Milk has attracted a lot of controversies in recent years. We all remember our growing up years, where drinking one to two glasses of milk every day was absolutely non-negotiable. Once seen as a must-have for a growing child, milk today has many detractors who claim that it should be completely removed from your diet.

However, the fact of the matter is that, milk continues to be an extremely nutrient-dense food, especially during the formative years of a child. In this article, we talk about the benefits of milk for young children, the recommended quantity of milk consumption, and how to deal with lactose intolerance.

The benefits of drinking milk for kids

There are many benefits of drinking milk every day, especially for children who are active throughout the day and are growing quickly. Here are some of the biggest advantages of milk:

  1. A complete, nutrient-dense drink

    It’s not without reason that milk is considered as one of the most nutrient-dense meals. 100g of cow’s milk in India contains the following nutrients as per Indian food composition table, 2017:

    • Protein: 3.26 grams
    • Fat: 4.48 grams
    • Calcium: 118 mg
    • Riboflavin (B2): 0.11 mg
    • Vitamin B9: 7.03 μg
    • Potassium: 115 mg
    • Vitamin A: 58.25 μg

    A large percentage of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (the estimated amount of a particular nutrient needed daily to maintain good health) for many vitamins and minerals gets fulfilled through having milk every day, which is why it should be an important part of the diet for your growing child.

  2. Rich source of protein

    Milk is a rich source of quality protein. In fact, one cup of milk contains 8g of protein which helps in the growth and development of kids, while also boosting the immune system. There are two types of protein present in milk — casein and whey protein— and both are considered as high-quality proteins. The best part about milk protein is that it contains all 9 amino acids that are necessary for optimal functioning of the body.

  3. Healthy bones

    Due to the combination of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and protein, milk is said to maintain strong and healthy bones. Making sure that your children drink milk every day can go a long way in preventing bone diseases like osteoporosis at a later stage in life. Plus, milk is a good source of protein and protein makes up around 50% of bone volume and 33% of bone mass.

  4. Milk and muscle growth

    Milk not only contains high-quality protein but is also rich in saturated fat. The protein helps build and grow muscles while the saturated fat prevents the muscle mass from getting used for energy. This helps your child to maintain a healthy amount of muscle, which not only provides strength but also supports a healthy metabolism.

How much milk is enough?

Despite its rich nutrient profile, it’s important to note that milk doesn’t contain iron. Toddlers who drink a lot of cow’s milk may feel full and will be less likely to eat iron-rich foods like green leafy vegetables. Plus, milk also decreases the absorption of iron and may even irritate the lining of the intestine, which can eventually result in loss of iron.

In order to prevent iron deficiency or anaemia, it’s best to limit your child’s daily milk intake to 2-3 cups a day. Also, make sure you feed your child plenty of iron-rich foods (fish, meat, beans, tofu, etc.) as well as vitamin C-rich foods (oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, etc) that help absorb iron.

Children between 1-2 years of age should drink whole milk because they need the dietary fats for proper brain development and growth. After age 2 or later, you can switch to low-fat (1%) or non-fat milk, but try to consult your doctor before making the switch.

It’s also important to note that regular non-fortified Indian milk does not contain vitamin D, so make sure your child gets enough vitamin D through other sources.

About lactose intolerance

Many people are unable to digest lactose, the sugar that is found in milk and dairy products. In fact, lactose intolerance affects around 65% of the world’s population.

However, if your child is rejecting cow’s milk, it may not be due to intolerance. It could also be because it doesn’t taste like breast milk or formula milk that the baby is used to. You can try to mix cow’s milk with formula or breast milk as a solution. If your child accepts that, you can adjust the mixture over time till it becomes 100% cow’s milk.

If it turns out that your child is lactose intolerant, don’t force him or her to drink milk. It will likely do more harm than good. Try other sources of calcium like green vegetables (kale, broccoli, bok choy), fortified cereals, cooked dried beans, and calcium-fortified soy milk.

Despite having some vociferous critics, milk continues to be a powerhouse of nutrients. Few foods can match up to milk as far as complete nutrition is concerned. So, unless your child is lactose intolerant, go ahead and make those 2 cups of milk a vital part of their daily diet.