Goat milk has roughly the same amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as cow milk but the protein is a different type, so many cow milk allergy sufferers are able to tolerate goat milk. Goat milk protein contains essential amino acids as well as vitamins A and B and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Goat milk must be handled with care to maintain its quality; pasteurization stabilizes the milk (due to regulations, unpasteurized milk is not available in Alberta).
A wide range of products are made from goat milk and are available in Alberta including hard and soft cheeses (chevre), yogurt and ice cream.
From ancient times until today, milk and milk products have been used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. The low pH level of goat milk is close to our skin's own pH, making it a very gentle cleanser. Goat milk also contains alpha-hydroxy acids, which are known for their restorative and rejuvenating qualities. With its natural emollients, goat milk soaps and lotions can relieve dryness and leave skin feeling silky soft. Goat milk soap is often recommended by dermatologists for their patients who suffer from skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne.
While almost every protein in cow's milk has a homologue in goat's milk, there remain essential differences between the two species' proteins. The tendency of goat milk to be more easily digested than cow milk is due to its protein make-up. Goat milk has low levels of the protein alpha s1-casein, a protein that is involved in curd formation. Cow milk has considerably higher levels of alpha s1-casein.
Butterfat in milk is enclosed in tiny globules emulsified in the otherwise water-based solution of sugars, proteins and minerals that are the nonfat portion of milk. The size of these globules has been of interest to people studying the difference between the two species' milk: the goat's milk contains a larger proportion of smaller-sized globules than cow's milk.
Inside the fat globule membrane are the free fatty acids. These are very volatile; the shorter-chain acids more so than the longer chain acids. Goat's milk fat contains larger percentages of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) than does cow's milk. In fact, the names of three fatty acids reflect their association with goats: capric (C10), caprylic (C8), and caproic (C6), which, released from the protection of the fat globule membrane, give goat's milk a "goaty" taste. The fat globule membrane may be damaged by warming or agitation of the milk, by bacteria or somatic cells, or, if the milk is held for more than a day or two, by the action of the enzymes naturally present in the milk.
Although these shorter chain fatty acids are not palatable to many North Americans, they are far from being harmful. Capric, caprylic and other MCT have been used for treatment of malabsorption syndromes, intestinal disorders, coronary diseases, premature infant nutrition, cystic fibrosis, and gallstone problems because of their unique metabolic abilities of providing energy and at the same time, lowering, inhibiting and dissolving cholesterol deposits.
The fat in goat's milk is very slow to rise because goat's milk lacks the "agglutinin" factor which causes cow's milk fat globules to clump together and rise as cream. Goat's milk is often said to be "naturally homogenized".
Goat's milk is a wholesome food which is often fed successfully to infants who cannot have breast milk. Perhaps because of its digestibility, or because of the differences in protein between cow's and goat's milk, it is often tolerated when no other formula proves digestible. Of children who are allergic to cow's milk, few are sensitive to goat's milk, and the mammalian product is much more digestible than any vegetable protein substitute.
Health Canada does not recommend feeding goat's milk to infants until they are nine to twelve months of age months. Most physicians would also prescribe a supplementary vitamin-mineral preparation to avoid deficiencies of iron, folacin and B complex.
All milk for infants should be bought as a pasteurized product and handled in a sanitary manner. Goat's milk is commercially available as fresh milk, or may be obtained as canned or UHT products.
Distinguishing between allergies and lactose intolerance
Allergies and lactose intolerance are different things. An allergic reaction is the body's response to a foreign body (antigen), typically proteins. Goat milk proteins have a slightly different amino acid structure than cow milk proteins. Thus, a person who produces antibodies to cow milk proteins, may not produce antibodies to goat milk proteins. However, there is no guarantee that a person who is allergic to cow milk will not be allergic to goat milk, because the milks are similar. Lactose intolerance results from a person's inability to digest lactose. Lactose is present in all milks. Thus, goat milk can not successfully be substituted for cow milk in cases of lactose intolerance.
* ug/100g = microgram/100g milk
** Human milk is not considered deficient in any nutrients, but is considered the standard for infant feeding.
To compare the milks on a per day basis, /100g values were multiplied by 8 (the average 0-6 month old infant consumes 800 grams of milk/day. It is important to note that the bio-availability of each vitamin orneral may differ. The above numbers do not indicate bio-availability, but research has shown that the iron and B12 in breast milk are significantly more bio-available than in formula or cow milk (this has not been studied for goat milk).