Is it true that milk "does a body good"? I was raised on plenty of milk, and continue to drink a fair amount. I have always held that milk contains a well-balanced mix of nutrients, including calcium for my bone health. So what are the facts? There are pros and cons; let's take a look.Milk is a great source of calcium, providing about 300 mg in each cup. Of course there are other sources of calcium, such as yogurt, nuts, turnips, broccoli, watercress, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soy products, and calcium-fortified products like orange juice and margarine. However, milk is one of the best nutritional sources of calcium, as it contains vitamin D, and lactose to aid in calcium absorption. Milk provides a complete source of protein. The protein is high quality, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids. In addition, milk is a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin D and riboflavin (a B vitamin). The primary role of milk in nature is to nourish and provide immunological protection for newborns. Drinking milk in childhood and adolescence is strongly associated with increased bone mass and density in adulthood. It is essentially one-stop shopping because it contains nearly all the basic nutrients that a growing child needs, including fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals (except iron). Whole milk is loaded with saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels, so low-fat or non-fat milk is your best bet. On the negative side, many people, especially as they grow older, have difficulty digesting milk because they lack enough of the lactase enzyme. This condition is known as lactose intolerance and causes bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It is estimated that milk products lead to roughly 50% of these symptoms in adults. For most, it is easy to control lactose intolerance by taking a lactase tablet while consuming dairy products. Milk may contain the antibiotics given to cows to treat inflammation. When we consume the milk, we absorb these antibiotics, potentially making us more resistant to them in the future when we need them to fight infection. Milk is, on rare occasion, a cause of food allergies due to the various proteins it contains. common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hives, rashes, cough, watery eyes and stuffy nose. While these symptoms are more commonly seen in young children, they are also found in adults. Hormones are used to enhance milk production in cows. One such hormone is rBGH, made by Monsanto. This hormone leads to higher levels of an insulin-like growth factor IGF-1, which a Harvard study has linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Some sources discuss a possible link between milk consumption and iron deficiency anemia in young children, as well as to a risk for breast cancer and heart disease. Current data is still sparse, but emotions run high, and research is continuing. There is debate concerning whether organically-reared cows yield milk with higher levels of nutrients. The advantages of going organic are still being investigated. Proponents claim that these cows eat large quantities of fresh grass and produce milk which is on average 50% higher in vitamin E, 75% higher in beta carotene (converted to vitamin A in our body), and has two to three times higher antioxidant levels than non-organic milk. Others claim that government standards are strict and that these standards ensure that non-organic milk is just as pure, safe and nutritious. Milk consumption certainly shows a disturbing trend. By the time the average American girl, for example, reaches her 19th birthday, she'll be drinking three times more soda and 25% less milk than she did when a child. This bodes poorly for that average girl's future risk for osteoporosis. Is this trend related to current concerns over milk, or a greater desire for soda? Surveys indicate the latter. Overall, I recommend that milk should play an important part in our diet, regardless of age. Low-fat and non-fat milk are low in fat and clearly do the body a great deal of good. At the recommended level of consumption of three eight-ounce glasses per day for growing children, and less for adults, we are providing our bodies with needed calcium, protein and vitamins. I wish you great nutrition and bone health. Bottoms up! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: March 12, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 47