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Blog: Milk, a natural British Gem

Blog: Milk, a natural British Gem

Our latest blog post is supplied by Lucy Williamson of Lucy Williamson Nutrition



A natural British gem, packed full of vital nutrients that are poorly available from other food sources.

Why then, are we drinking less?

Having practiced as a Vet and now as a Nutritionist, I can offer reassurance about dairy in our diet as well as clarity on its key nutritional benefits. Read on to find out why we should be embracing British Dairy!


Lactose intolerance and Cow’s milk allergy?

Cow’s Milk Allergy is an immune reaction to the protein in milk. It is uncommon, occurring mostly in young children who often grow out of it.

Lactose intolerance is a life-long, reduced ability to digest this sugar in milk, due to lacking the gene for the enzyme Lactase. Fortunately, as lactose is also digested by ‘good’ gut bacteria in our large intestine (they extract its energy for our bodies to use, by fermentation), small amounts of milk can still be tolerated. Fermented dairy foods like yogurt and cheese in which the lactose has already been broken down are also a good choice.

A little bit of history here! Over generations, our genes adapt to our food supply so we can benefit from new foods. When Neolithic man began domesticating the ancestors of cows thousands of years ago, a change in our genetic make-up eventually occurred (a ‘mutation’). Those who carried this new gene were able to digest the sugar in this ‘new’ food, milk, using their enzyme lactase. Only 35% of the world’s population now carry this gene, but in Northern Europe, fortunately 90% of us do! Those who did not develop the gene, remain lactose intolerant. In the UK, fewer than 10% are diagnosed with lactose intolerance; the remainder perhaps just more sensitive to the products of lactose fermentation in the large intestine.

  • Dairy Food is fattening? 

Even whole milk is only 3.5% fat. Its high protein levels help us to feel full for longer and on-going research suggests it can help to maintain a healthy weight when part of a balanced diet.

In the UK, regulations prevent the addition of hormones to cows to enhance their milk production, and milk from any cows receiving treatment, must be discarded. Natural hormones are present, just as they are in other plant and animal foods we eat.

  • Dairy Farm Welfare - Milk for calves and people? 

After thousands of years of domestication, cows now produce far more milk than their calf can drink. So, the milking process prevents life-threatening septicaemia from mastitis, a serious infection of an over-full udder. Although intensive dairy farming has meant that calves are removed from their mothers at an early age, British Dairy Farmers take great care to ensure that calves get the all-important first ‘colostrum milk’ from their mothers, before being bottle-fed.

While milk and other dairy food has reduced in popularity, deficiencies in calcium and iodine in teenagers have worsened, hospital admissions for tooth decay in the under fives have increased by 25% in the last decade and a third of children are now overweight or obese on reaching Year 6 at Primary School.



  • Protein - Essential for growth, strength and cell repair, the protein in milk, Casein, also helps us to feel full for longer. Unlike some other protein sources, it contains all the amino acids we need to build different types of protein in our bodies.
  • Calcium – We only absorb a maximum of 35% of the calcium from the food we eat. Lactose and casein in milk enhance calcium absorption, meaning that calcium is absorbed from milk better than any other food source.
  • Lactose - The sugar lactose is metabolised differently and therefore not classed as a ‘free sugar’. Free sugars are present in natural fruit juice, baking sugars and all syrups like agave and honey and cause dental decay.
  • Iodine – In the UK milk provides 45% of the daily iodine requirement for children. No other food is such a good source. Public Health England are currently assessing our level of deficiency in the UK – worldwide, Iodine deficiency is the most important cause of mental disease and reduced thyroid function is a worry too.
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) - We can get 35% of our recommended daily intake from a glass of milk! It enables us to use the energy in our food, maintains healthy skin, enhances our absorption of iron from food and may protect against heart disease.
  • Vitamin D – we only get a trace of vitamin D in our diet; there is only a trace in milk and even then it must be whole milk. (Some reduced fat varieties are fortified with vitamin D)
  • Gut bacteria – Research is rapidly discovering many new roles for our gut bacteria, key to our health. Fermented dairy products like yogurts and cheese contain many beneficial bacteria; pasteurization only killing the harmful ones. Kefir, a traditional fermented yogurt drink, has particularly high levels of these beneficial bacteria and yeast.


Milk for primary school children

  • Research shows children who drink more milk, maintain a healthy weight, largely due to its protein (and fat) content, giving lasting fullness.
  • Dentists recommend milk over other drinks, for children.
  • The nutrients listed above, are crucial healthy bones, immune system, teeth and growth. It’s no coincidence that in Scandinavia and The Netherlands where Dairy foods are popular and there is little milk intolerance, their average height is far taller!

Milk for teenagers

  • 20%1 of girls are deficient in calcium, yet bone density must reach its peak in girls and boys by 18 years old.
  • 20%1 of girls are deficient in riboflavin, yet crucially it increases iron absorption; high intakes of iron are needed this age.
  • 22%1 of girls are deficient in iodine. Thyroid hormones require iodine to regulate the body’s metabolism, growth and energy levels. Good iodine stores are also crucial before pregnancy to ensure correct brain development of the unborn baby. Research in Bristol in 2012 showed iodine deficiency in mothers during pregnancy, to be associated with a reduced IQ in their 8 year old children.2

1National Diet and Nutrition Survey latest update February 2017

2 ALSPAC Study, Bath et al, The Lancet 2013

Milk for Adults

As adults we also benefit from dairy in the diet for many of the reasons above, including the importance of calcium in breast-feeding others. However, it is also a very good source of Vitamin B12, which helps to maintain a healthy nervous system and becomes more important in later years to prevent anaemia.