We don’t “got milk”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGot milk?  Apparently not.  We’re drinking less milk and the dairy industry is seeing a crisis.  Nutrition experts are also concerned.  According to food consumption data, milk intake has plunged by almost 1/3 since 1975.  Per capita (per person) consumption has gone from 28.6 gallons per year to 20.2.  However, the population has increased dramatically.  215 million vs. almost 315 million now.  So an extra 100 million people but less milk per person.  My math shows that total milk consumption is actually increased.

In fact the crisis is more nutritional in my opinion.  Less milk per person has consequences:

  • less calcium
  • less vitamin D

Depending on food choices, it could also mean less protein.  It turns out people, including children, are filling up on juices and soft drinks, as well as alternative “milk” products.  Those alternative milks may be white, but that doesn’t mean they’re nutritionally equivalent to cow’s (or goat’s) milk.  In most cases, “milk” based on plant foods other than soybeans is extremely low protein.  And given the bland taste, many are sweetened with sugars to make them palatable.  So feeding those to children means

  • less calcium
  • less protein
  • less vitamin D
  • more sugar

Our beverage choices may explain widespread vitamin D insufficiencies and bone density problems.  Sports drinks, soda pop, energy drinks, flavored waters, fruit drinks and vitamin-fortified water simply don’t have the nutritional impact that milk does.  In have see children who drink nothing but alternative milks and have extremely low protein intakes as a result.  Not a good plan for kids.

There is some good news: consumption of yogurt and cheese are up.  Yogurt is nutritionally very close to milk, unless it’s sugared up or full of fillers like gelatin and fruit preserves.  Cheese is a bit more complicated.  The cheese-making process removes some of the protein and calcium, leaving all of the fat.  So you get more calories with your calcium, so to speak.

To get 1000 mg of calcium, you’d have to consume approximately:

food                      gr/protein     calories
5 oz cheddar cheese              35       570
3-1/4 c. 1% milk                 27       330
2-1/3 c. lowfat vanilla yogurt   28       480

Milk producers are thinking up clever ways to get you to drink more milk, from added protein to single serve packages to digs at alternative milk.   While their marketing efforts are not my concern, the nutritional benefits can’t be disputed.  Milk is good for growing kids.  It’s good for adults who are worried about bone density and protein intake.  If you don’t want to drink milk as such, yogurt and cheese are reasonable choices.  Full disclosure: I don’t drink milk, but I put it on cereal and in cortados.  And I eat yogurt and a bit of cheese.

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