Milk is one of ancient wholesome food since evolution and is said to nourish and promote the growth of young mammals. It also offers a range of nine essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, and niacin that are necessary for growth and development.
Milk production is gaining prominence around the world. India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, and the US are the top five countries in dairy production. The nationwide per-capita availability of milk in India rose drastically from 2001-02 to 2017-18.
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) of milk is 3 glasses for Adults and 2 for Children.
Milk promotes growth velocity and higher attained height. If the diet quality is low, especially for children in low-income environments, dairy foods can improve overall nutrition.
Milk processing has many potential health advantages.
Pasteurization reduces brucellosis, tuberculosis, and other pathogens.
Fermentation helps in making cheese, yoghurt, kefir, and other products and also reduces lactose content, improves good bacteria.
Fractionation gives butter, reduced-fat products, and whey protein.
Fortification with vitamins A and D can supplement diets.
Let us dig deeper into knowing whether drinking milk is essential, as suggested by the USDA food pyramid. The health benefits of consuming milk products have not been established, and there are possible adverse health outcomes.
One common argument against dairy products is that it is unnatural to consume dairy as adults. Come to think of it, humans are the only species to consume milk in adulthood and they are the only ones to drink the milk of other animals as well, which is hilarious. Biologically, cow’s milk is for the calves to feed on where the growth rate is more than that of humans.
Growth Hormones- To increase milk production, cows have been bred to produce higher levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and they are pregnant for most of the time they are milked. This dramatically increases levels of progestin, estrogen, and other growth hormones in milk, thereby bringing down the maturity age (puberty) of boys and girls.
Milk and bones- Dairy and milk products do not promote healthy bones. A large meta-analysis study states that countries with the highest milk consumption did not reduce the risk of fractures but have shown an increase in fracture rates. Studies indicate that countries with the lowest milk consumption have the most moderate risk of osteoporosis and fractures. To date, bone mineralization studies in children had no evidence that high calcium intake is needed during childhood to serve as a “bank” for calcium throughout life.
Milk and cancer – Milk may not grow strong bones, but it does seem to deposit cancer cells. Milk increases the hormone called IGF-1 or insulin-like growth factor that promotes rapid growth of cancer cells. Dairy products have been an underlying cause for prostate cancer and possibly endometrial cancer but reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Bodyweight and obesity- Contrary to USDA advice to choose reduced-fat dairy, low-fat milk does not appear to have advantages over whole milk for weight control. In children, available evidence suggests significant long-term weight gain with reduced-fat milk than with full-fat milk. Regular consumption of yoghurt may result in less weight gain possibly because lactose sugar is broken down to lactase and the presence of probiotics.
Total dairy consumption has not been clearly related to weight control or to risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the saturated fat is said to increase the LDL (bad cholesterol).
Allergies- Allergy to cow’s milk proteins affects up to 4% of infants and cause considerable nutritional problems and digestive distress because of lactose intolerance. It can also cause anal fissures, intestinal bleeding of infants leading to iron deficiency. Allergy, asthma, and eczema may be triggered by dairy consumption.
Environmental factors- According to a study conducted by Oxford University, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions of cow’s milk is approximately three times higher than from plant-based alternatives.
If breast milk is not available, cow’s milk can add vital nutritional value during early childhood. However, cow’s milk can’t be a substitute for breast milk for children under1 year due to digestive issues. Healthy growth and development can be obtained with other protein substitutes that include supplementation along with other vitamins.
When consumption of milk is low, the two nutrients of primary concern are calcium, and vitamin D. They can also be obtained from other foods or supplements. For calcium, alternative dietary sources include Ragi, amaranth seeds, horse gram dal, soya beans, amaranth leaves, bathua leaves, spinach, drumstick leaves, fenugreek leaves, curry leaves, mint, radish leaves, ponnaganti (kura), gingelly seeds and almonds.
Milk based on plant-based ingredients such as Almond milk, cashew milk, oats milk, rice milk, soy milk and peanut milk can be an excellent substitute to dairy. Although they lack nutritional balance when compared to bovine milk (cow milk), they contain functionally active components with health-promoting properties. The following table gives the distribution of the nutrients in plant based diets in comparison to cows milk. Subscribe and get a personal nutrition chart from our nutritionist to meet UR daily needs.