Milk is served during breakfast and lunch at school and the center of a nationwide campaign to boost consumption since 1994.
Experts say making it part of your diet is still recommended, but it’s not the only way to get nutrients.
Alexis Motley, a registered dietician at Southern University A&M College, said milk can help build strong bones and strong teeth and help lower the risk for low bone mass or osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, she said.
“If a person had been diagnosed with osteoporosis, if they trip, they cough wrong, they bend over wrong, they can fracture those bones,” she said.
But what should you do if you can’t drink milk? And is cow’s milk too fatty to still be healthy?
Motley said milk provides vital nutrients including calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein, but it isn’t the only way to get these nutrients. Other options include:
- Calcium from orange juice, winter squash, edamame, tofu, almonds, leafy greens, kale and spinach.
- Potassium from dry fruits, beans, potatoes, spinach, bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, and tomatoes.
- Vitamin D from fish, egg yolks and fortified cereals.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, each person’s recommended dairy intake depends on age, sex, height and other factors.
Tia Jeffery, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of health, nursing and nutrition at the University of the District of Columbia, said options, particularly for children, include a cup of milk paired with a cup of yogurt or cheese.
Kena Torbert, a family life specialist at Fort Valley State University, said cow’s milk packs the most nutrients and vitamins.
Motley said some people think milk is too fatty and will cause them to have high cholesterol or heart disease, but there are ways around that.
“You don’t have to drink whole milk,” she said. “You can drink low-fat or fat-free milk and still get the same nutrient content but less fat.”
Jeffery said people shouldn’t be alarmed if items they can’t consume are listed as recommended foods or drinks on government websites such as MyPlate.gov.
“There’s an assumption that they’re not meeting their calcium needs or protein needs,” Jeffery said. “That is not true. If you choose to drink cow’s milk, great. If not, you do have other options for meeting your calcium needs. Calcium comes in different forms and different foods.”
Another source is blackstrap molasses. It has about 200 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon.
Also, some milk alternatives are fortified with protein as well as calcium.
“Not all non-dairy milks are created equal,” Jeffery said, so look at labels and compare to see which ones are best for you.
“Soy milk probably has the most comparable nutrient content to cow’s milk,” Jeffery said. “Other milks do if they’re fortified with calcium, but they’re kind of lower on the protein side. You can look to those other types of milk and maybe meet your mineral needs if they’re fortified with calcium. But make sure you get enough protein from other means.”
Torbert said some plant-based alternatives have fewer calories and less fat than cow’s milk. To provide equivalent amounts of nutrients, though, they usually have to be fortified. She said they’re great for vegans or people who have allergies or lactose intolerance.
Jeffery noted that some people can’t consume cow’s milk.
About 75% of the world’s population has some form of lactose intolerance, researchers say, making non-dairy options best for people in this group.
The same goes for people who are vegan, vegetarian or have a milk allergy, Jeffery said.
Motley said some people love lactose-free milk or soy or almond milk.
Read more at usatoday.com