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If you’re a parent in India, odds are you’re frequently reminding your children to “drink their milk.”
Is milk really that nutritious, more so than other foods? Do you ever wonder why milk is the one and only food we readily give our babies & children multiple times per day?
The Indian Dairy Council, countless parenting books, the media, and doctors have been telling everyone for years that kids need milk to stay healthy. If you don’t give your kid milk, well, you are just considered a terrible parent.
BUT DO KIDS REALLY NEED TO GUZZLE UP THE WHITE STUFF?
Turns out, apparently not! It turns out the case for milk is fairly weak. Although milk is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, other food sources also provide these nutrients. What's more, there's no evidence that drinking milk reduces bone fractures, and drinking too much can lead to anaemia and may contribute to obesity, experts now say.
Not a magic food, but not a dietary demon either!
Current Research has now proved that contrary to past belief, milk is not a super food that automatically leads to steel in the bones or gives an increased life span.
However, it’s not without its benefits either. Although milk is the best source of liquid calcium, there are many other alternative sources of this magic mineral as well that can be taken in solid form.
For overall better bones and general good health, it’s better to ensure that the entire family is gets in enough exercise rather than pushing kids to “finish that milk”.
The Good, The Overhyped and The Ugly about Milk
- Calcium in milk helps bones grow strong.
- Milk is fortified with Vitamin D, which can be made by the body when it is exposed to sunlight but is hard to find in food sources.
- The proteins in milk are easily digested and absorbed by the body.
- It’s a boon for picky eaters, as it’s an easy, nutrient rich way to deliver the required amounts of proteins and calories.
- You need not force kids to drink milk, as calcium is found in other sources such as nuts, beans, green vegetables, etc.
- The notion that kids NEED milk to keep their bones strong due to the calcium in it is oversold, as it is exercise and physical activity that is important for bone growth and not milk.
- The essential nutrient Vitamin D also does not occur naturally in milk. You can opt for other fortified foods instead.
- The amount of protein in milk is also available in plenty from lots of other sources, such as eggs and beans.
- Too much milk consumption leads to too much calcium in the body which inhibits iron absorption and ultimately leads to anemia.
- Lactose Intolerance is a big issue!
- Obesity is a common side effect of too much milk consumption as full-fat milk has high levels of saturated fat. Low fat and skim milk is not a solution, because kids feel less full after drinking it.
- The biggest problem with giving kids too much milk is that they will not eat other healthy foods on the plate.
Dr. Madhurima Sinha, who is a Consultant in Dietetics & Nutrition at CARE Hospital, Nampally, Hyderabad gives us the following pointers:-
Is there anything bad about drinking milk?
“If your child is drinking two cups of milk or less per day, there is no harm, unless lactose intolerance runs in your family. More milk than that might begin to interfere with their intake of other foods. Milk is filling, and if kids drink a lot of milk they probably won’t be as hungry for other nutritious foods – vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. If your child isn’t hungry at mealtimes or seems to only want milk, you may want to offer less milk, less often.
On asking if Milk should be completely cut out of the diet of a child:-
I personally don’t think so, though you could certainly choose to offer other dairy products – plain yogurt, paneer, etc. – in place of some servings of milk, since eating your calories tends to be better than drinking them.
If milk is given to kids, keep these four things in mind:-
- Portion size. Limit consumption to 2 cups per day for young kids and 3 cups for older kids. ( i.e. 400-500 ml)
- Timing. Serving milk right before a meal might fill your child up and make them less hungry for other nutritious foods.
- Tetra Pak Milk i.e. aseptic packaged milk is the highest quality milk available today which is most suitable for children because of its intact nutritive quality and its ensured safety from contamination and adulteration.
- Lactose intolerance- Diarrhea, cramping, bloating or gas after eating dairy can all be signs of lactose intolerance. In this case, you can opt for soy milk, coconut milk or almond milk for your kids, but in the same quantity as regular milk.
Milk is not a superfood, but it does provide valuable nutrients that can be hard to get into kids in other ways. Children seem to have good iron stores and vitamin D levels at around two glasses a day, which is what I recommend to all my patients.
But if a kid simply hates the taste or has trouble digesting milk, parents don't have to push it. Instead, they can serve other foods to make sure their kids get proper, wholesome nutrition.