Milk — There is No Better Alternative

Dr N R BHASIN
Former President
Indian Dairy Association, New Delhi

Milk is one of the most consumed beverages throughout the world. A near-perfect food source packed with vital vitamins and minerals it keeps our body healthy and strong. Milk provides proteins with a wide range of amino acids. Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, and some cheeses have some additional advantages. So there is no reason to not enjoy milk as a part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle!

First drink you taste in your life is milk. Nature has ensured there is no better food than this. Therefore, humanity has associated milk with good health. Milk is one of the most consumed beverages throughout the world. A near-perfect food source packed with vital vitamins and minerals it keeps our body healthy and strong. A cup of milk (200 gm) is considered as one serving and its nutritional components depend on its fat content. A cup of milk with 3.25% fat contains 146 calories, 8 gm of fat, 13 gm of carbohydrate and 8 gm of protein. Nonfat or skim milk has about 86 calories, 0 gm of fat, 12 gm of carbohydrate and 8 gm of protein. A glass of milk is loaded with 15 essential vitamins and nutrients. It contains as much proteins as an egg, as much carbohydrates as a quarter cup of rice and as much calcium as 16 cups of spinach. Milk contains all the nine important amino acids, therefore, milk is an excellent source of protein.

 

Milk – Nutrients and Their Functions

Some of the important nutrients that milk provides and their functions are:

  • Calcium builds healthy bones and teeth; maintains bone mass
  • Protein serves as a source of energy; builds and repairs muscle tissue
  • Potassium helps maintain a healthy level of blood pressure
  • Phosphorus strengthens bones and generates energy
  • Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus to maintain strong bones
  • Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy red blood cells and nerve tissues
  • Vitamin A helps to improve immune system, normal vision and healthy skin
  • Riboflavin (B2) helps to convert food into energy
  • Niacin metabolises sugars and fatty acids
  • Tryptophan, an amino acid, helps to induce sleep.

Consuming even small amounts of milk and dairy products, corrects amino acid deficiencies in cereal-based human diets, permitting more of the total protein to be utilised as animal protein is more digestible than plant protein. Milk provides proteins with a wide range of amino acids that match human needs.

Important facts that research has shown and many people do not know about milk and milk products are:

  • Eating cheese can help protect against dental caries because milk contains casein, phosphorus and calcium.
  • Three servings of dairy in a calorie-controlled diet can help achieve greater weight loss.
  • Spicy food often leaves one with a burning sensation. Casein in milk can help soothe burning taste buds.

It is quite common to consider that dairy products with reduced fat content are better. The calcium content of reduced-fat dairy products is relatively similar to the respective whole-milk products. Reduced-fat dairy foods are nutrient-rich and can assist in meeting the recommended intake of a range of nutrients.

Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, and some cheeses have some additional advantages. They have less lactose and are good for lactose-intolerant individuals. The microbes, added as culture, help to improve digestion as well as absorption of digested nutrients.

 

Milk – The Immuno-modulator

Immunoglobulins (Igs): Also called antibodies, are present in the secretions of all lactating species and include colostrum and milk. The biological function of milk Igs is to give the offspring an immunological protection against microbial pathogens and toxins and to protect the mammary gland against infections. Colostral immunoglobulin preparations are commercially available in many countries and some colostrum based products are marketed for humans as dietary supplements. Clinical studies are in progress to evaluate the potential of immune milk products as preventative treatment for various microbial infections in humans, especially those caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria and helicobacter pylori, the causative agent of chronic gastritis.

 Cancer Prevention: Some studies have suggested that the increased intake of calcium and lactose from dairy products may help to prevent ovarian cancer.

 Muscle building and weight loss: Milk is a great source of natural, high quality protein. Maintaining a healthy amount of muscle is important for supporting metabolism, body maintenance and contributing to weight loss. A diet that is sufficient in protein is needed to preserve or increase lean muscle mass. Dairy proteins support muscle growth and repair. According to a recent analysis, over 20 clinical trials suggested that an increased milk intake can boost muscle mass and strength during resistance exercise in both younger and older adults.

