Which milk should you drink?

Susie Burrell
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Image: Snapper Media
With the huge number of milks on the market, it is no wonder parents are confused over which one is best for their children.

Milk is a fantastic food. It is a good source of high biological value protein, it is the primary source of calcium in our kids' diets and provides a number of other key nutrients including vitamins A and D and the mineral phosphorus, which are all vital for optimal bone development during childhood years.

There are three main varieties of milk:

  • Full-fat (four percent fat or 10 grams of fat per glass)
  • Reduced-fat (two percent fat or four grams of fat per glass)
  • Low-fat (less than one percent fat or less than one gram of fat per glass)

Since 2002, it has been recommended in the National Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents that all children in Australia over the age of two years consume reduced-fat milk. The reason for this is that the type of fat found in milk is largely saturated fat — the fat that accumulates in the arteries over time increasing the risk of heart disease. It is reasoned that as Australian children get plenty of fat in their diets from other sources they do not need extra saturated fat from their milk. A common parental concern about choosing low and reduced fat milks over full cream varieties is that kids may be missing out on calcium. This is not the case, reduced- and low-fat milks generally have more calcium than full-cream varieties.

For this reason, once your child reaches the age of two, a reduced-fat milk (Lite varieties including Lite Start™, Lite White™) is the best milk choice. The other potential benefit of swapping a child's milk over when they are young is that they become used to it before knowing any different and there is no problem swapping it over. We all know how difficult it is to change kids' food once they reach school age!

Low-fat varieties of milk (Pura Tone™, Shape™ including skim) tend to be a little on the light side for children unless weight is a problem. For children who have a weight problem though, low fat milks with increased levels of calcium are perfectly safe and can be a filling and nutritious snack food option.

Milk is an extremely nutritious and satisfying food and snack choice for children and has been somewhat overlooked as an excellent choice of snack for kids and as a potential lunchbox filler. Look for varieties of reduced-fat flavoured milk to add to your child's lunchbox (Big M™, Aktavite™) instead of fruit juice and keep them cool with an extra ice block. The kids love them, they are filling and packed full of calcium and protein. Flavoured or plain milk after school, in a smoothie or with crackers or reduced-fat cookies is another fantastic after school snack.

For adults, the same rules apply. Reduced-fat milks should be the first milk of choice for Australian adults. Low-fat milks, particularly those that are calcium enriched, are preferable for individuals wanting to lose body fat or for those people who have high blood cholesterol levels. As dairy food contains a significant proportion of saturated fat — the type of fat that increases blood cholesterol levels, keeping the dietary intake of this type of fat as low as possible an help reduce blood cholesterol levels over time.

For lactose intolerant children or vegetarian families, soy may be the milk of choice. The difference between animal and soy milk is that the fat found in soy milk varieties is an unsaturated, meaning that is does not contain the type of fat that accumulates in the arteries the way that animal fat does. This does not mean that the kids need the extra fat, so still look for light soy varieties. The most important thing to remember when choosing soy over cows' milk is to look for varieties of soy milk that contain added calcium.

As with any food type, there are a number of brands and varieties of milk, as well as milks specifically marketed to parents as "kids' milks". Generally speaking, milk is milk and as long as you choose a reduced-fat or low-fat variety you are on the right track!

Please note: cows milk is not suitable for children under the age of twelve months and from the age of 12 to 24 months toddlers need full cream milk.

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