A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, by Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig has some people questioning milk recommendations. Ludwig does point out that it's not a one size fits all recommendation. This is a great opportunity to remember that we are all unique and have different intakes (based on environment, budget, allergies, likes, dislikes, and general preferences). It also serves as a reminder to take a look at the usual pattern of your intake (or have a dietitian assist you) to see if you're lacking or getting too much of certain vitamins and minerals.
You may have heard of a 'balanced diet', but do you know if you're getting all the nutrients that you need? Some people perhaps do include enough high calcium foods that milk then becomes extra liquid calories. However, when we look at beverage calories, there are many others that people can work to reduce - with fewer health benefits than various milk or alternatives. Remember that milk contains a naturally occurring sugar called lactose, so yes, you will see sugar noted on the nutrition facts panel, and chocolate milk will have more because it's sweetened. Milk also provides protein, vitamin D, and vitamin A (among others). Many people could definitely do with more water in their day, but they could also focus on increasing vegetables and fruit, so I think we have other areas to focus on first. There is no one food that has led to the current obesity epidemic, and we also have to remember that physical activity is also important (and we live very sedentary lives for the most part).
Calcium is an important mineral, but it is also only part of the story (there are many nutrients required for good health). Yes, there are other sources, so if you're not consuming enough (or any) milk, then you should make sure to include these items to focus on food first (rather than resorting to a supplement - which should be discussed with your healthcare provider anyhow). There are also many milk alternatives currently available; while they supply calcium, they are low in protein (and don't forget about the all important vitamin D).
Five food sources of calcium include:
1) Sardines and salmon with bones
2) Dark green vegetables (collards, broccoli, bok choy, etc.)
3) Almonds, sesame seeds
4) Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy products, tofu made with calcium
5) Fortified foods (bread, cereal, orange juice, etc.)
Not sure how you're doing? For starters, Osteoporosis Canada has a great Calcium Counter tool that allows you to select portions of calcium rich foods that you ate in one day, compares that to the recommended intake for your age/gender, and then even helps you pick items if you didn't quite reach your target. Health castle also created a chart to show the top 10 calcium rich foods.
Continue to include a wide range of healthy foods and remember that nutritional guidelines are developed for populations, not individuals, so you need to look at what you're doing and what makes sense for you. If you know it's a battle to get your kids to start eating kale or spinach then stick with that glass of milk that they love. There are a lot of other unhealthy behaviours and "junk" foods that we can focus on changing first.
Steph Langdon, RD
something nutrishus counselling & coaching