How Safe Is Your Child's Milk?

​We all know about the goodness of milk. But, how can we assume that the milk our children consume is safe? How much do we really know about milk? This article will explain.

By Dr Neha Sanwalka Rungta

How Safe Is Your Child's Milk?

Lagu is five-years-old. Every morning his mother lets him gulp down 250ml of milk in his favourite ‘camel mug’. The mug is the only good part of this not so favourite routine of his day. The same happens at nights in a taller ‘giraffe jar’. Usually, he dutifully half-finishes the drink and pours the rest down the drain if his mother isn’t watching. On the days his mother thoughtfully decides to chat with him during the drink, he ends up in a fight with her, irritated about having to finish it all. His mother assumes he must be tired from the day-long activities and urges him to drink his milk quicker, so he can get to sleep earlier. Those days are not really Lagu’s kind of days. He promises himself he would never do this when he grows up and becomes a big boy (Hey, Dad doesn’t gulp down that much milk!)

Do we need children like Lagu to go through a tough ordeal like this every day? How much goodness does milk really bring? And is milk that safe to be given to children every day?

How safe is your child’s milk?

India is one of the largest milk producers in the world. Every day, children like Lagu consume milk whether they like it or not. But is the milk that you are giving your child safe? According to Mohan Singh Ahluwalia, member, Animal Welfare Board of India, the milk your child consumes might be laced with detergent, caustic soda, white paint and refined oil making it more harmful than healthy.

According to Ahluwalia, "Today, pure milk is hard to get. This can be attributed to one prime factor. Due to rapid urbanisation, the grazing areas for cows have reduced drastically, which, in turn, has resulted in a sharp decline in cow population. However, the demand for milk has shot up. As a result, most of the milk in the market has been laced with sugar, vegetable oil and formalin to ensure steady sales. When parents give this milk to their children, they are exposing their children to a serious health hazard.”

He also stated that 68.7 per cent of milk and milk products sold in the country is not as per the standards laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

How to tell if the milk is spoilt

One of the important things to check before you give milk to your child is whether the milk is safe for consumption or not. Here are certain steps to help you know whether the milk is fresh:

  1. Check the odour of the milk. If the milk emits a bad or a sour smell, then it has become unfit for consumption.
  2. Pour some of the milk into a bowl or glass and see if it curdles. If it does and looks like yoghurt, the milk has gone bad.
  3. The colour of unspoilt milk is clean white. If you notice a change in the colour to a pale yellow, throw the milk away.
  4. One way to check if a milk has gone bad is to boil it over the stove or microwave it for a minute or two. If you see lumps forming in the milk, it is not safe to drink.
  5. Always check the expiry date. If the milk has been kept in room temperature for a long period, there are more chances of it going bad before the due date.

Note: It is always advisable to follow any or all of the steps if you feel the milk has gone bad. 

Ahluwalia suggests one way to ensure your children consume pure milk is to "Procure milk directly from the milkman like in the past. This ensures the milk cannot be tampered with by the middleman who supplies milk. More people, especially the youth should be encouraged to start cattle rearing."

In this article, apart from the safety of milk, let's understand the role of milk in your child’s growth and wellness, and how much of it your child can have. 

How Safe Is Your Child's Milk?

Types Of Milk

Raw milk: This milk is not processed in any form, i.e. milk obtained directly from a cow/goat/buffalo, bottled and sold as is. Raw milk has the risk of containing harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli etc. So, always boil it well before use.

Pasteurised milk: Pasteurisation is a method in which milk is heated to a specific temperature for a set period to kill harmful bacteria. All packaged milk available in India is pasteurised.

Full cream milk: Same as whole milk, it retains the original calorie, fat (4.1% in cow’s milk, 6.5% in buffalo’s milk), and vitamin content. Full cream milk is good for growing children as it provides all the essential nutrients for growth.

Toned milk: Toned milk is buffalo’s milk altered by adding skimmed milk, powdered skimmed milk and water. This reduces the fat content of milk (to 3 per cent or less), increases the total quantity of available milk and ‘tones up’ the non-fat solid levels (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins and minerals) to that of cow’s milk. Toned milk is a good option for weight-watchers.

Skimmed milk: In skimmed milk, all the fat or cream is removed. It contains only 0.1% of fat and has very low levels of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. It is a good choice for those who are on a weight-loss diet.

Did You Know?

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), recommends five servings or 500 ml of milk and milk products for all children aged 1-18.
  • The ICMR report on the Nutritional Requirements and RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for Indians says the calcium requirement for adults is 600 mg per day and for 10-18-year-old children, 800 mg per day. The calcium requirement in teens is more since this is when bone mass is being built (from teenage till the age of 20). It is important to ensure that a teen's diet is rich in calcium, as the growing body needs to absorb maximum calcium to prevent deficiency of this micronutrient later in his life.

Milk Products And Their Benefits

Curd: A great inclusion in one’s diet, curd (probiotics with good bacteria) helps improve digestion, increase absorption of various minerals including calcium, reduce the severity of certain allergies and eczema and boost the immune system.

Paneer and cheese*: These are concentrated sources of proteins and energy, and are extremely beneficial for children with reduced appetite and those who are under-nourished.

Butter and ghee: They provide healthy fats and certain fat-soluble vitamins. Ghee is lactose-friendly and is considered a rich source of vitamins A, D, E and K.

*Note: Always prefer natural, organic or less processed paneer or cheese. Regular cheese available in the market may be highly processed and may contain a high amount of additives, preservatives and salt, which can be harmful to the body on regular consumption. Avoid cheese marked as ‘processed’.

How Safe Is Your Child's Milk?

Lactose Intolerance And Milk Allergy

Some children may be allergic or intolerant to milk. Milk allergy is the body’s immune response to the protein in milk. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is the body’s inability to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and milk products. If your child is fussy about milk and complains of a stomach ache after drinking it, or if you notice symptoms of allergy such as diarrhoea or rashes in your child, talk to your doctor and test for lactose intolerance and allergy.

A child with lactose intolerance or allergy can still get calcium from other sources of food like grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, green leafy vegetables, fruits and coconut milk.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Like Milk?

  • Make milkshakes with fruits like banana, mango or custard apple (avoid adding sugar).
  • Make fruit yoghurt by blending fruits with curd.
  • Mix natural flavours such as cardamom, saffron, vanilla or unsweetened cocoa to make it interesting.
  • Add milk to soups, chapatti dough, etc.
  • Try other dairy products such as curd, paneer or cheese.

Just as with any other food, milk is always good if taken in moderation. So, try to provide your child with a balanced diet, which includes a variety of healthy food items. Milk is good as long as you don’t rely only on it.

Dr Neha Sanwalka Rungta is a paediatric nutritionist and director of NutriCanvas.

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