Americans drink less Milk: is Milk really necessary and what should replace it?

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Food-it's a fact, Americans drink less and less milk. But is this a worrying phenomenon for their health? While it is essential for children to grow, adults can do without it, but only if they compensate for some of its nutrient intakes.

Americans are consuming less and less milk. According to Syndilait, an organization that groups the majority of fluid milk manufacturers in France, only just over 6 in 10 Americans report having consumed milk at least once in 2018, with an average of 45.5 litres swallowed each year. In 2015, it was 51 litres. A trend that seems to indicate a long-lasting disaffection for this common consumer product which is explained on the one hand by the increasingly common impasse on breakfast, but also by a growing taste for vegetable drinks.

But is this decline in milk consumption a problem? Is milk really essential to our health? Here's your answer.
An essential food for children and adolescents

Interviewed by AFP, the nutritionist doctor Arnaud Cocaul described this trend as "worrying", especially among young people. "We are seeing shortages in adolescents, especially of calcium, which is a real public health problem, because we are going to have a generation that is going to age and that is going to have bones in less good condition," he laments.

In children and adolescents, who can grow up to 6 centimetres a year, milk is indeed essential for good bone growth. Calcium is the main cement that gives strength and resistance to bones. The same applies to teeth. A 25-centilitre glass of milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. Health authorities recommend a calcium intake of 700 mg in children aged 4 to 6 years, 900 mg in children aged 7 to 9 years and 1,200 mg in children aged up to 19 years.

Vitamin D, also present in milk, plays an essential role in the absorption of calcium by the body. A 25-cl glass can meet one-sixth of the needs of a 1-to 8-year-old. Milk is also an important source of vitamin B12, which is essential for growth, red blood cell formation and the balance of the nervous system.

Finally, milk proteins, whey and casein are essential for good muscle development. One glass contains eight grams.

Possible compensation in adults

In January Canada's Food Guide, a document published by the country's health authorities to guide consumers in their food choices, reduced the role of milk in its recommendations. Instead of eating two to four servings a day, the drink was simply passed on to the "protein foods" category, which includes a multitude of other foods such as poultry, lentils, split peas and sardines. So is it really necessary to consume milk every day as an adult?

For dietician Florence Foucaut, interviewed by LCI, milk is a food to be integrated "into a balanced and diversified diet", although it is possible to compensate its contributions with other dishes. In the case of calcium, for example, it is necessary to look to the Cruciferae family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. "There is, however, half as much calcium in cabbages as in milk. You will, therefore, have to eat 200 grams of cabbages to get the calcium equivalent of a glass of milk, " she warned, adding that the calcium contained in plants is less well absorbed by the body than that of milk. This is due to the presence in the drink of vitamin D, which, as mentioned above, allows a better assimilation of calcium by the body.

According to the Ciqual table developed by Anses describing the nutritional composition of foods, cheese is on the other hand much richer in calcium than milk: it contains 630 milligrams per 100 grams compared to 116 for milk. "If you reduce your milk consumption, you also have to make sure you consume cheese," says Foucaut. This recommendation is all the more important for people with osteoporosis.

Vitamin D is mainly provided by the sun, but is also found in certain foods such as eggs, trout or mushrooms from Paris. The meat, or capsules for vegetarians and vegans, will also take care of the vitamin B12 intake and protein. However, they can also be found in legumes, seeds, eggs or even fish.

Beware of vegetable drinks

In case of intolerance to lactose, it is possible to turn to milk free of this substance. However, attention should be paid to vegetable drinks, which are sold under the name "milk". They are nothing like animal milk. "The calcium content is lower, the protein content is lower and the vitamin B12 content is zero", warns Florence Foucaut. While these drinks are therefore not ideal for adults without good food compensation, they are prohibited for young children, the nutritionist recalls. Their low nutritional intake does not correspond at all to their needs.

These drinks are also generally sweetened, especially when sold in bricks. "Finally, it comes to consume a soda or a fruit juice industrial," says Laurent Chevallier, consultant in nutrition and author of "The indulgence on a plate" (Editions Fayard, 2018), we had interviewed a year ago on the subject.

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