Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Drinking milk is a good way to get your calcium fix but the benefits of milk don’t stop there. Milk also provides protein, fortified vitamins and more.
Milk is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus which are necessary for the development and maintenance of strong, healthy bones and teeth. These reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life. Milk promotes bone health.
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The major proteins in milk are casein and whey. Both help in building lean muscle mass and reducing body fat.
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Milk is rich in vitamin B12, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) which aid the conversion of food into energy. Vitamin B12 is also needed for the formation of red blood cells and the normal functioning of the central nervous system.
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Other nutrients including vitamins A and D are usually added to milk. Vitamin A is key for good vision and boosts the immune system, while vitamin D improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
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In a 2016 journal article published in Food and Nutrition Research, researchers in Europe reviewed the scientific evidence from existing studies on the health effects of milk and dairy products.
The available evidence suggested that dairy intake is associated with a lower risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, as well as colon, bladder, gastric, and breast cancers. Their analysis found very few reported cases of adverse effects.
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Past national health surveys have consistently reported inadequate calcium intake among the population.
According to the Health Promotion Board, the recommended daily dietary allowance for calcium is 800mg per day for people aged 19 to 50. Older adults should consume more (1,000mg) because ageing can cause bone loss. This means having two to three daily servings of dairy products as part of a balanced diet — no more than three 250ml glasses of milk each day.
Milk can be drunk any time of the day — it can be poured over breakfast cereal, consumed as an afternoon snack, or enjoyed warm at night. We need not rely solely on milk to meet the recommended calcium intake. For example, replacing a glass of milk with a cup of yoghurt or two slices of cheese provides the same benefit.
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Not being able to stomach cow’s milk and other dairy products like yoghurt or some cheeses is a reality for many people.
Lactose intolerance — a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose, a natural sugar in dairy products — is prevalent among those of East Asian descent.
In some communities, up to 90 percent of adults may be genetically predisposed to lactose intolerance. Consuming dairy causes mild to severe symptoms such as abdominal cramps, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhoea.
By staying away from dairy products, lactose-intolerant people can prevent these unpleasant symptoms. However, unless they eat or drink dairy-free substitutes, they would be missing out on several health benefits.
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While drinking regular cow’s milk may be out of the question for the lactose intolerant, there are dairy-free alternatives.
Lactose-free milk is made by adding lactase enzymes so that lactose is already broken down into simple sugars by the time it is consumed. This allows drinkers to enjoy the goodness of dairy without experiencing any negative symptoms. However, its sweeter and more “artificial” taste makes lactose-free milk less palatable.
Various kinds of non-dairy, plant-based milk are also available. One of the most popular types of non-dairy milk is soy milk. Soy milk comes closest to dairy milk in protein content. It is low in saturated fat and also fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Most other non-dairy options lack some of these nutrients.
Other plant-based alternatives are almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk. Almond milk and rice milk have no saturated fat and barely contain any protein. Coconut milk is high in saturated fat and has no protein. Except for almond milk, these other options are also not naturally rich in calcium.
There is also goat’s milk. Goat’s milk does contain a significant amount of lactose. If you are mildly lactose intolerant or if cow’s milk bothers you but cheese doesn’t – give goat’s milk a try. Goat’s milk is lower in lactose than cow’s milk and is easier to digest for children and adults with sensitive stomachs.
Consider yoghurt too. Look for those that state “live active cultures” or “probiotics” on the label. These bacteria are essential as they feed on sugar and will consume much of the lactose. Choose full-fat yoghurt, as it has about 8.5g of lactose per serving.
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This article was last reviewed on
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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