Is it good for you, is it bad for you – milk has been a controversial dietary topic in recent years! We ask two nutritionists with opposing viewpoints on the benefits and disadvantages of consuming this dairy product to make their case.
Milk – go for it!
Nancy Bhatia, Chief nutritionist and founder of the Munch Box (A healthy snackbox delivery) and Project Specialist for Houston Methodist Global Healthcare Services, Dubai, is pro-milk.
Milk is the first form of food not only for humans, but also for many other mammals. It has been referred to as a complete food, and its consumption offers many nutritional benefits suitable for everyone, irrespective of gender or age. It has always been a breakfast item in my household, and I usually have it with cereal, as a milkshake or with a dash of cardamom and handful of nuts. Personally, I believe it should be consumed throughout life, unless a person is lactose or dairy intolerant, but I understand it’s a concern for those watching calories as one cup of full fat cow’s milk contains 8 grams of fat – mostly saturated. But this is why low-fat and skimmed milk options are available to choose from. According to research, consuming cow’s milk from childhood lowers the risk of high cholesterol at later stages in life, as your body’s metabolism is tuned to it, so there is no longer any risk imposed by consuming milk fats.
Cow’s milk not only has a high nutritional value, but also a high level of bio-availability, or the amount of nutrients available for the body to utilise, – cow’s milk has 33 per cent of high calcium bio-availability, which is nowhere close to the percentage of calcium availed from calcium-fortified plant-based alternative sources of milk such as soya, almond and coconut. While calcium is important for growing children – the milk fats are beneficial for brain development – it is equally vital for women over the age of 40, as women lose a lot of calcium during menopause, making them prone to osteoporosis. This means children and adults both needs to drink milk. Apart from this, cow’s milk also contains more tryptophan (an amino acid that helps promote the mood regulating ‘happy hormone’ serotonin) compared to soy milk; one cup of hot (cow’s) milk at night helps relax the brain and induce sleep. Cold milk also helps provide instant relief from acidity. Many athletes consume cow’s milk as well, as the whey protein content is higher than other milks, and helps increase metabolism and quick muscle action.
As a nutritionist, I understand that many can be intolerant to milk, or develop an intolerance at a later stage in life, but this isn’t linked to drinking cow’s milk regularly. Children actually digest lactose very easily, unless they are sensitive to it from the beginning. Apart from being a concern for children, the sugar content and proteins like whey and casein are also a concern for diabetics, however this is why low-fat cow’s milk is a good choice as it helps regulate blood glucose. To sum up, cow’s milk is not only healthier, but also tastier. The versatile ingredient is easily available, suitable for every budget, and can be used for cooking – I use low-fat cow’s milk in dessert, and since it’s naturally sweet, I don’t add any extra sugar. Cheese, butter and ghee, are some of the by-products of cow’s milk which are also used in many cuisines.
Milk – just say no!
Laura Holland, Nutritionist and co-founder of nutrition and wellbeing website, BeUtifulYou.co.uk, is anti-milk.
Cow’s milk is known as one of the three white devils in nutrition lingo, the other two being white sugar and white flour. This does sound alarming, and it is, if you are a regular milk consumer – but herein lies the majority of the problem with milk. We have been brought up to think that it’s healthy and many of us, especially in the West, have it in large quantities on a daily basis. We are the only species on Earth to drink the milk of another animal, and Mother Nature never intended us to continue drinking milk, cows or our mothers’, as a source of nutrition, as our ability to digest it decreases as we get older.
The lactose in milk is difficult to digest for many and can create mucous, bloating and generally a lethargic, heavy feeling in the body. Throw into this mix a concoction of hormones and chemicals fed to dairy cows to unnaturally increase their milk production, and you will realise that it is not quite so innocent!
Cow’s milk can be an underlying cause of health issues, more specifically allergies like eczema and asthma, digestive problems, oestrogen dominance, inflammation and serious repercussions for people with osteoporosis. It’s known for the development of strong, healthy bones, but it can actually potentially weaken them and worsen osteoporosis. Bones do need calcium, and milk has a lot; however for your body to absorb it you need, among other nutrients, magnesium. The nutritional profile of milk is not conducive to your body absorbing the calcium. It also creates acid for those sensitive to milk – your body will quickly seek to neutralise the acid and will leak alkali minerals, calcium and magnesium, from your tissues and bones, making them weaker.
It is worth noting that in non-milk consuming countries, rates of osteoporosis are extremely low, we essentially find osteoporosis only where we consume milk regularly! Ironically most people worry about the cholesterol and saturated fat in milk, but these are the least of your worries. Yes, it has fat and cholesterol, but milk isn’t the root cause of obesity and high cholesterol – ice cream and cheese maybe, but not the actual milk.
In assessing the health and nutrition of anything, the number one question is how well does your body digest it? This is the underlying challenge, and if you don't digest, then stress, toxicity and heaviness are the results. I cut milk from my diet seven years ago, after I made the connection between bloating and challenges with my weight and milk. Once I stopped, my body became much happier, less bloated and easier to manage my weight – food intolerances are a complete sabotage for weight loss! Now I just have a little bit here and there and my body is fine with this. The bottom line is, don't consume it on a daily basis, and limit your intake according to how your body feels. When you do need milk, choose organic, or almond, rice and coconut milks, which are my favourite alternatives!