The role of milk and dairy products in human nutrition

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FAO: Milk and dairy products are an important source of dietary energy, protein and fat. But, the scientific evidence is massing up that regular consumption of large quantities of milk can be bad for your health, and campaigners are making noise about the environmental and international costs of large-scale intensive dairy farming.

We put together a list of questions that might spring to mind and the answers you are looking for

1. What nutrients does milk provide?

Milk makes a significant contribution to meeting the body’s needs for calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).

2. What quantity of milk and dairy is recommended?

There are no global recommendations for milk or dairy consumption. Many countries have developed national dietary guidelines that are based on local food availability, cost, nutritional status, consumption patterns and food habits. Most countries recommend at least one serving of milk daily, with some countries recommending up to three servings per day. A daily 200 ml glass of whole cow milk, on average, provides a 5-year-old child with 21 percent of protein requirements, 8 percent of calories and key micro-nutrients.

3. Is there a link between milk and dairy and obesity?

The role of milk and dairy products in human health has been increasingly debated in recent years, both in the scientific and in popular science literature. Evidence from observational studies does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat contributes to obesity. However, weight gain results from consuming more calories than one expends, and milk and dairy should only be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

4. Is raw milk safe to consume?

Raw milk and raw milk products can lead to food-borne illnesses. Given that these products are not pasteurized/ treated, alternative safety controls are required to ensure that they do not pose a public health risk.

5. Why shouldn’t infants (under 1yr. age) drink cow milk?

Cow milk does not contain sufficient iron and folate (i.e. one of the B vitamins that is a key factor in the making of DNA) to meet requirements, and animal milks are not recommended for infants younger than 12 months. Consumption of fresh, unheated cow milk by infants is associated with faecal blood loss and lower iron status. Following the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on breastfeeding, most national policies recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age.

6. Besides cows, what animals produce milk that is suitable for human consumption?

A range of animal species produce milk that is consumed. The nutrient composition of milk from minor dairy animals i.e. animals other than cows, buffalo, goats and sheep, has to date received little research attention. This is unfortunate as some of the minor animals, such as donkey, reindeer, yak, Bactrian camel, moose, musk ox, llama, alpaca and mithun, are underutilized. In other words, the production of milk from these minor species has the potential to contribute to food security, health and nutrition and income generation.

7. What is the global milk production by species?

Global milk production has been dominated by 5 animal species: dairy cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, and camels. According to FAO 2013 statistics, 85% of total milk production comes from cows, followed by buffaloes with 11%, goats 2%, sheep 1% and camels 0.4%.

8. Is consuming milk and dairy environmentally sustainable?

Producing, processing and distributing milk and dairy products, like other foods, affects the planet. Dairy production systems are important and complex sources of GHG emissions, notably of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2).  Globally, the dairy sector accounts for around four percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions, of which  milk production, processing and  transportation account for 2.7 percent.  Growing and providing food does entail some environmental effects and efforts are ongoing in the dairy sector to reduce the intensity of emissions.

Source: FAO -



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