Milk is not only delicious and refreshing; it’s one of the most nutritionally complete foods you can find. It’s an excellent source of calcium, protein, phosphorus and zinc, all of which help build and maintain healthy bones and teeth. Calcium also contributes to normal blood clotting and is essential for nerve and muscle function, the metabolism and the digestive system.
Increased milk consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of various health problems, including osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. So, it’s not only good for growing children; milk can provide a significant proportion of the daily nutrient requirements of all ages.
CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS
It is well known that childhood is an important time for building strong, healthy bones. This is why calcium and, therefore, milk are such vital parts of children’s diets. Lesser known, is the crucial role they play during the teenage years. The body’s calcium requirements are greater between the ages of 13 and 18 than at any other time. Bones grow in both length and strength during this period, with 90% of the adult skeleton formed by the time you are 18.
Unfortunately, many teenagers, particularly girls, are short of calcium. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey reported that 18% of 11 to 18 year old girls are not getting the calcium they need from food. Teenage boys are missing out too. Overall, 13% of 11 to 18 year boys and girls need to increase the amount of this vital nutrient in their diet.
Our bodies need for calcium doesn’t stop at 18. An adequate calcium intake is important throughout our adult lives. Although the majority of our skeleton is laid down during the teenage years, bones continue to strengthen until our mid-thirties. After this age, we naturally begin to lose bone density, and for women there is a marked decrease in density around the time of the menopause. This loss can eventually lead to fragile bones, which are at increased risk of fracture.
PREGNANCY AND BREASTFEEDING
Calcium is a vital nutrient for pregnant women, as it helps build strong, healthy bones in developing babies. Because of calcium’s importance, a woman’s body adapts during pregnancy to absorb more of it from the food she eats. This higher absorption rate means the recommended calcium intake doesn’t increase from before pregnancy. However, it is important to make sure you maintain a healthy calcium intake, with which milk can help.
During breastfeeding, the demands for calcium are higher due to the secretion of calcium into breast milk: breastfeeding women require an additional 550mg of calcium a day. At this point milk can provide a great way of meeting this additional requirement.
Milk contains 3.3% total protein – a typical glass of milk will contain 14% of our recommended daily protein. Milk proteins contain all nine essential amino acids required by the human body. Protein is an essential nutrient for health, required in younger years for the healthy development of strong bones in growing children, and in adult life, helps maintain normal bone density and strength. Protein also helps to develop muscles and repair and rebuild them after exercise. As protein also creates a feeling of fullness and satisfaction after eating, it can also contribute to a healthy approach to eating.