Milk has had a lot of bad press in recent years and many parents are left confused as to whether they should be giving their children dairy products or steering well clear of them.
The nutritional benefits of cow’s milk
On the positive side, cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium (essential for growing strong bones and teeth) and a good source of protein (essential for growth); it also contains good levels of Thiamin (Vitamin B1) and Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) both of which are needed for energy production and a healthy nervous system. Cow’s milk is also an excellent source of B12 needed for red blood cell production and a healthy nervous system.
Full fat milk also contains some vitamin A which is essential for eye health and the immune system. Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk contain much lower levels of vitamin A because it is found in the fatty part of the milk.
Possible problems with cow’s milk
On the negative side, many people with Asian, African or Chinese heritage may find that they are lactose intolerant – that is, that they lack adequate quantities of the enzyme needed to digest the lactose (sugar) milk naturally contains. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are usually bloating, diarrhoea, wind and tummy ache. The more northern European your heritage, the less likely you are to be lactose intolerant. Many people find they can tolerate cow’s milk in small amounts as they have some lactose digesting enzymes but larger quantities cause symptoms to develop.
The other portion of cow’s milk which may cause problems is the protein. Cow’s milk contains mainly A1 proteins which some people have trouble digesting and develop symptoms similar to those of lactose intolerance. In fact, many people who think they have lactose intolerance may instead be intolerant to the proteins in cow’s milk.
For some people cow’s milk can also worsen allergy symptoms such as excessive mucous production, eczema, asthma and hay fever.
What are the alternatives?
If you think your child is reacting badly to cow’s milk you could try goat’s milk as an alternative. Goat’s milk is rich in calcium, protein and some vitamins, so you are still getting most of the good stuff cow’s milk provides. However, goat’s milk contains A2 proteins which are much easier to digest than the A1 protein found in cow’s milk. It also has less lactose and shorter chain fats which may make it easier to digest.
If your child can’t tolerate cow or goat milk then you will have to move them on to a non-dairy alternative such as almond milk or oat milk. Be sure to read the ingredients list as many non-dairy milks contain added sugar. I would avoid soya milk for children because it contains high levels of phytates which reduce mineral absorption.
If your child can’t tolerate cow milk they may be OK with yogurt and cheese because the bacteria found in these products makes the sugar and proteins in them easier to digest. Keeping some dairy in the diet is a good idea as it is such a good source of calcium and building strong bones and teeth is so important. If you can’t include any dairy in their diet, be sure they eat lots of other calcium rich foods such as tinned mackerel and sardines, almonds, sesame seeds and dark green leafy vegetables.
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