Shortly after the waving of the checkered flag signaled his triumph in the 105th Indianapolis 500 several weeks ago, four-time champion Helio Castroneves hoisted a milk bottle and took a swig.
Dating to the 1930s, the traditional post-race drink (or self-drenching shower) in victory lane went away for a while before firmly taking hold during the mid-1950s. Ever since, the winning racers have enjoyed the dairy product while basking in the applause of fans.
There was one notable speed bump along the way when, in 1993, Castroneves’ fellow Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi, had the audacity to gulp orange juice instead — a move the citrus-farm owner likely intended as a way to promote the industry in his home country. The snub didn’t sit well with Indy fans, and Fittipaldi later took a sip of milk to try to soothe bruised feelings.
A week later, during driver introductions at a race in Milwaukee, fans were still sore and let Fittipaldi know it. The cascade of boos in Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” so soon after his faux pas maybe shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
Another recurring event involving milk seems to be the release of study results that address the impact consuming the dairy product has on health. Often these are far from celebratory, with their focus on perceived negatives, having been intended by critics just for that purpose.
The dairy industry works hard to counter these claims, citing research that points to the many benefits of consuming milk, including it being a source of high-quality protein, as well as offering an array of essential nutrients and its connection to improving bone health.
And now, can lowering cholesterol levels and cutting coronary disease risk possibly be added to that list?
Lower Cholesterol From Dairy?
That argument was given a boost by the findings of researchers in England, Australia and New Zealand. Their work, published in late May in the International Journal of Obesity, reviewed three large population studies.
Researchers found that those “who regularly drank high amounts of milk had lower levels of both good and bad cholesterol, although their BMI (body mass index) levels were higher than non-milk drinkers,” according to ScienceDaily, a website focusing on the latest news in science, health and other fields. The analysis also suggested that consuming milk led to a 14% lower risk of coronary heart disease.
“The team of researchers took a genetic approach to milk consumption by looking at a variation in the lactase gene associated with digestion of milk sugars known as lactose. The study identified that having the genetic variation where people can digest lactose was a good way for identifying people who consumed higher levels of milk.”
ScienceDaily noted that this research follows several contradictory studies that had previously looked at finding a connection between higher dairy intake and diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
“The study certainly shows that milk consumption is not a significant issue for cardiovascular disease risk even though there was a small rise in BMI and body fat among milk drinkers,” said researcher Vimal Karani, a professor of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. “What we do note in the study is that it remains unclear whether it is the fat content in dairy products that is contributing to the lower cholesterol levels or it is due to an unknown ‘milk factor.’”
The researchers concluded that more study is needed regarding milk consumption’s impact on health, and no doubt more studies will be forthcoming. But these findings, at least, offer an encouraging counterpoint to those who promote a more unfavorable view.
Meanwhile, those of us who can and do enjoy dairy products should make our own choices about what to eat and drink as part of a balanced diet.
As for traditions, one you’ll find each year in Lancaster Farming’s B Section during June Dairy Month is a showcase of the many ways to enjoy the products farmers make possible — from cheese and yogurt to butter and ice cream and, of course, milk.
The large volume and range of recipes readers submit are as impressive as they are daunting. The dilemma, to me, would be deciding which to pick from among the dozens of possible new favorites. That’s a problem easily solved by those who simply stash away the entire sections for enjoyable reading later.
I’ll probably save a recipe here or there that sparks my interest — tasty-sounding, quickly made and requiring as few ingredients as possible are criteria that move them toward the top of my personal list.
I can already tell this isn’t going to be easy.