Benefits of milk

Posted on 30 November 2012

If you’re trying to shake a few kilos then banning milk certainly isn’t the way to go. Dieticians maintain that dairy products should form part of a healthy diet.

By Carine Visagie

What does dairy contain that makes it so good for us?
Dairy may have several surprising health benefits. According to the Nutrition Information Centre at the University of Stellenbosch, this may include a lower risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and insulin-resistance syndrome. And yes, while it seems that calcium might play a key role, research shows that calcium from non-dairy foods doesn’t necessarily offer the same benefits. This has led experts to believe that the many other nutrients found in dairy, including potassium, magnesium, enzymes and probiotics, may also be involved – another reason to include dairy foods in your diet.
And, for many, dairy is a delicious treat.

How much milk do we need?
Many of us don’t get enough calcium through our diet, with black South Africans most at risk. Depending on your age, you need between 1 000 to 1 500 mg of calcium per day, which translates to two to three 250 ml cups of milk or yoghurt a day, according to Berna Harmse, a dietician at Mediclinic Panorama. Opt for low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy – the skinny versions provide as much calcium without the added saturated fat and kilojoules.

What is lactose intolerance?
‘Lactose intolerance means you’re not able to digest the milk sugar in dairy products fully,’ explains Berna, adding that symptoms include nausea and bloating. ‘Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency in lactase, an enzyme produced by the lining of the small intestine.’ If your doctor has confirmed that you’re lactose-intolerant, you might have to cut your milk intake, opt for better-tolerated yoghurt or cheese, or avoid dairy completely. Of course, cutting dairy from your diet could lead to bone loss, so visit a dietician to ensure you’re still getting calcium from other foods or supplements.

Why do we need dairy?
Your mom was right. You need lots of milk to build healthy bones and teeth, even in adulthood. Dairy foods are rich in calcium – a mineral that maintains a healthy bone structure, thereby reducing your risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Calcium also helps to control blood pressure, maintain your heartbeat, stimulate hormone secretions and make your blood clot when you’re injured. ‘Calcium is lost daily in the urine, sweat and faeces,’ says Tereza Hough of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa. So make sure you replace it every day.

Can milk help me sleep better?
It’s been suggested that the enzyme tryptophan, which is found in milk, helps to trigger the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, but experts are not sure whether milk as such makes much of a difference. However, if you find that a cup of warm milk helps you to doze off, it certainly can’t hurt to continue this habit.

Should I give my kids full-cream, low-fat or fat-free milk?
‘From the age of 12 months, a child should be eating a variety of foods,’ says Berna. ‘You can safely give your child full-cream milk from this age on, and a milk intake of about 600 ml per day is healthy.’ If your tot is overweight, you can introduce low-fat milk after his or her second birthday. After age five, it’s safe to reduce your little one’s saturated-fat intake by switching to low-fat dairy products.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Nutrition

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