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Food & diet

Milk, everything you need to know: from the right consumption to intolerances, benefits and properties

March 29, 2018

In addition to providing children with a variety of vitamins, minerals and other growth promoting nutrients, milk is a particularly important food to help build and maintain strong bones.


Essential in infant nutrition, cow’s milk provides protein, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and potassium and is to be preferred to other less nutritious drinks but equally appreciated by children such as soft drinks or fruit juices. After 12 months, children should consume whole cow’s milk without allergies or intolerances and should switch to skimmed milk after the age of two. If the children are overweight, the transition to a less caloric drink is also indicated after the first year of age. We talk about this topic with Dr. Manuela Pastore, dietician of Humanitas.



The right amount of a nutritious but caloric food in the developmental age


How much milk should children consume? To answer this question, it is essential to take into account the age of the subjects and the presence of pathologies or problems including excess weight. If we talk about healthy children, between 2 and 8 years old, the nutritionists recommend 2 cups every day, between 9 and 18 years old we can even reach 3 cups. If children do not like milk, it is necessary to find a substitute for this important food by choosing from the list of derivatives such as cheese and yogurt or other foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.



Do adults also benefit from milk?


Milk is one of the richest foods in calcium, a mineral essential for bone health because it helps prevent osteoporosis. But is the amount of calcium required to accompany men and women throughout their lives, or is it particularly suitable for certain stages? It is worth asking whether it is necessary as an adult or not.


“A good supply of calcium is fundamental from early childhood and throughout the growth phase – commented Pastore: the bone peak is around 21 years, so it is essential to achieve a good supply of calcium in these phases and then maintain it during adulthood.


The effectiveness of milk intake after the development period is still the subject of debate in the scientific community. Some research in recent years has brought new evidence on the effects of milk intake on the body. A 2013 Harvard University study criticized American guidelines that indicate three cups of milk per day as the ideal amount for adults and teenagers aged 9 to 18 years.


Other studies have looked at milk consumption and the risk of fractures. A 2014 study, published in the British Medical Journal and conducted on over 100,000 Swedish men and women, associated milk consumption in adults with an increased risk of fractures in women. However, the researchers stress that the data should be interpreted with caution given the observational nature of the study. “Milk is not only important for calcium but also for vitamin D – added the dietician of Humanitas – as well as the level of physical activity that helps to strengthen bones. These two components are fundamental in a study on the correlation between fractures and nutritional factors. “Drinking milk in adulthood can be useful to reach the need for calcium, a precious mineral for bone and tooth health and for regulating bone metabolism – said Dr. Manuela Pastore, clinical dietician at the Humanitas Hospital. Sardines, crustaceans and mollusks, chicory, cabbages, broccoli, endive, chard, sesame seed, herring, soya, figs, asparagus, rye flour, almonds, oats, amaranth in grains: these are foods that contain good sources of calcium, together with calcium water, and that can be introduced into the diet to meet the needs of this nutrient.



Types of milk


Italian law provides that only cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk can be defined as milk. However, there are many types of drinks on the market that can replace cow’s milk in a good way, also from a nutritional point of view. Let’s see which and how many types of drinks (often improperly defined as milk) exist and what resource they represent for the health of different life stages.




Allergies and intolerances


If you have an allergy to milk protein, you should completely deprive yourself of this drink and other dairy products. More common than a milk allergy is lactose intolerance, which can cause an accumulation of intestinal gases, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and swelling due to the lack of the enzyme “lactase” that splits the disaccharide lactase into its monosaccharides: glucose and galactose. Disaccharides cannot be absorbed as such but require enzymatic action.


Children and adults with lactose intolerance have difficulty digesting lactose but are sometimes able to consume other lactose products without problems.


“Most lactose intolerants are able to digest small quantities of lactose,” commented Pastor, “while it is difficult for them to tolerate large quantities of lactose or large quantities ingested at any one time”.



Benefits and properties of milk


Considered a grandmother’s remedy for sleep, some mothers re-propose this food to their children thinking it helps them sleep better.


“Drinking a cup of milk or eating some fruits such as apples or bananas helps to reconcile sleep in children – confirmed Dr. Vincenzo Tullo, neurologist specialist and headache clinic manager at Humanitas. It is good, however, that, together with the milk before going to sleep, children limit, in the afternoon, the consumption of drinks containing exciting substances such as caffeine, also avoiding eating in a messy way, with too many sweet or salty snacks that can disturb digestion.



The golden milk: milk and turmeric


Milk and turmeric are the two main ingredients of “golden milk”, a healthy drink that enhances the beneficial properties of turmeric, the Eastern spice now widespread in Europe. “Golden milk” comes from the East and the tradition of alternative medicines and can be a healthy panacea against menstrual and joint pain, but also against the symptoms of a cold. “The curcuma has many beneficial properties – said Dr. Sara Testa, dietician at the Obesity Centre of the Humanitas Hospital. It relieves joint and muscle pain, can be used as a natural anti-inflammatory in case of headaches, to relieve the symptoms of cold and calm cough. It also helps to relieve the symptoms of respiratory diseases and is a real natural remedy for cleansing the blood.

Golden milk also improves digestion by favoring the production of bile by the liver, functions as a natural antispasmodic and regulates metabolism, lowering cholesterol and stimulating the body’s immune system.



How to prepare it?

Simply boil water and turmeric until it reaches a creamy consistency. Someone suggests adding a pinch of pepper to revive the beneficial effects of the spice. At least half a teaspoon of this cream is then dissolved in a cup of vegetable milk, almond, hemp, coconut or soy. Some recipes also include a teaspoon of coconut oil or sweet almonds for food use, others a pinch of cinnamon or ginger, and then honey to taste for sweetening.



Milk and cancer: what are the correlations?


Several associations have been circulating in the media in recent years, which have closely linked the consumption of milk and milk products to the risk of developing cancer. But is there any truth?


“In most cases, the available data is inconsistent and incomplete,” explained Johanna Lampe, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, in 2011 in a study review published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition. It is therefore a good idea to start with this message, before reviewing the main evidence in the scientific literature, bearing in mind that, if some findings exist, they are still too weak to point the finger at food so important for growth”.


“To date there are no valid scientific data to confirm this association – added Pastore – so, with the care of verifying that the milk you buy is Italian, is a recommended food if it is well tolerated.

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