Food Can we do without the traditional bowl of milk without risking a deficiency?

With 2.84 billion liters in 2021 (1), the overall consumption of milk in France is back to its pre-Covid level where the product had experienced exceptional growth (+ 4.9% in volume compared to 2019) thanks to the homemade phenomenon. The year 2021 thus marks a return to ”normal”, because even if it remains widely acclaimed, the French consume less and less milk (- 2.5% compared to 2019).

The decline has been continuous for 10 years, especially among the youngest: in 2016, 69% of children aged 3 to 11 and 61% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 drank milk for breakfast. In 2019, they are no longer, respectively, 65 and 52% (2).

Should we be worried about this drop in consumption? What are the nutritional consequences of eliminating dairy products from your diet? What are the alternatives ? Doctor Laurence Plumey, nutritionist, founder of EPM Nutrition and author of several books including The Big Food Book (3)answers us.

The best source of calcium

A basic food, milk is a drink considered nutritious because it is rich in many nutritional qualities: it provides protein, phosphorus, vitamins (A, D and group B) as well as calcium.

If proteins, phosphorus and vitamins can be easily provided by other foods, “milk is obviously the best source of calcium”, underlines the expert, who recalls that a 200 ml bowl covers 25% of the daily calcium requirement (800 mg per day from 4 to 10 years old and 1200 mg per day from 11 to 17 years old). “Not only is milk rich in it, but its calcium also coexists with proteins, lactose and vitamin D, which optimize its intestinal absorption. Of all the sources of calcium, the calcium in milk is the best absorbed”.

A capital constituted before the age of 18

The absorption of calcium is precisely essential during the first 18 years of life since our bone health depends on this calcium capital built up during childhood and adolescence. As this stabilizes in adulthood, it is no longer possible to compensate for insufficient intakes.

In the event of low calcium intake, “the damage is irreversible”, warns the nutritionist. “These children and adolescents have more fragile bones but they are also predestined to develop, from the age of 50, earlier and more severe osteoporosis, with a high risk of fracture”.

What alternatives?

So how to compensate for these insufficient intakes if we ignore the bowl of milk? You can simply eat it: many recipes such as quiches, flanks, creams, cakes or pancakes include the drink in their preparation.

Calcium intake can also be provided by dairy products other than milk: yogurts, cheeses, dairy desserts, etc. It is also recommended that children and adolescents consume three dairy products a day, varying them.

Things get complicated when you want to completely avoid dairy products, as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet for example. If some then rely on the calcium naturally present in vegetables and plants, this is not enough to cover daily needs, warns Dr. Plumey. “People who think that calcium can be provided exclusively by vegetables and plants are mistaken. With an average of 30 to 40 mg of calcium per 100 g, ideally eating 600 g of fruit and vegetables per day, we only get 240 mg of calcium per day. Especially since even if some plants are richer in calcium than others (cabbage, spinach, almonds), this calcium is poorly absorbed due to its coexistence with fibres”.

People who think that calcium can be exclusively provided by vegetables and plants are mistaken.

Doctor Laurence Plumey, nutritionist

The nutritionist then recommends consuming vegetable juices provided that they are enriched with calcium. “You have to look carefully at the labels and check this mention of calcium enrichment. Otherwise they are naturally low in calcium. You also have to make sure they are not too sweet! »

Finally, the specialist recommends combining these diets with the consumption of calcium mineral waters such as Contrex, Courmayeur or Hépar, which provide calcium at a rate of 500 mg per litre.

The alternative is therefore possible, provided that this balance is respected.

(1) Data: FranceAgrimer, SSP, monthly dairy surveys

(2) Data: Credoc 2022, Study of breakfasts in France

(3) ”The Great Book of Food” (2022), Eyrolles editions, 24.90 euros.

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