Osteoarthritis: Knee osteoarthritis currently has no cure but researchers say drinking milk every day has been linked to reduced progression of the disease.

So there is no reason to not enjoy milk as a part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle!

 

Celebrating Milk – World Milk Day

Dairy being one of the world’s most amazing super foods, it is heartening to note that its huge benefits have been reiterated and recognised each year through the celebration of World Milk Day. Initiated by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2001, the intent behind World Milk Day was to celebrate all aspects of milk; its natural origin, nutritional value, the numerous dairy products as well as its economic importance in the entire food chain which actively encourages milk consumption.

With celebrations across several countries on the occasion, World Milk Day is the perfect opportunity to promote the role of milk in a healthy and balanced diet. Representing some 194 member nations, FAO’s focus on milk supports its mandate to raise levels of nutrition the world over. All these facets of milk are celebrated in many countries across the world, and the number and activities are increasing each year. The fact that more than 50 countries including Malaysia, Colombia, Romania, Germany, UAE and India choose to do this lends additional importance to individual national celebrations as well as shows that milk is a global food. In fact the 15th World Milk Day was celebrated on June 1st of 2015 and the spectrum of activities reaffirmed the goodness of milk in all its forms.

The International Dairy Federation (IDF) and its members work together to promote activities taking place globally on and around this day — a variety of promotional activities are launched on its website as well. Similarly, in South Africa, various NGOs, private and government health organisations including South African Milk Processors’ Organization (SAMPRO) organise communication programmes promoting nutritional advantages of milk. Elsewhere, free milk distribution camps are organised. Discussions, quiz competitions, sports activities and essay-writing are also organised in schools, colleges, and universities.

 

Indian Milk Day

The Indian Dairy Association (IDA) has promoted the celebration of milk day in India on November 26, the birthday of Dr Verghese Kurien, the Father of White Revolution in India. At the behest of IDA, many national organisations, the universities, dairy cooperatives, the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) and private dairy industry have undertaken many activities. The festivities are meant to promote the production, processing, product development and above all the consumption of milk and milk products particularly among the youth and the school going children. The IDA through its zones and members has been pursuing with various departments of the central and state governments that the social and child health oriented programmes getting subsidy from them must incorporate milk and milk products in their mid-day meal schemes.

 

TEN MYTHS REGARDING MILK CONSUMPTION

 

Myth #1: Consuming dairy products can lead to weight gain.

Fact: Weight gain occurs when one consumes more calories than the body can burn as energy. Contrary to this common myth, research both in animals and humans suggest that including three servings of low fat dairy foods in a calorie controlled diet may help achieve greater weight loss. Clinical trials have also shown a strong correlation between increased calcium intake and reduced body weight, body fat percentage and waist size.

Myth #2: Spinach is as good a source of calcium as milk.

Fact: There is more calcium in 1 cup of milk than there is in 16 cups of spinach. One will need to eat more than 48 cups of spinach to get the recommended daily intake of calcium. Furthermore, milk contains Vitamin D which enhances calcium absorption.

Myth #3: People with lactose intolerance should avoid dairy foods.

Fact: Lactose intolerance is often confused with milk allergies. Lactose intolerance is not an allergic reaction to dairy foods. Rather it is the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose. Lactose-free milk and yogurt are good alternatives to drinking milk for people who are lactose intolerant. Aged cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss are also low in lactose. Many people with lactose intolerance can drink up to 1 cup of milk daily without any problem.

Myth #4: Milk causes asthma.

Fact: While infants with milk allergies are more likely to develop asthma later in life, there are no scientific data to support that consuming dairy foods makes a person asthmatic. 

Myth #5: Consuming dairy foods can increase the risk of heart disease.

