Common myths about milk in children's diet debunked

Common myths about milk in children's diet debunked

From a nutritional standpoint, adequate nutrition is critical to child health and development.

It is well recognised that the period from birth to two years is a "critical window" for the promotion of optimal growth, health and behavioural development.

As we all know, breast milk is the most natural and nutrient-dense milk source that your baby will need for nourishment in his early stages of life.

The Malaysian Dietary Guideline recommends that you practise exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby's life, and to continue until he is two years old.

Growing needs

As your child grows, he will eventually be weaned off breast milk. He is encouraged to consume a balanced, varied diet, in adequate amounts.

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents recommend that milk and milk products should be consumed every day as part of the daily diet.

Milk and milk products are rich sources of essential nutrients such as protein, several minerals (e.g. calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium) and several vitamins (e.g. vitamins A, B2, B3, B12 and D). These foods can therefore provide critical nutrients that are needed for the growth and development of children.

A trip to your nearest convenience store or supermarket will reveal that there are many different types of milk available. So how can you differentiate between each type?

One of the first things to bear in mind is that your growing child's nutritional requirements changes as he grows. You can see what nutrients each type of milk will provide by reading the nutrition information panel on the label of the milk products in question.

Types of milk

Understanding the various types of milk available can help you make the appropriate choice:

• Fresh milk - this is milk directly sourced from cows, goat and sheep. Before consumption, it is best to boil the milk. Fresh milk contains about 3% of milk fat.

• Pasteurised milk - this is actually fresh milk that has been subjected to heat treatment. The "fresh milk" that you see on supermarket shelves are actually pasteurised milk.

This type of milk should be kept in the refrigerator and consumed within a few weeks

• UHT milk - this is also heat-treated milk, but the temperature used is very high and the treatment is only for a few seconds.

If unopened, this type of milk can be kept at room temperature for a much longer time than pasteurised milk. The nutrient content is similar to that of pasteurised milk

• Flavoured milk - this is pasteurised milk or UHT milk to which a flavouring substance is added, e.g. chocolate. Flavoured milk usually contains more sugar than non-flavoured milk.

• Full cream milk powder - this is milk that has its water removed and converted into powder form. Using the correct amount of this powder in water, a milk drink of similar nutritional value to fresh milk or pasteurised milk can be prepared

• Low fat milk - milk which has some of its fat removed so that it contains no more than 1.5% of milk fat

• Skimmed milk - milk which has almost all of its fat removed so that it contains no more than 0.5% milk fat. It is also known as non-fat milk.

Except for low-fat and skimmed milk, the various types of milk above can be given to children. Low-fat and skimmed milk may be used by adults who are overweight and wish to reduce fat intake.

These types of milk should not be given to young children as they need the fat and fat-soluble vitamins that are contained in regular milk.

Did you know?

You might have come across some suggestions to use goat's milk instead of cow's milk. You should check the facts before you make this switch. You should be aware that unmodified goat's milk is not suitable for infants because of its high protein/minerals contents and low folate content.

In addition, goat's milk has no clear nutritional advantage over cow's milk and is not less allergenic to infants who are lactose intolerant. If you are unsure about the milk you are currently feeding your child, or if you plan to switch to goat's milk, please consult your child's paediatrician.

Sweetened condensed milk and sweetened condensed filled milk are not considered as milk as they have a low nutritional value and are high in sugar. You should discourage your child from taking them.

It is important to note that consumption of other dairy products such as cheese, cultured milk and yogurt can also provide your child with the necessary nutrients his body needs.

Common misconceptions

There are several 'myths' about milk that you as parents need to be aware of:

Myth: Children with lactose intolerance should avoid milk/milk products completely.

In reality: Often, small amounts of milk/milk products can be tolerated by children with lactose intolerance. In fact, lactose-free milk products are even available nowadays. In order to minimise any discomfort, consume milk/milk products during a meal, take them in small quantities, or choose fermented milk products such as yogurt or cheese.

Myth: Milk contains cholesterol and should not be given to children.

In reality: While eating healthily is the goal you should aim for, your child (especially if he is below two years old) has different nutritional needs compared to those of an adult's which would typically focus on cutting total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. The fat in whole milk is an essential nutrient that will provide him with the energy, or calories, which he needs for growth, thus it should not be severely restricted.

Myth: Cow's milk is the only source of calcium

In reality: There are many other calcium-rich foods such as small fish eaten with bones (e.g. ikan bilis and sardine), green leafy greens (e.g. spinach, broccoli, kai-lan) and legumes (soya beans, chickpeas).

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