MILK AND NUTRITION; MORE THAN JUST STRONG BONES AND TEETH

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MILK is a high nutrient-rich white liquid food obtained by the mammary glands of female mammals and is of paramount importance for the proper development, survival and vigorous growth of the newly born baby.                

The first milk taken from the mammary gland after parturition known as colostrum contains  antibodies which are beneficial for newly born babies as well as white blood cells that fight foreign matter and helps babies build a strong immune system.

Colostrum also contains bioactive factors that are essential for growth, development, and survival of the neonate and also creates a tough coating on your baby’s stomach and  intestines to prevent harmful organisms from causing various illnesses. 

The growing consumption of dairy and other livestock products is bringing important nutritional benefits to large segments of the population of developing countries. Milk and dairy products play a major role in healthy human nutrition and development throughout life, but especially in childhood. 

The components of milk that are thought to be particularly important to growth in undernourished children are minerals, lactose and protein. The high lactose content might support growth by contributing to improved absorption of minerals and providing a pre-biotic effect.

However, a certain digestive disorder is linked to the body’s inability to digest the sugar (lactose) found in milk due to the lack of the enzyme “lactase” which is required to break down lactose. Due to this, certain people are unable to tolerate lactose in their diet.

It can cause various symptoms which include bloating, diarrhoea as well as abdominal cramps. Lactose-free milk products can be included in the diet from plant sources which contain less lactose content such as oats milk, almond milk or coconut milk according to one’s preference in the diet, although it is not always necessary to completely eliminate milk and dairy from the diet due to the intolerance of lactose as most people still have the ability to tolerate small amounts of dairy in the diet.  Milk plays a key role in the treatment of undernutrition both in developing and industrialised countries where almost all products used for enteral feeding ( the supply of nutrients through the gastro intestinal tract that goes directly to the stomach or intestine) of children and adults that are malnourished are mostly milk-based and is the only supply of the water, organic nutrients, and minerals to which the neonate has access and is of  high caloric value and provides sufficient nutrients for growth and development.   

The most important minerals for bone health include calcium, phosphorous and magnesium of which calcium is the most abundant mineral with more than 99 percent of the body’s calcium, 85 percent of its phosphorous and 60 percent of its magnesium are in the bones.    

Vitamin D which is a fat soluble nutrient, plays an important role in the absorption of calcium. Due to this, sufficient intake of vitamin D and calcium together reduces the risk of various conditions that occur due to the deficiency of these important minerals in the body such as rickets, which normally affect children, osteomalacia which is the adult form of rickets and osteoporosis which affects older people aged 50-60 years where the bones are at risk of fractures and tend to become weak and brittle during these conditions and could also cause stunted growth in children.        Furthermore, dairy milk is a natural source of high-quality protein and is the top food source for calcium and vitamin D, which our diets often lack, especially in children. Milk also provides all the nine essential nutrients (complete proteins) of the 20 essential amino acids that are required by our body.

 It also includes the micronutrients, Zinc and vitamin b12 in children at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, and can be included in the diets of many as a replacement of unhealthy beverages that have high sugar content which could pose a health risk to contracting various Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).   

In many parts of the world, milk and dairy products are highly valued and have an important role in both household food security as well as income generation.

Various projects in dairy industries in developing countries often have a direct benefit for household health and nutrition, provide employment and income for the poor and can make a sustainable contribution to poverty reduction.         The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend 200 litres per capita consumption of milk. However, Zambia’s per capita consumption of milk is at an alarming figure of 36 litres, hence there is need to prioritise the promotion of milk consumption across all populations to prevent the occurrence of various micronutrient deficiencies.        

The right amount of animal and plant foods can help create more sustainable diets for our bodies and our planet as a whole as good nutrition is the key to good mental, physical health and gives rise to overall well-being.

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