Milk prices are sinking fast and UK dairy farmers are fighting to stay afloat. The ‘milk trolley challenge’ and supermarket protests have helped raise the profile of their plight but our appetite for the white stuff has never been lower. Twenty years ago we drank three times as much whole milk as we do today; sunflower oil spreads have all but killed the butter market, and even sales of cheddar are starting to crumble.
For the past decade, nutrition ‘gurus’ have drip-fed us the idea that all dairy is bad for and milk-free diets are healthy. Science has shown us that milk may not be the elixir of life we thought it was fifty years ago, but it is packed with nutrients that can benefit us in all stages of life. In childhood, this is especially true. Very few foods contain as much calcium as milk does and research shows that kids who drink milk end up significantly taller than their schoolmates who don’t. Bones get stronger and thicker until early adulthood, thereafter they gradually weaken. A daily dose of milk in childhood helps to ensure a lifetime of strong bones and reduces the chances of developing osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) in old age.
In addition to calcium, milk is a good source of protein and fat. The NHS recommends choosing low fat milk products, such as skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurts, as part of a daily dairy intake. The saturated fats in milk have long been thought to harmful to the heart – especially when eaten in isolation as cream, cheese or butter. Up to date research shows that when choosing milk it’s not a simple black and white issue: the unique combination of over 400 fat types and nutrients in milk may actually be good for us and protect the heart from disease. Furthermore, research shows that milk may stave off diabetes and, in moderation, even help weight loss. A recent experiment showed that a glass of skimmed milk drunk after exercise aids weight loss.
You can, of course, get too much of a good thing. We should limit daily intake to less than three and a half glasses (680ml) to reap the benefits. And for the one in fifteen of us who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, dairy products will almost certainly be a no-no. (If you experience unpleasant symptoms soon after consuming dairy products then seek medical attention.)
Humans have drunk milk for about 10,000 years and if you don’t drink any then getting a glass a day might just do you – and our dairy industry – a lot of good.
Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. Follow @realdoctorstu
Read more: Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition (review by Food and Agriculture organisation of the United Nations)