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The Cardiologist's Wife - Milk, Necessary or No?
Jun 28, 2019

When my husband and I were growing up, milk was the drink of choice for children because of its nutritional value. Our parents encouraged us to drink up so we’d have strong bones. Milk, even flavored milk like chocolate and strawberry, is the number one drink served in schools. But is milk really necessary for proper growth and development in young children or can you get the same nutrients from other sources? Animal welfare groups have strongly encouraged people to give up dairy milk because of the living conditions of milk cows; you may have seen the recent headlines concerning Fairlife milk and its parent company Coca Cola. Here are a few facts about milk so you can make up your own mind.

Scientists know that kids really don’t need to drink cow’s milk after they are weaned from breast milk. Most of the people in the world do not and they still manage to get adequate nutrition. But for those children who are picky eaters or who struggle to get enough nutrients, milk is a nutrient dense food and a particularly rich source of protein, calcium, potassium and calories. Milk is also a good source of vitamin D but we can get vitamin D from exposure to the sun or from other food sources like fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified foods like orange juice or soy-milk.

It has long been thought that getting plenty of calcium by drinking milk helps keep our bones strong but actually physical activity is much better for developing strong, healthy bones. The best exercises for building bones are weight bearing activities like walking, running, jumping and climbing. Make sure your children get at least one hour of physical activity a day as it’s good for overall development. Back in the day, our parents never worried about whether we played outside as we were never inside if we could help it but today, too many children sit inside playing on screens.

The downside of milk is that many people are lactose intolerant or can not comfortably digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. Calcium can inhibit the absorption of iron so drinking too much milk can lead to anemia. Kids who fill up on milk may also not learn to eat other healthy foods like vegetables. Worst of all, drinking an 8 ounce glass of low fat chocolate milk has the same number of calories from added sugars as an 8 ounce glass of Coke. So please limit the amount of flavored milk your child drinks to the occasional treat, not an every day beverage.

So if your child doesn’t like milk or has trouble digesting it, don’t worry. Just make sure to serve other foods that are good sources of calcium. We tend to think of milk or other dairy products as the only sources of calcium but there are plenty of others and your children would get many more benefits from eating them.

Here is a list of some non dairy foods that are rich in calcium:

Chia seeds - add to smoothies or oatmeal
Sunflower seeds - eat as a snack or put on salads
Canned salmon
Beans and lentils
Nuts, especially almonds
Whey protein - add to smoothies, oatmeal or baked goods
Leafy greens like arugula, spinach and kale
Edamame and Tofu
Dried figs
Broccoli and broccoli rabe
Sweet potatoes
Butternut squash

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