Discussing milk

Nutrition has become an increasingly difficult field to navigate as there is a surplus of information

“Is milk good for you?”

Nutrition has become an increasingly difficult field to navigate as there is a surplus of information. Both good and bad, it is swayed not only by health but ethics, culture, taste, marketing and personal experience. The truthful answer to almost any nutrition question is, “it depends who you ask!”

Nutritionally speaking, cow’s milk is an important food in Canada because it is the main source of three important nutrients: calcium, vitamin D and protein. An eight-ounce glass of milk offers about nine grams of protein (the equivalent to one and a half eggs), 300 milligrams of calcium (30 per cent of what most need in a day) and 100 IU of vitamin D.

Bones can be thought of as calcium banks, and if you do not get enough calcium from your diet, the body will withdraw it from your bones. Over time, this makes them thin and porous and prone to breaking. Breaking bones later in life can be devastating, leading to hospitalizations and even loss of independence and mobility.

That being said, there are many valid reasons to avoid milk. Many people are lactose intolerant (meaning they cannot break down the sugar in milk), some are allergic, some are trying to avoid animal products, some do not like the taste. For those people, industry has created many alternatives: soy, almond, hemp, coconut, rice, cashew.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you are choosing a milk alternative:

• Not all milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Check the label.

• Milk alternatives, with the exception of soy milk, are not significant sources of protein.

•  The sugar and calcium found in milk are naturally occurring, whereas those found in milk alternatives are added (usually as cane sugar and calcium carbonate).

• Milk alternatives are not appropriate for children under the age of two. Acceptable alternatives to homogenized milk are fortified full-fat pasteurized goat’s milk or soy infant formula. Fortified soy beverages are acceptable if given as an occasional offering, in addition to breastmilk or formula.

-Serena Caner is a registered dietician at Shuswap Lake Hospital.