Sunday, 29 June 2014

The calcium-fat dilemma in milk

Does the fat content in milk have anything to do with its calcium content?

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, American psychologist Barry Schwartz argued that while the freedom to choose is good, it can be a source of misery when we are forced to choose from a huge array of choices.

To test this theory, one only has to try walking down the dairy section of a supermarket.

For cow’s milk alone, there’s whole or full-cream, skimmed or fat-free, low-fat, flavoured, calcium-enriched or high-calcium, and ultra-high temperature (UHT) processed milk.

There is even lactose-free milk for the lactose intolerant, raw or non-pasteurised milk for the more adventurous drinker, and organic milk for the discerning consumer.

It may be true that many people drink milk to fulfil most of their calcium needs, but many choose their milk according to the way they taste and their fat content.

There are also a lot of myths when it comes to the fat content of milk, most common of which is the belief that low-fat or fat-free milk are generally lower in calcium content.

Besides calcium, milk is also a source of protein, vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin B and zinc. - Nestle
Besides calcium, milk is also a source of protein, vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin B and zinc. - Nestle

London-based The Dairy Council dispels this myth in its webpage on the types of milk available in the market today.

“Skimmed milk (or fat-free milk) has a fat content of between 0% and 0.5%, and an average fat content of 0.1%.

“It contains slightly more calcium than whole milk and lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin A, as this is lost when the fat is removed,” says the industry-funded non-profit organisation.

Choosing your milk

As milk and dairy products are good sources of energy and nutrients, the Malaysian Health Ministry’s food pyramid recommends two to three servings from this food group daily as part of a healthy diet.

This can be easily achieved as one serving is equivalent to a glass of milk, a cup of yoghurt and a slice of cheese.

According to The Dairy Council, a 200ml glass of whole milk contains 136 kilocalories, 6.8g protein, 8g fat and 243mg calcium. It is also rich in vitamins A and D, and several types of vitamin B – nutrients that are important for our eyes, skin and nerves.

Milk with lower fat content has higher calcium concentration, but lower fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A and E.

As fat does not contain calcium, the removal of fat from milk can increase calcium levels slightly due to the increased concentration of the mineral.

According to the 2005 Health Ministry recommended nutrient intake guide, men aged between 19 and 65 and women aged between 19 and 50 need 800mg of calcium a day.

Infants and children below 10-years-old need between 300mg and 700mg of calcium daily, while adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, as well as men above 65 and women above 50 need about 1,000mg of calcium daily.

While milk and dairy products are not the only source of calcium, two glasses of milk per day would provide about half the calcium adults need.


Other sources of calcium include fish with edible bones such as canned sardines and anchovies, beans and bean products including yellow dhal, tofu and tempeh (fermented soybeans), as well as vegetables like spinach, watercress, tapioca leaves, kailan and broccoli.

If you are wondering how to choose your milk, a Forbes article provides a brief guide.

“Skim or low-fat milk might be a better choice for people who are trying to hit specific daily caloric goals or those who already obtain a lot of fat from other foods in their diet.

“For people trying to gain weight, build muscle, or obtain more natural nutrients, whole milk makes a lot more sense,” the article says.

Getting the best out of milk

In Malaysia, where mild to moderate lactose intolerance is common, many Malaysians do not take milk and dairy products to avoid associated symptoms such as flatulence, bloating and mild diarrhoea.

However, this will deny them the benefits of drinking milk, like reducing the risk of osteoporosis through adequate calcium intake.

There are also many myths associated with drinking milk, including the perception that it causes “mucous”, asthma and weight gain.

“After drinking whole milk or eating ice cream, some people mistake the thin coat or residue in their mouth and throat for mucous,” says Zey Ustunol, a professor at the Michigan State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, United States.

“This is the normal creamy texture of milk fat, which melts near body temperature, and not excess mucous,” he explains in an article about the common myths about milk in the Michigan Dairy Review.

If you are allergic to milk or simply do not like milk, there are other sources you could go to for calcium and the nutrients contained in milk.

However, if you are lactose intolerant but would like to include milk as part of your diet, you could go for lactose-free milk and yoghurt as alternatives.

Although milk is generally good for us, it is always wise not to overdo it.

Those who have too much calcium in their bloodstreams can develop kidney stones and find it difficult to absorb iron, an important nutrient for red blood cell production.

> This article is courtesy of Nestlé.

Tags / Keywords: Health , advertorial , Nestle , milk , Packaged Food 101


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