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Milk: Good or bad?

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We’re told to give milk to our little ones, and soon they are guzzling it down. Then we’re told that milk isn’t that good for them, and we find ourselves starting to withhold it. What gives? Is milk on the good list or the bad list?

In most cultures, kids drink routinely drink cow’s milk. It’s a nice little package containing protein, calcium, Vitamin D, and a bunch of other good-for-you vitamins and minerals. Considering some of the other foods out there, it’s not so shabby, nutritionally speaking.

Of course whole milk does have quite a bit of fat. But if you stick with the skim or 1-percent variety, you should be in better shape. (Disregard this if your child is under age 2; you should be feeding him or her whole milk.) On balance, we think it’s a pretty good thing for your kids, as long as you keep the following caveats in mind:

Lactose intolerance or milk allergies: When your child has an underlying condition preventing him or her from drinking milk, you need to make sure that your child gets enough calcium from other sources. However, both lactose intolerance and milk allergies tend to be over-diagnosed by parents or individuals (see this good rundown by pediatric expert Dr. Sears here). The important thing is to monitor your child’s intake – and subsequent reactions – carefully. Many children who do have a milk allergy will outgrow it by the time they are two or three.

Concerns about iron intake: Since milk can interfere with iron absorption, you want to make sure that your kids don’t drink too much milk (three 8-ounce glasses a day should be plenty) and continue to eat foods that have the iron they need. If they consume too little iron, they may be at risk for iron-deficiency anemia.

Filling up on milk: Some nutritionists fear that milk, when consumed with a meal, will fill up your kids’ tummies before they get through all of the foods they need to eat. One approach is to serve water with meals, and milk at snacktime or after meals, to make sure that kids get the proper amount of food they need first.

Hormones and antibiotics: While numerous studies show that rBST (the growth hormone used to stimulate milk production in cows) has no effect on human health, many consumers continue to be wary about hormones and other extraneous substances in the milk. If you are concerned, look for certified organic milk (but be prepared to pay a premium). Then go ahead and let them drink it up .