Back in the days when I lived with my parents, milk was an integral part of life. If I remember correctly, in my growing up years I was given buffalo milk as it was believed to contain more ‘good’ fat. Somewhere down the line, I started disliking its taste and gradually moved to cow’s milk. Besides the standard of two, tall glasses a day; there was turmeric milk for when I was sick or hurt, Horlicks milk for when I was stressed or tired and plain, cold milk for when I had stomach trouble. At times, it was regarded as a perfectly good substitute for a meal.
Since then, dairy has become a controversial topic. Extensive research has been conducted on the advantages and disadvantages of dairy in our diet leaving us with nothing but divided schools of thought. While there seems to be no definite direction to this argument, there are some facts that have come out crystal clear. Here are some pointers which will (hopefully) give you a reasonable idea of how much, why and what kind of dairy do your kids need after all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no cow’s milk until your baby turns 12 months old. Breast milk is ideal, failing which, there is formula. Incidentally, the cow’s milk in cow’s milk-based formula is considered safe for babies.
AAP also recommends that between the ages of 1 & 2, children should be consuming full-fat, pasteurized milk. An exception to this rule is a child who is gaining weight very quickly in which case the pediatrician may approve low-fat or skim milk.
Cow’s milk is biologically designed for calves, but there is nothing to say that it is not good for humans too. In fact, cow’s milk is good for calves AND humans. Quite like camel milk is good for baby camels and humans; goat milk (and cheese) is good for baby goats and humans and so on and so forth.
Milk and its by-products are a source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and minerals all of which are needed for building strong bones. Having said that, consuming dairy is by no means a full-proof way of gaining bone strength; other factors such as the level of physical activity and genetics also come in play.
A certain section of the world’s population is intolerant to lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy leading to vomiting, diarrhea and related symptoms. Sometimes, babies are born with this condition too. Lactose intolerance is a very valid reason to stop consuming dairy altogether.
Milk is full of calories. Besides, too much of it can fill kids up thus making them reject nutritious, solid food. It is best to stick to the daily recommended serving of dairy products (combination of milk, yoghurt and cheese) beyond which children should be encouraged to eat healthy solids and drink a lot of water.
If a child does not enjoy the taste of cow’s milk, has trouble digesting it or in case of a family history of allergy, one can look at alternatives such as almond, soy, rice or coconut milk. However, always choose products that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D while avoiding the ones sweetened with artificial sugar.
While substitutes of cow milk are healthy in itself, they come with their own set of deficiencies. Almond milk is lacking in calcium, coconut milk is very high in calories, unsweetened soy milk does not taste good while rice milk is packed in carbohydrates.
Among newer reports and evidences of milk being extremely beneficial for health and those that claim it is the unhealthiest thing for humans, it is clear that there is no final word on this subject. As a parent, the sensible thing to do here is to trust your instincts. If your kids enjoy cow’s milk and have no trouble digesting it, they can continue to do so within reasonable limits. If they consume yoghurt (with its probiotic value), cheese and calcium-fortified orange juice but do not fancy the traditional glass of milk, that is fine too. In some cases, unsweetened soy milk together with a meticulously planned diet is also capable of meeting their nutritional needs. Ultimately, finding that perfect balance between sources, requirement and quantity can involve a great degree of trial and error.