All of us have memories of being forced to drink milk as kids. Milk occupies the prime place of importance in most Indian kitchens, and is considered to be the panacea for a lot of health problems. Yet, milk has also been getting a lot of bad press, with controversial links to heart disease, obesity and even cancer. We speak to a few leading nutritionists to sift fact from fiction.
1. Milk is a complete food.
Milk is a high-nutrient food — it provides us with protein, calcium, vitamins A, B12, and riboflavin, and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. Yet, it lacks two vital nutrients — vitamin C and iron. Substituting food with milk in the long term can lead to anaemia and iron deficiency. Often, if a child misses a meal, parents think that milk is a substitute. In the long term, these children can have anemia. Due to lack of calories, the child is not able to grow. Milk can be a part of a proper balanced meal but thinking that you will be getting all the nutrients from it is not true.
2. It’s okay to have a glass of milk in the morning instead of breakfast.
Being the first meal of the day, your breakfast should have a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fruits. About 40 percent of the breakfast should be in the form of carbohydrates, 25-30 percent should be proteins and the rest in the form of fruits. Milk in itself is not bad but taking only milk for breakfast won’t be a good start to the day. While milk is a good source of protein, our brains also require a supply of glucose in the morning after fasting for 8-10 hours in the night. That can only happen with a proper breakfast.
3. Milk is the best source of calcium.
While milk is a good source of calcium, it is neither the only source of calcium nor the best. Some foods which are better sources of calcium include white sesame seeds (til), ragi, rajma and soyabean. For instance, white sesame seeds have 1,300-1,400 mg of calcium per 100 grams, as compared to just 280-300 mg per 100 ml of milk. Moreover, it is important to have a good level of vitamin D in your system for the calcium to be properly absorbed.
4. Everyone, irrespective of their age, should drink milk.
After the age of 12, milk should be an optional not mandatory item. Even as a food group, milk does not compete as well with nuts and sesame seeds. For instance, while nuts are a purer form of protein than milk, sesame seeds and ragi flour are better sources of calcium.
In the cities, due to the use antibiotics, pesticides and stress, we don’t have healthy guts and immune systems. If milk causes inflammation in the gut, it can prevent the absorption of calcium.
5. Milk makes your bones stronger.
Milk’s role in promoting bone health among adults is still debatable. In fact, high-dairy eating nations such as the US have much higher rates of osteoporosis as compared to countries that don’t consume a lot of milk, such as Japan, Thailand and other east Asian nations. Drinking milk also does not offer any additional protection against fractures. Moreover, lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk protein may prevent the absorption of calcium.