Milk: A Superfood Or Health Risk?
- Dt. Parvathy Menon
- 5 Min Read
There are countless advertisements that educate us about the importance of drinking milk. There are also ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments around milk and dairy consumption, and the big question still looms large – ‘Is milk a superfood or health risk?’
Here we will try and objectively evaluate the good and the not so good regarding milk.
The first taste of milk for most, if not all is invariably the mother’s milk. Next to life, this is the most important gift that a mother shares with her child so that the first essentials of immunity, strength and growth are effectively passed on.
Regular cow’s milk is generally considered to be a powerhouse of nutrients. So much so, that it is often considered as the perfect health drink well before the advent of nutrient-enriched concoctions in the market. It is an excellent source of many essential nutrients, including protein, fat, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamins A, B1, B2, B12, D and choline. 100 ml of cow milk contains approx. 67 kcal, 3 g protein, 4 g fat, 120 mg of calcium and 90 mg of phosphorous.
Hence, many people see milk as a vital part of a balanced diet.
Health benefits of drinking milk
Supports bone development & dental health
Milk provides calcium and proteins that are necessary for building and maintaining healthy bones, teeth, and muscle. It also helps to improve weight and bone density in children. Milk is an excellent source of nutrients that your body needs to properly absorb calcium, including vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus and magnesium. Adding milk and dairy products to your diet can help prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis.
Lowers blood pressure
Milk is a good source of potassium. This mineral contributes to regulating blood pressure. A combination of increased potassium and low sodium intake can help in cutting the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Helps in weight loss
Milk helps in curbing your desire for food by keeping you full for a longer period of time thus preventing one from reaching out for unhealthy snacks in between meals.
Great post-workout meal
Drinking a glass of milk after your workout replenishes the body with essential nutrients needed to recover. It helps in muscle growth, prevents muscle cramps, and also refills the lost fluids during work out.
Having a glass of lukewarm milk is seen to have a calming effect on the body. It reduces the cortisol levels, and the potassium content helps in muscle relaxation too, thus acting as a stress reliever.
While pregnant, you should have at least a glass of milk every day, so that the calcium, vitamins and other nutrients can benefit you and your baby. Taking milk also helps in neutralizing the stomach acids, thus preventing heartburn which is a very common symptom during pregnancy.
Research shows that drinking milk regularly improves the level of glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant in the brain that protects it from oxidative stress, a process that has been linked to normal ageing as well as to many neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Not everyone can drink milk
Many, however, cite various reasons for choosing not to consume milk despite the above mentioned. Here are some reasons why some people do not consume milk:
Many can’t tolerate milk because their body is unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. This can lead to conditions like stomach upset and bloating. Eliminating lactose would also help in easing symptoms of those suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Alternatives like soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, rice milk, etc work better for the lactose intolerant.
Milk consumption can increase levels of some hormones that stimulate sebum production, which is an oily secretion of the skin’s sebaceous gland. It is a well-known cause of acne breakouts. The simplest way to identify whether it is dairy that triggers your breakouts is to eliminate it from your diet for a minimum of four weeks. This can be tricky because dairy products are often hidden in food you wouldn’t suspect, so you will have to read the ingredient label carefully. Milk will be mentioned in bold on the ingredients list as it is considered a common allergen.
There is also a small population who are allergic to milk and would need to eliminate most dairy food. They are most likely to be allergic to casein, a protein in dairy. For these individuals, milk consumption or consuming milk-based products initiate a direct inflammatory response from the immune system, the effects of which can be mild to life-threatening.
While a small percentage of people with inflammatory conditions such as PCOD and arthritis benefit by avoiding dairy, research recommends that fermented dairy products like yoghurt and kefir may, in fact, have an anti-inflammatory effect. Debate on this topic is ongoing as it’s not yet comprehensively made clear through research as to if dairy is inflammatory for everyone (like sugar) or just inflammatory for those who are allergic or sensitive to dairy. Although the jury may still be out scientifically on dairy and inflammation, there are some simple methods to know whether or not you should still shop in the dairy aisle. Try to avoid all forms of dairy for a month and slowly add back different types in a phased manner to see how your body reacts. Keeping a food diary and noting down the type of dairy consumed, and changes felt, if any, can act as a guide to help figure out what diet choices best suit you.
One can deduce that while milk is generally considered good, it may not be so for everyone. It is all about understanding your body and being aware of its preferences regarding food that is agreeable to you. And for those who may not want to go the Milky Way, worry not! There are some great vegan options of butter, cheese and ice-creams that are dairy-free, not to mention a variety of sorbets and oat/almond and coconut milk options. So you can still not miss out. And for those who love anything diary and love milk, here’s wishing you a happy world milk day and cheers to a glass of milk!