"Where will the calcium for your bones come from, if you don't drink milk?"
It's a common enough notion in most Indian homes where all discussion on how to stay healthy revolves around milk — the indispensable food item. Not surprising then that its "non-negotiable" in diet irrespective of one's age. And many Indian mothers definitely insist on the consumption of two glasses of milk every day. Now, regular milk consumption is seen as a sure-shot answer to staying fighting fit not just for children but full-grown adults too.
Milk can be a smart part of a healthy diet. But recent research suggests that drinking milk might not be a panacea for health, as it is generally believed.
Here are some of the milk myths that are being debunked by recent research:
Myth 1: Drinking milk leads to strong bones
One of the most pervasive myths of our times is that drinking milk leads to better bone health and helps avoid osteoporosis. But is this scientifically true?
The basis of this myth is that milk is the richest source of calcium and therefore, is believed to be essential for overall bone health. There is little doubt that calcium is an important mineral that helps in keeping bones healthy and strong but the recent research suggests that the focus on milk cannot be at the cost of other sources of calcium for your bones.
Here's the thing: our bones are constantly remodeling themselves, which essentially means that whenever required, our bodies take small amounts of calcium from the bones and later, replace them with new calcium. Therefore, it is important to have enough calcium in the body so that bone density doesn't get reduced in this remodeling process.
But this process of replenishment is quite complex. The recent research suggests that the benefits of milk might be exaggerated and it might not be as essential as it is generally believed to be. A long-term Harvard study followed 72,000 women for two decades and found no link between regular drinking of milk and the prevention of fractures or even, osteoporosis.
Paradoxically, high calcium content in milk might actually be harmful since the undigested components of this food are deposited in the urinary system and become kidney stones. These make you more prone to osteoporosis.
So, have milk in moderation. Remember that simply drinking milk is unlikely to prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related problems. Make it a point to include other food items, such as broccoli and beans, to lower your risk of bone-related medical problems.
Myth 2: Milk is indispensable for a healthy body
Think about it. Nearly 60% of the population is lactose intolerant, which means they can't digest lactose, the primary sugar found in milk. Are they then at a greater risk of bone deficiency related problems? Not really if the research is any indication.
In most human beings, the enzyme lactase, which facilitates digestion of lactose, stops being produced when the person is between two and five years old. The undigested sugars then, ends up in the colon where they produce symptoms of cramping, bloating, flatulence and even diarrhea.
So, while milk is an important source of calcium, it is not an indispensable drink for everyone.
Myth 3: Milk is good for your heart
Dairy products, including milk, are the top sources of saturated fats. Unfortunately, traditional Indian diet is rich in dairy products like milk, ghee, paneer, and butter, which are known to increase cholesterol and consequently, the risk of heart disease. Research suggests that since milk and other dairy products are rich in saturated fats, they might actually be responsible for heart ailments. New research also links the consumption of milk with prostate cancer in men and breast and ovarian cancer in women.
The key is to not shun milk totally but to balance consumption of milk with other sources of calcium in your diet to maintain overall healthy lifestyle.
Myth 4: Milk is fundamental to proper growth of the kids
In India, it is believed that regular consumption of milk is essential for proper growth of children. This contradicts recent research, which maintains that increased milk consumption may enable colic. Researchers believe that breastfeeding mothers, who consume cow's milk might pass on antibodies to the baby contributing to them becoming colicky. Cow's milk is also believed to cause chronic constipation in children.
So, though there is little doubt that milk should be a part of your diet though it needn't be your only source of calcium. Milk, along with other calcium-rich food items will be your key to good bone health.
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