Don’t Be So Sure of the Goodness of Milk

Why is milk so good for children?

While cow’s milk is designed for baby cows, it is also has great nutritional benefits for human baby’s.  Milk contains almost all the nutrients that a growing child needs: fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.  Vegetables, seafood, and other products may give your child the nutrients they need also, but not in one convenient source such as milk.  It is also easier to get children to drink milk for breakfast than other foods.  Try serving your child a big bowl of vegetables in the morning and the benefits of getting their nutrients from milk will be revealed.  Following is a list of the nutritional benefits of milk per 8 oz. serving:

  • Protein: 8 grams.
  • Carbohydrates – lactose, 11 grams
  • Fat: Depending on what kind of milk you choose (nonfat to whole milk), milk contains anywhere from negligible amounts of fat in non-fat milk to eight grams of fat per 8-ounce glass in whole milk.
  • Calcium: 300 milligrams or 35 percent of the RDA for school children. Note that the percentage of calcium absorbed from dairy products is much higher than that absorbed from most vegetables. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, which boosts calcium absorption.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 8-ounces of milk supply half the RDA for children less than three years, one-third of the vitamin B2 requirement for school-age children, and one-fourth the requirement for teens and adults.
  • Vitamin B-12: 30 percent RDA for children
  • Zinc: one eight-ounce glass, 10 percent RDA for children
  • Vitamin D: 25 percent RDA for children and adults
  • Vitamin A: 10 percent RDA for children and adults

No, milk is not perfect.  For children who are overweight it may be beneficial to switch from whole milk to 1% or skim.  In some cases children in their teens may be so obese that the nutrients derived from milk should be obtained through other sources.  The important thing is that children receive these nutrients in some form.

How much milk should my child drink?

  • Infants under one year of age shouldn’t get any milk other than breast milk.  If breast milk is not available then the child should be fed formula.  Children under one are susceptible to milk allergies.
  • Toddlers between the age of one and two years old should get whole milk.  At this age the child needs the dietary fats for normal growth and brain development.  Only in severe cases of obesity should a child switch to low fat milk at this age.
  • After the age of two most children can switch to 1 or 2 percent milk.  Discuss this with your doctor first.  If your child is a healthy weight, there is no reason he/she can’t keep drinking whole milk.

A child under the age of four should consume roughly 2 servings (473 milliliters or 1 pint) per day of dairy products.  This is roughly two cups of milk per day.  For children 4 to 8, this number jumps up to 3 servings per day (710 milliliters or 1.5 pints) of dairy products.  Finally, children between the ages of 9 and 18 should consume 4 servings (946 milliliters or 2 pints) of dairy products per day.  This is the equivalent of 4 cups of milk per day.  As your child get older it becomes easier to introduce vegetables and seafood into their diets to receive some of the nutrients originally derived from milk, but milk remains the most convenient and popular method of getting your child to consume the proper nutrients.

Is calcium really that important?

Calcium is a key building block for strong, healthy bones.  But, more than 80% of girls and 60% of boys age 9 to 18 fail to get the recommended 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day.  One of the major reasons for this is kids increasing consumption of soda instead of milk.  Milk is the number one source of calcium.  Also, kids who drink soda or any caffeinated beverage may get even less calcium as those substances interfere with the body’s absorption and use of calcium.  Making sure your children get enough milk in their diet is an important step to ensuring your child’s health.  From birth to adolescence, calcium is one nutrient that kids must not skip, and milk is the primary source for their calcium.

What if my child is allergic to milk?

Around 5% of children and adults are either allergic to milk or simply intolerant of milk.  Hugh A. Sampson, M. D. wrote an article for “Food Allergy News” published by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) in June-July 2004 regarding Milk and Egg Allergies. In this article, he stated:        “Virtually all infants who develop cow’s milk allergy do so in the first year of life, with about 80% ‘outgrowing’ their milk allergy by their fifth birthday.

About 60% of cow’s milk-allergic infants experience IgE-mediated reactions, or the more classical ‘immediate’ reactions affecting the skin (hives and eczema), gastrointestinal tract (crampy abdominal pain and vomiting), and the respiratory tract (nasal congestion, sneezing and wheezing). Nearly 25% of these milk-allergic infants retain their sensitivity into the second decade of life, and 35% go on to develop other food allergies.”  The chances of a child having a milk allergy are greatly increased if there is a family history of the allergy.  It is the protein in milk that causes an allergic reaction.

Cow’s milk was meant for cow’s intestines, not human intestines.  Usually children can adapt and the intestines are not damaged.  In cases of milk allergy, the intestines wall is damaged and irritated.  This allows the milk protein to escape into the circulatory system.  The body recognizes this cow’s milk protein as foreign and attacks the protein.  This leads to the classic allergy symptoms; sneezing, wheezing, runny nose and rashes.  The most common symptom is vomiting after eating.  The underlying cause of repeated colds and ear infections is often milk allergy.

So, what is the best way to deal with milk allergy in children?  The best action is to stay away from milk and milk products entirely.   This means reading labels carefully if you have a milk allergic baby.  Many processed foods contain milk, so cooking your own food may be the safest alternative.

Ask your doctor for a complete list of milk products and ingredients to avoid if your child is allergic.  But, don’t despair, as shown children can often be introduced to milk at a later age and show no symptoms of the allergy.  Until then, try to feed them the nutrients they need through other products.  It is worth noting that some people who can’t handle milk can sometimes tolerate cheese and yogurt.  It will not be as convenient as giving them milk, but at the end of the day it is just important that they get the proper nutrients.

Is milk safe?

Under normal circumstances the answer is yes.  If you are worried about the pesticides in cow feed or the hormones that are injected in cows to keep their milk production high, then buy organic milk. This will mean there were never hormones in the cow or antibiotics in the feed, and the milk was protected from pollutants during processing.

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