Milk is considered to be one of the healthiest food products. The first food infants consume is their mother’s milk. Growing up, children are advised to drink milk because it is a rich source of nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals.
Milk products are also popular all across the world. Not only are they delicious, but also contain several nutrients.
However, are milk and milk products as healthy as they are claimed to be? Here’s what an expert says.
Health benefits of milk
Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including “nutrients of concern,” which are under-consumed by many populations. “It provides potassium, B12, calcium and vitamin D, which are lacking in many diets,” Dr Mukesh Mehra, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, told ABP Live.
“Milk is also a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, zinc and thiamine (B1). Additionally, it’s an excellent source of protein and contains hundreds of different fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids,” he further said.
These fatty acids are linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease.
“Milk is a rich source of quality protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. It may help reduce age-related muscle loss and promote muscle repair after exercise,” Dr Mehra added.
How much milk should people consume on a daily basis?
The Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) report on the Nutritional Requirements and RDA for Indians puts the upper value of calcium for adults at 600 milligrams per day, Dr Mehra said. This is equivalent to roughly two glasses of milk, the country’s most bellowed source of calcium. The recommended intake for 10- to 18-year olds is 800 milligrams per day.
Is milk really as healthy as people claim it to be?
According to Dr Mehra, real milk is an important part of a healthy diet. “Milk is a nutrient powerhouse with no added sugar or preservatives, a combination hard to find from other food sources. The creamy, delicious taste of milk comes from just three simple ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D,” Dr Mehra said.
He added that studies repeatedly show the benefits of drinking milk (two to three servings each day).
“Essential nutrients found in milk help to build and maintain bone strength, and have been found to boost muscle growth and support healthy weight,” Dr Mehra said.
Natural hormones present in milk
The most important hormones found in milk and other dairy items, which are identified by diagnostic techniques, include prolactin, and steroids such as oestrogens, progesterone, corticoids, and androgens, Dr Mehra said.
“Additionally, the presence of different hormones, for example, insulin-like development factor-1 (IGF-1) and neighbourhood hormones including prostaglandins (PGs), in dairy items has been accounted for,” he added.
Which milk is better? Cow milk or buffalo milk?
Nutritionally, both cow milk and buffalo milk stand in a similar position. “But, carbohydrates are almost twice the amount in buffalo milk and the total fat content is higher in buffalo milk,” Dr Mehra said.
Cow milk is lighter and can be stated to be less fattening. “Because of its lesser fat and carbohydrate content, it is more easily digested, making it a good choice for infants and aged people,” Dr Mehra added.
“Buffalo milk on the other hand will make better paneer, desserts and ghee. It is also a better choice for body builders and those lucky people who need to put on weight,” Dr Mehra said.
Should people consume skim milk or whole milk?
Skim or one per cent milk contains all the protein, vitamins and minerals that whole milk contains, but it has much less saturated fat, Dr Mehra said. This type of milk is typically more heart-healthy than full-fat milk.
Good substitutes for milk
If one is looking to maximise certain vitamins or nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E or riboflavin, they should check specific brands so that they can compare and find the highest value of what they are hoping to achieve, according to Dr Mehra.
Some plant-based milk substitutes include almond, cashew, coconut, hazelnut, peanut, sesame, soy, tiger nut, oat, rice, hemp, and walnut milk.
“In terms of adding a splash to your coffee in the morning, almond milk works well. When it comes to baking, soy milk or oat milk can be great substitutes for traditional dairy ingredients like milk and heavy cream. In most recipes, you can swap any milk alternative for milk in a 1:1 ratio,” Dr Mehra said.
He added that one should be aware that hemp milk and coconut milk have been known to overwhelm baked goods with their flavour.
“Also, chances are that if you are an adult, you are not drinking much chocolate milk, but your kids might be. And many non-dairy milk options come in flavoured varieties (typically vanilla) to help make them a bit more palatable. There is nothing wrong with these flavoured milks, of course, but it is all about moderation,” Dr Mehra further said.
Healthiest milk products
Yogurt and cheese are some of the healthiest milk products. Yogurt is the healthiest dairy product for two reasons, Dr Mehra said.
“For starters, the bacteria used to make yogurt contributes to a healthy gut. Live-active cultures such as Lactobacillus casei are used in the fermentation process. They help our microbiome and gastrointestinal system stay healthy,” Dr Mehra explained.
“While cheese is often high in saturated fat ,it is also frequently fermented and/or cultured to remove the lactose, meaning people who are lactose intolerant may have an easier time digesting cheese than milk. There is also some evidence that cheese is beneficial to our dental health, according to a study performed by the Academy of General Dentistry. Cheese increases saliva production and adheres to tooth enamel to protect the teeth from cavities caused by acid,” Dr Mehra said.
“Milk products are an important source of calcium, helping to give us strong bones and teeth. They also provide proteins, carbohydrates and fats (for energy) as well as many important vitamins such as vitamins A and B12 and minerals, including zinc,” he added.
Which milk products should people avoid?
Products made from cream, such as ice cream, cream cheese, custard, or butter, should be avoided due to the high levels of lactose. “In addition to some kinds of cheeses, some people with lactose intolerance may be able to eat yogurt in moderation, as the lactose has been partly broken down.” Dr Mehra said.
Due to the shift of consumer attitudes towards cow milk, awareness of lactose intolerance, and widespread incidence of cow milk allergy, the conventional understanding of milk has transformed, according to Dr Mehra.
Myths associated with milk and milk products
Some of the myths associated with milk are that it is full of hormones, contains pus, is packed with additives, causes mucus and congestion, leaches calcium from bones, and is full of sugar, according to Dr Mehra. Myths associated with milk products include the fact that dairy is bad for one’s skin and is fattening.
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