Nutrition: The white stuff, Milk!

Friday 04 May 2018

The White stuff, Milk!. Should we or shouldn’t we? A question I am frequently asked especially by ladies with breast cancer and I am not surprised, as there is so much conflicting information it is a job to know what to do. Well let’s look at some evidence.

There are arguments for and against milk consumption.
On the positive side

  • Milk is easily available, versatile and quick to prepare as a food.  It contains calcium, protein and some fat soluble vitamins A and D unless it is skimmed.
  • Calcium is needed for strong bones, as long as it is eaten with other foods rich in magnesium and vitamin D. These nutrients are necessary to stimulate the absorption of calcium from the milk into the bones. Magnesium rich foods are nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. Foods rich in vitamin D are oily fish, egg yolks and of course the sunshine.
  • Protein as we know from our first blog is needed for growth and repair of tissues, to support the immune system, aid healing and to help sustain an even blood sugar.
  • Vitamins A and D are known as the fat soluble vitamins and come from foods like nuts, seeds, eggs and oily fish. The beta carotene found in orange coloured fruits and vegetables is converted in the body into vitamin A.

So in many respects milk is a very useful food.

So what’s the problem ?

A very popular opinion in research papers and books that I read is that the purpose of milk is specifically for the young of that animal during the weaning process and not beyond that time.

One reason why some people do not advocate the use of milk is because it contains natural growth hormone factors and other peptides that stimulate the growth of cells. This allows the young to grow rapidly in the first few months of their lives. Once weaning time is over we start to produce our own growth factors.

Because the purpose of milk is to provide fuel for the young it has its own clever system of protecting its purpose. Casein is the protein in milk and it prevents the breakdown of the insulin growth like factor during digestion, making it easily available for the body.

While this is a good thing in infants it may not be such a positive thing for adults.

Researchers also believe that growth promoting hormones are given to all cattle at some point.   Interestingly goat’s milk has similar research attached to it. It is worth mentioning however that research is ongoing on the subject of milk as with other foods and in time opinions may change.

So what about yogurt? Well as it is a fermented product and the fermentation process decomposes the growth hormones it is perfectly fine to use.

What about calcium?

Another question that arises from this is the fact that traditionally we are told to drink milk to get calcium. I can remember my third of a pint every break time at junior school. Not nice in the warm weather!!  

Sufficient calcium is particularly important for post menopausal women and those taking drugs for hormone driven cancers.

Well, according to reviews on calcium and bone health published in 2006, the calcium in milk is not very available to our bones, simply because the co factors needed to carry the calcium into the bones is missing i.e. Vitamin D and magnesium. Interestingly countries that consume the most dairy have the largest incidence of osteoporosis, so something is wrong here, it does not quite add up does it.

If you are worried about your calcium levels there are many other sources of bone friendly calcium that are more easily absorbed and less controversial than milk.  These are unsalted almonds, baked beans, green leafy vegetables and legumes or ‘greens and beans’, for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and contain the essential magnesium, plus 15minutes of sunshine will give us vitamin D which is an essential co factor to help calcium absorption. Failing sunshine eat foods rich in vitamin D like oily fish and eggs. Vegetables are generally low in vitamin D but the best sources are green leafy varieties. So the obvious clue here is to eat your greens!!!

What’s the bottom line?

Looking at all this evidence there appears to be a strong case for not using milk but as I said research in on going. I think that it is ok in moderation i.e in the odd cup of tea or if you are out and you are presented with it.  If you do decide to reduce or cut milk out of your diet there are so many excellent alternatives on the market because of its contentious nature it may be wise to consider using one of those.

I am a fan of oatly milk, milk made from oats. It is great on cereal, muesli or for making porridge. You can cook with it. Other milks are rice milk which is naturally quite sweet, nut milks, hemp milk and quinoa milk which is a little more difficult to source. I get my oatly milk from Tesco it has the same calorie content as semi skimmed milk but without the added complications.

In my blog next week I thought we could look at Whey protein and Pea protein and its versatility as a food particularly for those with reduced appetites, find difficulty swallowing or want to boost their immune systems or lose or gain weight.

Original blog  written by Caroline April 2012

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