Types of Milk

by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Norimah A. Karim

Milk is an important source of nutrition that is often overlooked by many. Not only is it essential for growing children, it is also important to us throughout our entire lifespan. In fact milk, or rather breast milk, is a baby's first food and sole source of nutrition in the first 6 months of life, providing all the essential nutrients needed for survival and growth.

Even after that, milk should continually be a part of a childs diet as it does not only contain calcium, but other important nutrients such as protein, vitamin A, riboflavin, iron, and phosphorus that will ensure health benefits. In fact, research has continually shown that people, both children and adults, who drink milk, tend to have a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and osteoporosis.

Why Milk?

You may wonder why milk is often encouraged to be included in a childs diet. Why not some other food or drink? Here are some simple reasons why milk is amazing and should be included in your child's daily diet:

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Rich in calcium

Calcium is recommended for growing children as it plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of strong teeth and bones. Adequate consumption of milk from early childhood not only protects against osteoporosis in later life, it also helps prevent loss of calcium and phosphate from teeth to ensure a complete set of teeth throughout life.

According to the Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNI), young children between the ages of 1 to 3 years require at least 500mg of calcium per day and this can be easily obtained from about one to two cups of milk.

Dense in various nutrients

One of the most nutritionally complete foods there is, milk provides a large number of nutrients relative to its energy count. In fact, one glass of milk contains much more nutrients than a similar glass of apple juice, orange juice, or any beverage out there.

Here is a list of nutrients in milk and how they help develop and maintain your child’s body :

* Vitamin A – Assists in bone and teeth development; maintains night vision and healthy skin.

* Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B6 & B12 – Important factor in energy metabolism, tissue and bone formation; helps in red blood cell formation; essential for healthy skin, nails, hair growth; regulates thyroid activity (riboflavin).

* Vitamin D – Enhances absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which is essential for bone and teeth formation.

* Calcium – Essential for developing and maintaining bones and teeth; important for normal blood clotting as well as for muscle, heart, and nerve function.

* Magnesium – Crucial factor in bone and teeth health; important for energy metabolism and tissue formation.

* Phosphorus – Utilisation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins; strengthens bones and teeth with calcium.

* Iron – Needed for haemoglobin and myoglobin (proteins that carry oxygen in the muscles) formation; helps in protein metabolism and growth.

* Protein – Needed to build structural components such as muscles and organs; important for immune system health.

What Milk is Suitable for Children?

Parents are definitely spoilt for choice by the many different types of milk available in the market today. However, do take note that not every one of them is suitable for consumption by children. Read on to find out what are the better options for your child :

Full cream/whole milk

Full cream milk, also known as whole milk (includes full cream milk and UHT milk, unless stated otherwise), is collected directly from the dairy herd and has nothing added nor removed from it. The milk is then processed to kill any potentially harmful microorganisms in it for safe public consumption. Whole milk contains at least 3.5% of fat, which is important for children's growth and development, and is thus highly recommended for growing children.

Skimmed milk

This type of milk has already been processed to have most of or all of its fat content removed. Although it contains slightly higher levels of calcium compared to full cream milk, skimmed milk has reduced levels of fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A, due to the reduced levels of fat. Because of this, skimmed milk is not recommended for children as the low levels of fat reduce calorie content as well.

However, children who are overweight or have other health concerns, may replace full cream milk with low fat milk in their diet where necessary. Do consult with your doctor before making the change for your child.

Flavoured milk

A popular option for children, flavoured milk is milk that is added with other ingredients, such as chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, to increase its palatability. Although it contains higher sugar content and lowered fat content, flavoured milk still contains all the nutrients available in regular milk and is in fact, a healthier alternative to other drinks such as carbonated and sugary drinks.

Powdered milk

Often used in place of fresh milk, the production of milk powder involves the removal of water from the milk. This is to ensure that the milk is more stable, easier to pack in large quantities, and have a longer shelf life compared to fresh milk. Powdered milk does retain all the other natural properties of milk such as the colour, flavour, solubility, and nutritional value.

Soy milk

Soy milk is milk made from soy beans and is a good source of high-quality protein, B-vitamins, and iron. It is also free from milk sugar lactose, which some children may be allergic to. However, unless fortified with calcium, soy milk is actually a poor source of natural calcium and is therefore not recommended for children.

Evaporated and condensed milk

These types of milk are produced in pretty much the same way, resulting in concentrated milk products. Evaporated milk undergoes a thorough sterilisation process while condensed milk is preserved by the high concentration of sugar. Because it is too concentrated, evaporated milk needs to be diluted first to lower the concentration of protein and minerals.

The type of fat found in this type of milk is also less well absorbed by children, compared with the other types of milk mentioned above. Condensed milk has a high sugar content of at least 40-45%, generally making it unsuitable for consumption by children.

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