A natural British gem, packed full of vital nutrients that are poorly available from other food sources. Why then, are we drinking less?
MILK – COMMON CONCERNS
Lactose intolerance and Cow’s milk allergy? Cow’s Milk Allergy is an immune reaction to the protein in milk. It is uncommon, occurring mostly in young children who often grow out of it. Lactose intolerance is a life-long, reduced ability to digest this sugar in milk, due to lacking the gene for the enzyme Lactase. Fortunately, as lactose is also digested by ‘good’ gut bacteria in our large intestine (they extract its energy for our bodies to use, by fermentation), small amounts of milk can still be tolerated. Fermented dairy foods like yogurt and cheese in which the lactose has already been broken down are also a good choice.
Bite-sized interest - Lactose intolerance
Dairy food is fattening? Even whole milk is only 3.5% fat. Its high protein levels help us to feel full for longer and on-going research suggests it can help to maintain a healthy weight when part of a balanced diet.
What about hormones in milk? In the UK, regulations prevent the addition of hormones to cows to enhance their milk production and milk from any cows receiving treatment, must be discarded. Natural hormones are present, just as they are in other plant and animal foods we eat.
Dairy Farm Welfare – Milk for calves and people? After thousands of years of domestication, cows now produce far more milk than their calf can drink. So, the milking process prevents life-threatening septicaemia from mastitis, a serious infection of an over-full udder. Although intensive dairy farming has meant that calves are removed from their mothers at an early age, British Dairy Farmers take great care to ensure that calves get the all-important first ‘colostrum milk’ from their mothers, before being bottle-fed.
While milk and other dairy food has reduced in popularity, deficiencies in calcium and iodine in teenagers have worsened, hospital admissions for tooth decay in the under fives have increased by 25% in the last decade, and a third of children are now overweight or obese on reaching Year 6 at Primary School.
MILK – THE ALL IMPORTANT FACTS
Protein – Essential for growth, strength and cell repair, the protein in milk, Casein, also helps us to feel full for longer. Unlike some other protein sources, it contains all the amino acids we need to build different types of protein in our bodies.
Calcium – We only absorb a maximum of 35% of the calcium from the food we eat. Lactose and casein in milk enhance calcium absorption, meaning that calcium is absorbed from milk better than any other food source.
Lactose – The sugar lactose is metabolised differently and therefore not classed as a ‘free sugar’. Free sugars are present in natural fruit juice, baking sugars and all syrups like agave and honey and can cause dental decay.
Iodine – In the UK milk provides 45% of the daily iodine requirement for children. No other food is such a good source. Public Health England are currently assessing our level of deficiency in the UK. Worldwide, Iodine deficiency is the most important cause of mental disease and reduced thyroid function is a worry too.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) – We can get 35% of our recommended daily intake from a glass of milk! It enables us to use the energy in our food, maintains healthy skin, enhances our absorption of iron from food and may protect against heart disease.
Vitamin D – we only get a trace of Vitamin D in our diet. (Our main source is from the action of sunlight on our skin). Only whole milk contains this trace amount as vitamin D is present in its lipid (fat) Few reduced fat varieties are fortified with Vitamin D. You can read more about this here.
MILK- SO WHO BENEFITS AND WHY
MILK FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN
Research shows children who drink more milk, maintain a healthy weight, largely due to its protein (and fat) content giving lasting fullness.
Dentists recommend milk over other drinks, for children due to the benefits of lactose over other sugars.
The nutrients listed above, are crucial for healthy bones, immune system, teeth and growth. It’s no coincidence that in Scandinavia and The Netherlands where Dairy foods are popular and there is little milk intolerance, their average height is far taller!
MILK FOR TEENAGERS
20% of girls are deficient in calcium, yet bone density reaches its maximum by 18 years old (in girls and boys)*
20% of girls are deficient in riboflavin, yet crucially it increases iron absorption; high intakes of iron are needed at this age.*
*National Diet and Nutrition Survey latest update February 2017
22% of girls are deficient in iodine. Thyroid hormones require iodine to regulate the body’s metabolism, growth and energy levels. Good iodine stores are also crucial before pregnancy to ensure correct brain development of the unborn baby. Research in Bristol in 2012 showed iodine deficiency in mothers during pregnancy, to be associated with a reduced IQ in their 8 year old children*.
*ALSPAC Study, Bath et al, The Lancet 2013
More about the composition of reduced fat cow’s milk and plant-based milk alternatives, coming soon!
Dr Lucy Williamson Msc
I am a freelance registered Nutritionist working in greater London, to inform and inspire better health for all, through Nutrition. I would be delighted to hear from you! You can contact me here.
07966 298 899