Health benefits of milk
Consumption of milk and dairy products is associated with numerous health benefits.
Milk and dairy products are providers of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and protein which are all essential for healthy bone growth and development.
Adequate consumption of milk and dairy from early childhood and throughout life can help to make the bones strong and protect them against diseases like osteoporosis (a debilitating, brittle bone disorder) in later life.
The amounts of calcium and phosphorous in milk and dairy products are also beneficial for the development and maintenance of healthy teeth.
The most abundant protein in milk is casein and is protective as it forms a thin film on the enamel surface which prevents loss of calcium and phosphate from the enamel when the teeth are exposed to acids in the mouth.
Studies have suggested that milk also reduces the effects of cariogenic foods on teeth when consumed together with them in the diet.
In fact, dentists recommend that milk is the only safe drink to have between meals (except for water) as it has been shown not to cause tooth decay even in conditions perfect for damaging teeth!
Milk and blood pressure
An increasing number of studies suggest that consuming 3 portions of dairy each day, along with 5 portions of fruit and vegetables as part of a low salt diet can reduce high blood pressure in both adults and children.
Although the exact mechanisms involved are not clear, it is thought that the calcium, potassium, magnesium and proteins within milk are all likely to be involved.
Milk and cardiovascular disease
Several studies have linked milk and dairy consumption with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.
A recent study in Welsh men found that those who drank the most milk had fewer heart attacks than those who had little or no milk in their diets.
This connection could be due to many factors in milk, but epidemiological studies have shown that higher intakes of calcium in particular are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
More specifically, studies have shown that high calcium intakes may reduce high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, and increase low levels of good cholesterol both of which are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
In addition, it is also thought that calcium may bind harmful fats together in the gut and prevent their absorption, which in turn prevents levels in the blood increasing.
Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that people who consume milk and dairy foods are likely to be slimmer than those who do not.
Studies have also shown that consumption of milk and dairy foods as part of a calorie controlled diet is associated with increased weight loss, particularly form the abdomen.
This is particularly beneficial since excess fat around the trunk region of the body is associated with greater risks to health.
The precise mechanisms involved are unclear but are likely to involve calcium which is found in milk and dairy foods.
Type 2 diabetes
Studies suggest that regular consumption of low fat dairy products can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, which has been a longstanding problem in adults, and is becoming increasingly common in children and adolescents.
A recent study of more than 37,000 middle aged women found that those with the highest intakes of dairy had a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
The strongest association was found with low fat dairy products.
Similarly a study of men in 2005 found a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes with increased consumption of low fat dairy, interestingly, every extra portion of dairy consumed was associated with increasingly lower risk.
It is thought that this effect may be due to the combined effects of many beneficial nutrients found within dairy foods including calcium and magnesium, or the fact that dairy foods have a low glycaemic index, which helps to control blood sugar levels.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that milk has a protective effect on risk of both colorectal and breast cancer with increased intakes.
A recent study of 45,000 Swedish men reported that men who drank 1.5 glasses of milk per day or more, had 35% lower risk of the disease than those who had a low milk intake of less than 2 glasses per week.
Additionally a study of over 40,000 Norwegian women found that those who drank milk as children and continued to do so as adults, had a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
Calcium and a naturally occurring fat in dairy products known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) have been suggested as protective components in colon cancer.
In order to remain adequately hydrated, it is recommended that we consume 6-8 cups of fluid each day.
If we become dehydrated, it can result in poor concentration and memory function and leave you feeling irritable and unwell.
Milk is an excellent choice of fluid as it not only re-hydrates the body, but provides a host of beneficial nutrients and protects the teeth at the same time!
Re-hydration after exercise is particularly important to replace lost fluids, and a recent study in the USA found that chocolate milk helped the body to recover after exhausting exercise!