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," Dr Divya Chaudhary, Head of Nutrition, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi, told HuffPost India. "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. According to Dr Chaudhary, 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," she said. 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," Dr Shikha Sharma of NutriHealth told HuffPost India. "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," Dr. Ishi Khosla of The Weight Monitor said. "If milk causes inflammation in the gut, it can prevent the absorption of calcium." Khosla recommends anywhere between 2 to 3 servings of milk for adults.
5. Milk makes your bones stronger.
Milk's role in promoting bone health among adults is still debatable. In fact, Dr Khosla points out that a study demonstrated that high-dairy eating nations such as the US have much higher rates of osteoperosis 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.
6. Drinking milk before bedtime can help you sleep better.
According to a popular theory, a glass of warm milk can help you sleep because milk contains a good amino acid called tryptophan, which when released into the brain produces a feel-good hormone called serotonin, which is in turn gets converted to the 'sleep' hormone melatonin. However, a recent study has shown that the level of tryptophan in milk is too low to have any significant effect. However, warm milk may have psychological associations that remind us of childhood and our mothers, and help us relax.
7. Even infants should be given milk.
If you introduce cow's milk to a child before 1 year of age, it can lead to type-1 diabetes and auto immune diseases. "It is preferable to give infants breast milk or formula milk instead," Dr Khosla advised.
8. Milk causes digestive problems as you grow older.
Some people develop an allergy known as lactose intolerance as they grow older, where the consumption of milk can cause gas and abdominal distension. "A lot of the times, people don't relate their problems to drinking milk. Everything is related to the gut. If there is inflammation in the gut, it can manifest as joint issues, skin problems and mental health issues," Dr. Khosla said. "It is only when people give up milk, that they realise that problems have been resolved."
9. Drinking milk is good for your skin.
Milk contains a large quantity of water and is good for hydrating skim, but its benefits do not go beyond this. In fact, some dieticians think that dairy can lead to skin breakouts and acne. Most nutritionists agree that this is because milk can be quite easily adulterated. "A lot milk is simply rice powder or potato starch mixed with oil and milk powder," Dr Sharma explained. "The milk industry is not regulated at all, as a result of which hormones are often used." The consumption of milk from cows which have been injected with oxytocin to increase milk production and antibiotics, can lead to other health problems.