…..and any other day because…. “I don’t like it” or worse because “It makes me fat”, or worst of all, “I believe I don’t need it”. Are you among the vast majority who think that way? Has milk become a rarity in your diet? If so you need to do a fairly quick re-think.
Now if your first reaction was “Okay, I know I need calcium, but why milk? I can take a supplement”. The answer is completely straight forward. Milk is undoubtedly the best source of dietary calcium. In fact, it’s not just milk and calcium, it is best that you get all your vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet, rather than from supplements. This makes sense for several reasons.
First, a balanced diet ensures that you get the widest variety of required vitamins and minerals, in the correct proportion and in a form that is best absorbed by the body. When you take a supplement, unless it’s one that has been prescribed for medical reasons, you run the risk of imbibing too much of the vitamin or mineral, which can harm your body in the long run, or else you may be spending huge amounts of money on a supplement that the body does not absorb. This will undoubtedly result in huge damages to your wallet and no good to your body!
Modern nutrition science also recognises the fact that fruit and vegetables, besides providing essential vitamins and minerals, are a source of photochemicals and polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect the body from several illnesses including cancer. No supplement currently known to science can provide this.
So now we know that we need our fruit and veggies, and that there is no magic tablet on earth that can replace them. However, we started this story with milk…. and maybe we should get back to it. So, does your body really need milk? Do you stop needing it after a certain age? Is milk the only source of calcium that is good for you? What if you are lactose intolerant?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies. About 90% of the body’s calcium is stored in our bones and teeth. The word stored is operative. The human skeleton is a store house for calcium and as long as you are getting enough calcium in your diet, the body’s hoard remains intact. On the other hand, the moment you start depriving your body of calcium, it will start drawing from its store house, because it needs to maintain a certain level of calcium in the blood, thereby weakening the bones and teeth. This is what results in low bone density, bone weakening and ultimately osteoporosis, the brittle bone syndrome that cripples so many senior citizens.
Do I really need calcium as I grow older? Can my body absorb it? For sure the highest calcium absorption is during childhood and young adulthood, when the body is working towards building its peak bone mass. This age lays the foundation for strong bones throughout life. Your mother was right, milk for a child is vital. After the age of 40, your bones will start to lose density regardless of the amount of calcium you take. Nonetheless, ensuring that you get enough calcium in your diet, along with regular bouts of physical activity (both aerobic exercise and strength training), will keep your bones as strong as they possibly can be, until you reach a ripe old age.
So, what constitutes sufficient calcium intake? About 3-4 cups of milk or curd a day is right. Of course, you need more if you are a child or teenager or pregnant and less as you age, but a reasonable average seems to be about 3 cups of skimmed milk or curd a day. If 3 cups a day seems like a lot to you, do remember that most of us have about a cup of milk everyday with our tea and coffee, and for an Indian a cup of curd a day is part of the daily diet. That just leaves one cup extra which can be had with your breakfast cereal, or as a snack just before you go to bed.
Is milk the only source of calcium? What if I am lactose intolerant? There are several other sources of calcium, such as, tinned fish with the bones for instance or meat stock made with bones, soy milk or curd or even almonds. All excellent sources of calcium, though we shouldn’t forget the caveats. For instance, a 1/3 cup of almonds supplies 100 mg of calcium against a daily requirement of 1000-1200 mg, but at a cost of 300 calories! And fish and meat stock are not an option if you are vegetarian. This still leaves you with the options of soy lentils and green leafy vegetables.
Recent studies have indicated that the right intake of calcium in the form of skimmed milk or milk products can help with a weight loss programme. There goes the assumption that milk makes you fat. These studies are inconclusive, but nonetheless when you are thirsty and hot it makes far more sense to reach for a glass of skimmed milk than for a cola. So now can we change that song to more milk today?
About the Author:
Sunitha Srinivasan is a Lifestyle Consultant and Resistance Trainer. She has qualified with the National Association for Fitness Certification, Arizona, USA. She conducts workshops on wellness that she calls ‘A Celebration of Life’, counsels on the management of lifestyle diseases and writes for leading journals and magazines.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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