Fact: A diet high in saturated fat regardless of the source is likely to cause heart disease, and not dairy foods. Recently, it was reported that the evidence linking saturated fat intake to heart disease is lacking. Further, today saturated fat from butter is believed to be not as bad as transfat filled hydrogenated vegetable fats such as margarine and other so-called ‘healthy’ spreads. Those still wishing to reduce their fat intake can consume low fat dairy foods and receive the nutritional benefits of dairy foods without the high fat.

Myth #6: If you take calcium supplements you don’t need milk.

Fact: Milk isn’t only a good source of calcium but it also provides other high quality nutrients such as high quality protein, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin; zinc; potassium and magnesium. Fermented dairy foods such as yogurt also serve as an excellent carrier of probiotic organisms and prebiotics, which are important for gastrointestinal health. Taking supplements does not provide the enjoyment of drinking a cold glass of milk; pouring cold milk on a bowl of cereal for breakfast; eating a creamy delicious bowl of ice cream on a hot summer day; or enjoying the pleasure of a creamy cheese sauce on nachos, or melted cheese slices in a hamburger.

Myth #7: Milk causes mucus.

Fact: After drinking whole milk or eating ice cream some people mistake the thin coat or residue in their mouth and throat for mucus. This is not excess mucous but the normal creamy texture of milk fat which melts near body temperature. A study has concluded that there is no association between milk and dairy products intake and mucus production in healthy as well as rhinovirus infected individuals.

Myth #8: Humans are not designed to drink cow’s milk.

Fact: Humans are designed to eat plant as well as animal products such as meat and dairy products. Domestication of cattle (and consumption of milk and dairy foods) dates back to 6000 BC. We are equipped with the lactase enzyme in our gut that aids in the digestion of cow’s milk. Consequently humans have enjoyed consuming dairy foods over many, many centuries. If we were restricted to consuming milk only from our own species, we would not enjoy many of the dairy foods we enjoy today; such as blue cheese on our salads, ice cream on apple pie, sour cream on baked potatoes, mozzarella cheese on pizza, shredded cheese on our tacos, and buttermilk in our pancakes.

Myth #9: Drinking milk can cause kidney stones.

Fact: Milk may actually protect against the formation of kidney stones. It was suggested that the calcium in milk may bind to oxalates in food so that they can no longer be absorbed by the body, reducing the risk of kidney stones.

Myth #10: Eating cheese and high fat dairy foods can cause acne.

Fact: Science does not support any link between acne and dairy foods. Importance of vitamins A and D in skin health is well established. Milk is a good source of vitamins A and D in the diet.

 

MILK – CONCERNS AND PRECAUTIONS

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the enzyme to break down the sugar found in milk for proper digestion. Those with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, flatulence or diarrhea when consuming milk and milk products. Drinking lactose-free milk, which has added enzymes to help with lactose digestion, may ease or eliminate these symptoms.

Milk allergy or hypersensitivity is different from lactose intolerance and refers to an abnormal immunologic reaction in which the body’s immune system produces an allergic antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which results in allergy symptoms such as wheezing, diarrhea or vomiting. Milk allergy can be manifested as asthma, eczema (an itchy rash), rhinitis (inflamed nose), and gastrointestinal distress, as well as bleeding, pneumonia, and even anaphylaxis (shock).

There has been controversy about the milk produced from cows with A1 and A2 genes. The cows with A1 gene produce milk that contains beta-casomorphine. Fortunately, the Indian breed of cows and buffaloes do not have A1 gene. The frequency of A1 gene is common in the European breed of cows such as Holstein Friesian, etc.

There are reports that such milk that contains casein can cause autism and a spectrum of disorders including in infants. Excessive consumption of milk has been linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. While debates will continue about the benefits and risks of milk consumption, it cannot be disputed that as a source of fat, proteins, carbohydrates, salts, minerals and vitamins, milk continues to hold significant promise in addressing malnutrition and poverty, particularly in the developing world.

 

This article was written when the author was President, Indian Dairy Association, New Delhi.
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