We hardly give a thought before drinking that glass of milk every day even as adulteration of milk products is rampant in India and the pressure on dairy farmers to scale up is massive.
How healthy is it? Does it do any good? Should you consume it at all? If yes, how much?
Though there is no one answer to all these questions and experts vary in their opinions, most think consuming cow’s milk every day is safe, healthy and much needed by your body.
Here is all you needed to know:
How much is enough?
The popularity of consuming cow’s milk might have fallen considerably in the UK and the US in the last three decades, but drinking it first thing in the morning or through the day is as popular in India as ever.
And doctors see no harm in it as long as you take it in limited quantities, precisely between 200-500ml (about two glasses) a day.
Is it nutritious still?
“The milk of cows that are grass-fed is the richest source of calcium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids,” Dr Rekha Sundersan, a lactation consultant at Chennai’s Seethapathy Clinic and Hospital, says.
According to her, certain health fads take over from time to time, like veganism is now or ‘nothing white’ five years ago. “These keep coming and going but Indians have been having cow’s milk for generations now and it won’t change because it is wholesome food.”
Dr Sudeep Khanna, a senior consultant at the department of gastroenterology of New Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, agrees. “Most of these studies that advise against drinking milk are observational and based purely on a cause-and-effect relationship. There is nothing to be afraid of,” he says.
Should you buy from the dairy near you?
“It is definitely better than buying from a milkman,” Sundersan says.
“The milk from dairies is pasteurised. That you get from your local milkman is not. You are not even sure of the utensils he is using or the cleanliness levels of his cow shed. Dairies follow certain standards of hygiene and production, and can be held accountable if they flout the norms,” she adds.
Indraprastha Apollo Hospital’s Khanna echoes the notion. “Buying milk from a dairy booth is perfectly safe as long as you boil it and check its taste before consuming it,” he says.
He also urges consumers to check the date before making a purchase. “Do not buy old milk. Always look at the expiry date,” he says.
Should you have milk with food?
Victoria Kumar Soraine, infant and young child feeding specialist with the Breastfeeding Promoting Network of India, says one should never mix them.
“There should be a gap of at least 30 minutes between when you drink milk and have your meal because milk makes it difficult for your body to absorb the iron in your food,” she says.
Is it a complete food?
Not really, says Soraine. “Milk is not a complete food in itself as is commonly believed. It needs to be supplemented with other foods. You cannot treat it as a full diet. It’s just a part of it,” she says.
Though nutritious, she believes it to be foolhardy to depend on milk for all nutrient supplies. “A lot of people drink a glass of milk a day and think it would do. It doesn’t. This is asking too much of one food item,” she adds.
What if you don’t have milk at all?
You do not lose out on much as long as you have other sources to meet your nutrient requirements. In fact, adults do not need milk as much as children do.
“Cow’s milk is most beneficial to humans from when they are six months old to until they are five. Milk is not absorbed by adults the way it should be, thus limiting its benefits,” Soraine says.
Also, the hormones that are injected to the cattle for increasing milk production do more harm than good.
“Oxytocin that is given to cows is already present in the human body and an excess of it can lead to diseases like PCOD,” according to Soraine.
The author tweets @sneha_bengani
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