foods such as cucumbers to your diet to help in neutralising this effect.

  1. Add Milk to Prevent Oesophageal Cancer

One of the concerns about coffee consumption is that fact that it results in oesophageal cancer. It is common knowledge that drinking a very hot cup of coffee will increase the chances of getting thermal burns in the sensitive oesophagus tissues. And in case you didn’t know, these burns are a vital part of the process that contributes to the danger of getting Oesophageal malignancies. However, through adding milk to your cup of coffee, greatly lowers the temperature of your drink and can make it much safer. .

The Bottom Line

It is clear that there are both benefits and drawbacks to adding milk to coffee. But even with that being said, health experts do not recommend using whole milk when taking coffee due to its somewhat high carbs count and allergenic potential. Rather, a good alternative is using a hypoallergenic, calcium-fortified, low carbohydrate almond milk. This way you are getting better nutrition and the almond milk also contains fewer calories. Using almond milk offers a good way of improving the quality and taste of your coffee through adding some calcium to the drink and also lowering the temperature simultaneously. The other simple method to use to enhance your cup of coffee is by adding a dash of cinnamon. Studies show that cinnamon helps fight insulin resistance and slows down ageing.

That said, it seems as if there are drawbacks and unique benefits in both sides. Therefore, it’s simply a matter of what really matters to you and, of course, your personal preference.

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