Sheep milk is not as popular as cow milk in the United States, but sheep milk and its products are widely consumed in other parts of the world, especially in the Mediterranean. In fact, Greek feta cheese and Italian ricotta cheese are made from sheep milk. Sheep milk is rich in many nutrients, but it is not recommended that you drink it raw. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA states that drinking raw milk is a health risk because it can contain bacteria such as E. coli. The FDA also assures that pasteurization does not degrade the milk’s nutritional quality in any way.
Protein and Carbohydrate
Sheep milk is richer in protein than either cow or goat milk -- it contains about two percent more. You will find 14.7 grams of protein, or 29 percent of the recommended daily intake, in a 1-cup serving of sheep milk. Protein from mammalian milk is of high quality because it contains all essential amino acids. Getting enough protein is important because your body needs it to grow and repair itself. Sheep milk is also higher in lactose than cow and goat milk and is therefore not recommended for lactose-intolerant individuals.
Energy and Fat Content
Sheep milk contains roughly double the amount of fat than you find in cow and goat milk, with 17 grams of fat in sheep milk compared to 8 grams in cow milk. It also contains considerably more calories -- 265 versus 146 in cow milk -- and therefore might not be the best choice for persons trying to lose weight. However, sheep milk also contains higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid than either cow or goat milk, reports the 2007 issue of “Small Ruminant Research.” Research indicates that conjugated linoleic acid can promote fat loss, as documented in the January 2010 issue of “Nutrition and Metabolism.” This issue also reported that conjugated linoleic acid can improve blood lipid levels and may help prevent diabetes.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Sheep milk is higher in vitamins and minerals than either cow or goat milk. For example, it contains considerably more vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamin B-12. A 1-cup serving contains 10.3 milligrams of vitamin C, or 17 percent of the recommended daily intake based on a 2000 calorie diet. Vitamin C is essential for proper immune function and for collagen synthesis. Riboflavin is needed for good vision, and a 1-cup serving of sheep milk contains 0.9 milligrams, or 51 percent of the RDI. Sheep milk also contains 0.2 milligrams of thiamin, or 11 percent of the RDI. Thiamin is a B vitamin that plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism and muscle contraction. Vitamin B-12 -- in the amount of 1.7 micrograms or 29 percent of the RDI -- participates in the making of red blood cells and the maintenance of the central nervous system. In addition, sheep milk has almost double the calcium content of either cow or goat milk. Calcium is the main mineral in bone and teeth, with 473 milligrams in a 1-cup serving, or 46 percent of the recommended daily intake for a 2000 calorie diet. Sheep milk also has a high phosphorous content, with 387 milligrams or 39 percent of the RDI in a 1-cup serving. MedlinePlus.com reports that phosphorous works closely with the B vitamins in metabolism and muscle contraction. It also supports kidney function and prevents an irregular heart rhythm.
Whenever possible, choose organic products. These products are produced in an environmentally friendly way and more attention is given to the welfare of the animals. Organic sheep milk is also nutritionally superior to non organic. A study reported in the August 2010 of the “Journal of Dairy Research” found that milk from organic sheep had higher levels of monounsaturated fat, conjugated linoleic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids. All these nutrients exert health-promoting benefits including protection from heart disease.
- FDA.gov: The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Moderate Doses of Conjugated Linoleic Acid Reduce Fat Gain, Maintain Insulin Sensitivity Without Impairing Inflammatory Adipose Tissue Status in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet
- Journal of Dairy Research: Differences in Sheep and Goats Milk Fatty Acid Profile Between Conventional and Organic Farming Systems
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Milk, Sheep, Fluid
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C
- MedlinePlus.com: Riboflavin
- MedlinePlus.com: Thiamin
- MedlinePlus.com: Vitamin B-12
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium