Worrying about our children never stops as parents. When they are little you worry about them hitting milestones (you know when are they going to sit up/crawl/walk/talk?) and every little bug they pick up has you scared silly. As your child grows up the worries become more complex and there’s school, friendships, puberty and plenty more tricky things to think about such as cyber issues.
I think though that there are other potential problems that run the risk of being missed because as parents we worry about potential issues, rather than ones that might be affecting our children right now.
Across Britain people are giving up on dairy products because they think it’s good for their health. Many office fridges now stock a bewildering range of non-dairy alternatives. It’s one thing fully grown adults succumbing to a dietary fad because they think they might have food intolerance, but it’s concerning when children, especially teenage girls are doing the same. It’s a real worry as those years of teenage growth and development are the time when they need nutrients most. Results of a survey among 2,000 UK adults, including over 1,00 parents, showed that almost 1 in 5 teenage girls aged 13-19 are drinking less milk than two years ago, and 1 in 6 have cut it out of their diets altogether.
Sophie Medlin, leading dietitian and lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, suggests that this is a result of fad diets, presumed intolerances and a preference for what they perceive are ‘healthier’ plant-based alternatives. She predicts a generational health crisis of osteoporosis and poor health in the future should this trend continue. She explains that: “Many are completely unaware the majority of calcium needed for good bone health is stored in the body during your early years, and your opportunity for strengthening bones ends after the age of 30. Iodine is also critical for a functioning metabolism and proper growth and development. Cows’ milk is one of the richest sources of both in the UK diet.”
As many as a fifth (19%) of teenage girls surveyed blamed an intolerance to lactose for their avoidance of cows’ milk. However, the Food Standards Agency reports that the actual proportion of population who suffer from true lactose intolerance is as low as 5% – meaning there could be something else at play. Now there’s new clinical research published in the UK Nutrition Journal which suggests an alternative cause for those who report issues with dairy: it could be the A1 protein found in most milk on sale in the UK which is triggering their symptoms, not the lactose. A simple switch to a cows’ milk that is naturally free-from the A1 protein, such as a2 Milk™, could be the answer for these teenagers.
Sophie Medlin says: “A number of people misdiagnose themselves with lactose intolerance when there is some evidence that it could be intolerance to the A1 milk protein. There is an increasing body of research to show that those who previously thought they couldn’t drink milk because of lactose, may be able to tolerate milk containing only the A2 protein. I would always prefer to recommend a dairy milk over a calcium fortified alternative due to the abundance of nutritional benefits that are particularly pertinent to the health of teenagers.
It’s quite a worry that only 16% of 18-35 year olds who had given up cows’ milk had done so as a result of talking to a health care professional such as a dietitian or a GP. This compared to a as many as 41% of that age group who said that friends and family, celebrities, bloggers and social media were their influences for such an important dietary change. It’s so easy to be drawn in by attractive images and personal recommendations without considering the full facts. If there’s been no medical involvement, there probably hasn’t been any dietary advice either.
This latest research showed that out of the teenage girls who had ditched dairy, 1 in 5 (21%) said it was because they prefer alternative drinks such as almond milk, or think they are healthier than the real thing – but this could not be further from the truth. Often, these drinks are filled with a long line of additives and emulsifiers, as well as artificial nutrients that are not easily absorbed by the body. And some almond milks can contain only 2% almonds, which sounds like precious little to me. Many survey respondents aged 18-35 (25%) choose the least nutritionally beneficial alternative – coconut milk. The average carton of coconut milk contains nearly twice as much fat as other alternatives and over five additives.
When I was growing up we had milk provided at school during the infants to help us as we grew and developed and there was outcry when it was stopped for junior school children. There was a reason for that as it’s a great way of getting the calcium and iodine that your body needs as it grows. I think we as parents need to do our research into what a child is giving up, if they decide to cut out a food group from their diet. Certainly l am more aware of the issues now and I’m more skeptical about the alternatives.
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Disclosure: This post is in association with a2 Milk™. a2 Milk™ is not suitable for people with cows’ milk protein allergy. If you have been medically diagnosed with any milk intolerance, seek advice from your doctor before use.