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Milk is a complete food for children. Fact or fiction?
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Milk is a complete food for children. Fact or fiction?

Milk plays a vital role during the developmental stages of a child, aiding metabolic pathways involved in deriving energy from food

Milk, which is considered a complete food, should be an indispensable part of a child's diet

The relationship between humans and milk dates back over 6000 years. While our ancestors were privy to the importance of milk, there has been much dispute about its health benefits in recent times. However, debates aside, the benefits of milk for children are undeniable, as it’s a rich source of essential nutrients. Experts opine that milk, which is a complete food, should be an indispensable part of a child’s diet.

According to doctors, it’s important for parents to be aware of the health benefits that milk provides, and a glass of milk should always accompany a nutritious platter for kids.

Nutrients present in milk

Milk is one of the best sources of essential nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins (like vitamin B and B12) and fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D and E),” says Anjana Nair, registered dietician and consultant nutritionist, CBO Well-a-line Solutions, Bengaluru.

“Milk plays a vital role during the developmental stages of a child by aiding the metabolic pathways, which are chemical reactions that help derive energy from food,” she adds.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, whole cow’s milk contains about 87 per cent water. The remaining 13 per cent comprise protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. In addition, low-fat varieties of milk are derived through several processing techniques. Among those, the ‘reduced fat’ variety contains two per cent milk fat, the ‘low fat’ variety contains one per cent milk fat and the ‘non-fat’ or ‘skim’ variety has virtually no fat at all.

Too much milk is a no-no

While milk should be an important part of a child’s diet, excessive consumption can have adverse effects.

“Excessive consumption of milk can cause inflammation. 500 ml of milk per day is the recommended limit for toddlers,” says Dr Supraja Chandrasekar, pediatric intensivist and director of paediatric services, Dhee Hospitals, Bengaluru.

Anjana doesn’t recommend low-fat milk for children since the fats present in whole milk are essential for children’s development. But whole milk consumption should be in moderation, she adds.

Plant milk vs animal milk

While veganism has gained popularity over the years, experts advise against depriving children of milk and animal proteins.

Emphasising on the importance of milk, Dr Supraja opines that replacing animal milk with plant milk isn’t wise, as plant extracts cannot compensate for the nutritional benefits of animal milk.

“Vegetarians derive their animal protein solely from milk. A vegan diet which is devoid of all animal products can cause vitamin deficiency in children, including a deficiency of vitamin B12, which is largely derived from animal protein,” says Dr Supraja.

She adds that a diet without animal protein can also affect metabolism and cause neurological complications.

“Vegan parents must seek professional advice to ensure that their child’s nutritional requirements are met,” she cautions.

Ensuring nutrition in children who dislike milk

Some children may have an aversion to milk, making it a herculean task for parents to meet their nutritional requirements.

“If a child dislikes milk, they can be given other dairy products like cheese, paneer and curd. Parents can also make healthy, no-sugar desserts containing milk with a dash of honey or jaggery,” says Anjana.

In addition, parents should look out for signs of lactose intolerance in children, where they have trouble digesting lactose (the main sugar present in milk) due to the deficiency of a digestive enzyme called lactase. In such cases, the child may experience stomach discomfort after consuming milk or milk products.

Takeaways

  • Milk is a complete food for children which is rich in nutrients like calcium, protein, fats and vitamins.
  • While milk plays a vital role during the developmental stages of a child, excessive consumption can cause inflammation.
  • Vegan replacements like plant milk don’t compensate for the nutritional benefits of animal milk.
  • Children who dislike milk can be given other dairy products like cheese, paneer and curd.

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