It is often said that humans are not meant to drink cow’s milk. Hence the ever rising number of people who display various degrees of lactose intolerance. Aside from that, is milk a good thing when considered from the point of view of a low sodium diet?
Brief history of drinking milk
You may be surprised to know that when compared to beer, milk of other species is a relatively recent innovation in human societies. There is evidence that beer was being made as early as 13,000 years ago. Milk from domesticated animalas only started its way into our kitchens no earlier than 9,000 B.C.E. (and probably around 3,000 B.C.E. on the American continent). Perhaps this explains the fact that humans still are not fully used to this excellent product? In the Middle Ages, milk received spiritual connotations, as drinking it was compared to receiving sustenance for the soul from above. Milk was not readily available and it’s animal origin led to its prohibition by the Catholic Church as a food acceptable on fast days. Curiously, almond milk, almost universal in our times as a milk substitute due to lactose intolerance, was already gaining popularity in the Middle Ages because of restrictions imposed on consuming milk. In fact, only children and the infirm could count on drinking milk regularly from a cup, as just small amounts of it were mostly used for cooking.
Milk indeed was a somewhat revered substance in the Middle Ages, although the term “virtuous white liquor” is due to the name of a chapter in Deborah M. Valenze’s book Milk. She presents no evidence for the use of this phrase, let alone its popularity in common parlance.
The Renaissance valued milk both for its taste and supposed medicinal quality. It was deemed to be a suitable remedy for melancholy. Virtue and goodness continued to be associated with milk. It was also a part of the bucolic ideal life desired by intellectuals of the time.
George Cheyne (1672 - 1743), a British doctor who practiced medicine in Bath and London, came up with a diet of vegetables and milk, thus launching the ever popular milk diet. Cheyne wrote in a humorous poem, replaying to another doctor:
Were you to milk and straw confin'd Thrice happy might you be Perhaps you might regain your mind And from your wit get free.
In subsequent centuries, milk constantly rose in popularity, achieving its modern status with the advance of mass farming, pasteurization and refrigitation. Conveniently, religious restrictions became less of a force in modern days.
Sodium content in milk
For the most part, sodium occurs in milk naturally, instead of being introduced into the product during processing. The amount processing and the amount of liquid content determines the sodium levels for a particular dairy product.
Whole milk contains about 98mg of sodium per cup (although there is only 1/2 cup in a serving of milk). The daily recommended intake of sodium for a grown-up in the U.S. is 2,300mg. As a rule, it’s best to only consume foods that represent no more than 5% of this daily value. Milk should not put you over the edge, unless you drink a lot. But dairy products as a whole are not always so safe and beneficial.
Evaporated milk contains 267mg of the salty stuff. However, if you consider that evaporated milk is produced by the process of reducing the liquid content this number is not surprising. By the same token, cheese can be thought of as highly concentrated milk, with salt added for taste and moisture removal. Cheese, of course, is typically very high in sodium, with the exception of classic Swiss cheese which does not require salt to remove extra moisture. A single slice of many cheeses will contain 400mg of sodium and more.
Is milk a safe choice for a low sodium diet?
As long as you stay within the limits of a single serving per day, such as adding milk to your otherwise low sodium cereal, there should be no reason for concern. Other considerations aside, milk is an important product: it is full of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B and D, potassium and protein. Just remember that milk is not entirely free of salt. If in doubt, drink water. Staying hydrated is extremely important if you try to make sure that extra sodium is flushed out of your system.