Benefits of milk for children and young people
Milk and dairy products are nutritional and daily staples for most societies and countries worldwide. However, studies conducted in Malta have shown that our milk consumption is lower when compared to the rest of Europe. This means that, unfortunately, many of our children are not getting the recommended servings of dairy per day.
There has been a lot of research aimed at understanding the benefits of milk in children’s and adolescent’s diets, which means the Maltese public is not sufficiently informed on the benefits of drinking milk.
Milk and dairy products play an important part in a child’s diet and are a good source of energy and protein. However, it is important to mention that milk is not suitable for babies as it does not contain the right balance of nutrients the baby needs. During this time, breast milk or formula milk should be given to a baby. Following that, children should drink normal full-fat milk until they are about two years old.
Milk is one of the most valuable sources of calcium in our diet and, though calcium is more readily absorbed by the body from milk than from vegetables, admittedly there are other alternatives to drinking milk. However, you will need to consume eight cups of spinach, two and a half cups of broccoli, seven cups of red beans or six ounces of dry roasted almonds to get the amount of calcium absorbed from an eight-ounce glass of milk and that’s just the beginning.
Since the body cannot produce calcium, daily intakes are essential throughout one’s life for the development and maintenance of healthy bones as well as to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. During childhood and adolescence, there is a rapid increase in bone mass due to growth. A low intake of calcium during childhood and adolescence may make it hard to achieve ones’ peak bone mass and in extreme cases can cause stunted growth. Besides this, calcium is also particularly good for teeth. The reason being is dairy helps harden the enamel covering the teeth, resulting in no pain when chewing.
Calcium is also important for controlling high blood pressure. One study has shown that, if pregnant women take adequate amounts of calcium in their diet, it can have a positive effect in lowering their child’s blood pressure over the first seven years of their life and later on.
Dairy foods are the richest source of calcium and contribute 73 per cent of the calcium in the average food supply.
That being said, there is a lot more to fresh milk than calcium and vitamin D. It contains all high quality protein such as riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous, niacin equivalents, vitamin B12 and vitamin A, which all serve as essential nutrients.
People have a misconception that giving their children too much milk to drink can cause a gain in weight and body fat because it is an energy dense food. However, several studies have found no link between higher milk consumption levels and the amount of body fat stored in children. Data from a lifestyle survey carried out in Italy in 2005, found that milk consumption among 5-11-year-old children was associated with lower body mass figures. Another study carried out on pre-school children in 2006 also found that those who consumed more servings of milk and dairy products a day had significantly lower levels of body fat throughout childhood.
Milk is a tasty, wholesome beverage that can be given to your children at any time of the day. In fact, any dairy product would do, whether its fresh yogurts, flavoured milk, healthy dairy drinks, smoothies or ricotta. And let’s not forget our local beloved ġbejna!
Milk has been around forever, since Moses took his people on that long walk in search of a home flowing with… milk and honey. Milk is good for everybody but for children aged between two and five it is absolutely essential. Please go see your paediatrician if you’d like a second opinion.
So the question is: Who should drink milk? The answer: Everyone, especially children. Fresh milk is good for everyone. If you’re between one and 12 years old, you should have three servings of dairy products every day. An eight-ounce glass or a cup of yogurt is a serving.
Teenagers need even more and should have four or more servings of dairy foods each day. Adults should have two or more servings of dairy per day. This leaves us with a very important question: Have you had your milk today?
The author is B.Psy Hons; MSc Human Nutrition.