Wherever you grew up, chances are you can remember being told to drink more milk. Cow’s milk has long been referenced as a great source of calcium – Don’t you want to be tall?, they asked – as well as vitamins such as B12.
However, in light of recently popular milk sources such as almonds and soy, does the milk we grew up with still qualify as a superfood?
The beauty of milk as a basic food is that it can be very easily modified and tailored for specific needs such as separating out the fat to create butter or to make dairy fat-free.
“I believe milk is a synergistic blend of very valuable nutrients but of most importance are its wide range of amino acids, including the nine essential ones the body cannot make and therefore must consumed, calcium and vitamin D,” explains Stephanie Karl, a clinical nutritionist at integrated sports medical centre Up and Running. “The beauty of milk as a basic food is that it can be very easily modified and tailored for specific needs such as separating out the fat to create butter or to make dairy fat-free. Whey can be split from the casein proteins and therefore make it more easily assimilated in the body, it can be powdered for transporting to countries or for convenience, it can be fortified, and it can be cultured.”
Does animal milk contain any nutrients that are difficult – or more expensive – to obtain from other sources? No, says Dr Babak Jamalian, family physician specialist and managing director of Ideal Fit Centre.
“All the nutrients that exist in animal milk have substitutes in other plant-based sources, specifically calcium as we consider milk is the mineral’s source. And all of them can really be affordable and not tough to get.”
Karl says, “Milk [offers a] full complement of nutrients, however, it appears that it is not always that well tolerated by digestion and can cause a range of symptoms often shared by other food intolerances and allergies.
Nutritionally, how does milk stand up next to its dairy cousins? “I don’t really see any extra nutritional advantages of dairy products such as cheese and yogurt over milk,” says Dr Jamalian.
“Nowadays, most of the food is either fortified or enriched with any missing nutrients.
“It’s a good choice for people suffering from lactose intolerance and can’t tolerate the yogurt as well. Plant-based milk such as soy has more protein on average than other plant alternatives, contains fibre, and is a source of good fats.”
So, does milk qualify as a superfood? “I do believe milk and dairy are the go-to food group, as you can pick out the foods that best suit you,” says Karl. “Dairy has received a lot of bullying by certain groups and yet the industry is booming worldwide. Scientific research does not align it as being unsuitable for humans unless you have a serious intolerance or sensitivity.
“The debate over whether humans should be consuming another animal’s milk is a little short sighted as we have to eat other mammals for our protein as well as plants. It also does not consider that digestion breaks all foods down into building blocks and reforms them for the needs of the body.
“The body does not recognise any difference between the source of foods, the same as the body does not make synthetic growth hormones.
“Dairy is growth factor 1 as it is fed to babies as the only source of food for six months to provide exponential growth.
“It is also taken to build muscle as it is a full protein and can be absorbed very quickly to take advantage of protein synthesis.”
Dr Jamalian says, “I don’t really see it a superfood as I mentioned earlier in the previous responses. All the nutrients in milk can be obtained from other sources, plant sources mainly.”