Goat Milk Fat and Corresponding Health Implications
The milk fat, or lipid, content of goat milk ranges from 3% to 6%, with the variations due to factors such as breed (Pygmies and Nubians generally have the highest milkfat content), feed and lactation stage.
This nutrient category, which includes cholesterol and the fatty acids, has taken on a negative public image, due to extensive health problems associated with the typical high-fat, high-calorie Western diet, combined with other unhealthy food choices.
Not all fat is created equal!
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However, both fat and cholesterol are essential nutrients for the body. Cholesterol is obtained through the diet exclusively from animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy products, and is also produced by the liver. Because of this internal production, dietary reduction of cholesterol has a limited effect on overall cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is needed by the body for building and maintaining cell membranes. It also aids in cell transport functions and nerve conduction.
Looking at the USDA nutrient table for goat milk, we see that the cholesterol content of goat milk is 11 grams/100 grams of milk, which is slightly higher than the 10 grams found in cow's milk, although some reports list goat milk as having less cholesterol than cow's milk. The percentage of saturated fats for goat milk is also analogous to that for cow's milk.
In the category of monounsaturated fatty acids, known to be associated with cardiovascular health, goat milk has higher amounts.
At first glance, then, there seem to be only marginal benefits to goat milk in the fat category, as we are conditioned to look at "low saturated fat/low cholesterol" as being a major determining factor in comparing foods for health benefits.
However, as you'll soon see, there are probably healthier ways to cut fat than by eliminating goat milk from your diet!
Two qualities regarding lipids in the composition of goat milk fat are very significant at differentiating the special health qualities of goat milk. These are:
- the percentages of medium chain fatty acids, and
- the fat globule size
First, we'll look at the issue of fat globule size. Fat globules in goat milk are smaller than in cow's milk. This smaller size, combined with the lack of agglutinin, a protein that causes fat molecules to clump together, and which is present in cow's milk, has several implications.
One, because these two factors cause the fat to be more evenly dispersed in goat milk, it has a creamier texture in the mouth (and I personally recommend it as a creamer for coffee!).
Two, it means the fat (cream) does not easily separate from the remaining ingredients, causing the milk to remain naturally homogenized.
It is theorized that the smaller fat globule size, combined with the fact that the globules do not clump together as in cow's milk, also contribute to the higher digestibility of goat milk, and the better tolerance of it for individuals with certain digestive disorders.
Next, we'll consider one of the most important components of goat milk in terms of proven health benefits: the percentage of medium chain fatty acids.
Medium chain fatty acids, also known as medium chain triglycerides, or MCT, are the lipids in the nutrient chart from 6:0 to 14:0. A triglyceride is a combination of 3 fatty acid molecules with a glycerol molecule.
The first three of these MCT, 6:0, 8:0 and 10:0, are known as caproic, caprylic and capric acid, respectively. If the roots of these words seem familiar, it's because they're derived from the word caprine, which means goat!
These three fatty acids comprise 15% of the total of goat milk fat, versus only 5% for cow's milk. It is also these three compounds that give improperly handled goat milk its characteristic off-taste and smell. No wonder they named them after the goat!
As a whole, goat milk has about twice the MCT as cow's milk--35% compared to 17%.
Now, for the big question: Why is that important?
First, MCT have the recognized ability to provide energy without being deposited in fatty tissue of the body. And at the same time, they have the triple effects of:
- lowering cholesterol
- dissolving cholesterol deposits, and
- preventing cholesterol deposits
The health benefits of MCT are widely known by the medical community, which uses them as treatment for a variety of conditions, including:
- malabsorption syndrome
- coronary diseases
- cystic fibrosis
- intestinal disorders
- pre-mature infant nutrition
and many others.
Furthermore, the already naturally supercharged content of MCT in the composition of goat milk can be further enhanced through simple dietary control of the goats' feed consumption. It's been shown that goats fed a higher level of pasture forage versus feed concentrates produce milk fat with higher concentrations of MCT.
This simple controlling factor can change something good into something even better...
(See Goat Milk Composition for more information on factors influencing nutrients in goat milk.)
As you can see, not all fat in milk is a bad thing!
Concerning health benefits, MCT and the unique digestibility properties of goat milk fat provide more than a compelling reason for including goat milk in your diet!
Attaie, R. and R.L. Richtert, "Size Distribution of Fat Globules in Goat Milk," Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 83, no. 5, 2000, pp. 940-944.
Bruhn, John C., "Dairy Goat Milk Composition," http://www.goatworld.com/articles/goatmilkcomposition.shtml.
Haenlein, George F.W., "Composition of Goat Milk and Factors Affecting It," http://goatconnection.com/articles/publish/article_70.shtml, October 28, 2002.
Haenlein, G.F.W., "Goat Milk in Human Nutrition," Small Ruminant Research, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 155-163, February 2004.
Haenlein, George F.W., "Why Goat Milk?" http://www.goatworld.com/articles/whygoatmilk.shtml#about.
Morales, E. Ramos, G. de la Torre Adarve, F.D. Carmona Lopez, F. Gil Extremera, M.R. Sanz Sampelayo and J. Boza, "Nutritional Value of Goat and Cow Milk Protein," Options Mediterraneennes, Series A, No. 67, pp. 167-170.
Nutritional studies are ongoing, so check back here for any new information related to the health benefits of goat milk fat!
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