Calcium, vitamin D and bones
The selling point
‘Calcium rich’, ‘high in calcium’ or ‘good source of calcium’ are common claims on milk labels, as are statements about bone health, including:
- “To help achieve optimal bone maintenance, Anlene contains essential bone nutrients, and it helps you absorb them effectively.” ANLENE
- ”Stronger bones.” PAULS PhysiCAL
- “A daily 250 mL glass of nutrient enriched Pura Boost is a fantastic bone health package.” PURA Boost
We all know that calcium is important for building and maintaining healthy bones, and there’s no doubt that milk’s an important source. According to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, a claim that a product is a good source of calcium can be made if it contains no less than 25% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) in a specified quantity — for milk, that’s the equivalent of 100 mg of calcium or more per 100 mL. And most dairy milks fit the bill. Regular full-cream milk contains around 115 mg per 100 mL. Skim or low-fat milks often contain even more. But only some milks have a calcium claim on the label — and they’re not necessarily the ones with the most calcium.
ANLENE, PAULS PhysiCAL and PURA Boost contain more calcium than others. But what really differentiates them from other milks is that they contain added vitamin D — a nutrient that assists the absorption of dietary calcium. One cup (250 mL) of ANLENE or four cups of PAULS PhysiCAL or PURA Boost is enough to meet your daily vitamin D requirements if you’re aged 50 and under. You’d need 40 cups of regular milk to get the same amount.
But for most people, dietary vitamin D is unnecessary — you can get enough through exposure to sunlight (it’s produced by the action of sunlight on skin). As you get older, you need more vitamin D (and calcium) for healthy bones. But it’s estimated that even then, exposure of just your face, hands and forearms to sunlight for 15–30 minutes, 2–3 times per week, will provide enough. It’s primarily people who have very restricted sun exposure — older people in residential care, dark-skinned people and women who wear veils, for example — who may need to boost their vitamin D levels through diet.
If you’re trying to get more calcium (a higher intake is recommended for adolescents and older people, particularly postmenopausal women, for example), don’t be influenced by the words on the label. Check the nutrition information panel — any more calcium than 100 mg per 100 mL is a bonus. And for adolescents and postmenopausal women in particular, the extra calcium in milks like ANLENE and PURA Boost is a plus. But unless you’re at risk of vitamin D deficiency, there’s really no need to buy milk just because its label mentions bone health, especially if it costs more.
Heart and cholesterol
The selling point
BROWNES Heart Plus and DAIRY FARMERS Farmers Best Source of Omega 3 both have omega-3 added. PURA Heart Active claims to lower your cholesterol.
Omega-3s are derived either from plants (mainly ALA omega-3s) or from fish (mainly EPA and DHA). ALA may help to prevent heart disease, but the evidence for omega-3s from fish is far better. Expert opinions vary, but typical recommendations are 300–500 mg per day of EPA/DHA. A cup of BROWNES Heart Plus will give you 150 mg of EPA/DHA, roughly half your day’s quota. But the amount in the DAIRY FARMERS milk is small by comparison — you’d need to drink 4.5 cups to get the equivalent. Some soy milks also flag their omega-3 content, but of course it’s the plant-derived version, not EPA or DHA, that they contain (see Non-dairy milk alternatives).
PURA Heart Active contains natural plant sterols, which it says “can lower your cholesterol by up to 15%”. The scientific evidence is quite strong that plant sterols work and the Heart Foundation advises that a daily intake of 2–3 g of plant sterols reduces bad (LDL) cholesterol levels by approximately 10%. You’d get this amount in three cups of PURA Heart Active.
A serve of fish is a much better source of omega-3 — there’s over 340 mg in 40 g of tinned tuna, for example, and even more in salmon or sardines. But if you’re not keen on seafood, BROWNES Heart Plus in particular can make a real contribution to your daily needs. And while not a substitute for cholesterol-lowering medication, PURA Heart Active can be beneficial so long as you’re prepared to have several cups a day.
The selling point
PARMALAT Zymil and PAULS Goat Milk both claim to be easier to digest.
Lactose is the major sugar in milk. If you don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase — which breaks down lactose so that it can be absorbed by your body — you might experience symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, wind and diarrhoea when you drink milk. PARMALAT Zymil is cow’s milk that’s had the lactose removed, making it easier to digest if you’re lactose-intolerant.
Goat’s milk still contains lactose, but the major difference between it and cow’s milk is that the fat globules in goat’s milk are much smaller, and it lacks the substance called agglutinin, which causes the globules to cluster together in cow’s milk (if it’s not homogenised). It’s been said that this may be why some people find goat’s milk easier to digest than regular cow’s milk, but the only evidence we could find for this was anecdotal.
If you have trouble digesting milk you could be lactose-intolerant, and lactose-free milk might help (although you should see a doctor for advice). If lactose isn’t your problem you could try goat’s milk, although you’ll need to get used to the taste.
The selling point
“A2 Milk is a pure natural milk with an important difference, it is rich in A2 beta casein protein.” A2 Milk
The A2 milk debate has been rumbling along since the late 1990s. Back then, it was hypothesised that the A1 beta-casein protein found in the milk of some cows was a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and possibly also schizophrenia and autism. The A2 beta-casein protein, produced by other cattle breeds, wasn’t thought to be associated with these diseases. Milk produced in Australia and New Zealand is normally a mix of both. So the A2 Corporation was set up to produce milk from cows that mainly produce A2 beta-casein proteins.
In 2004, a report from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority looking into the claims found no convincing evidence to suggest that A1 milk is a health risk, although it suggested that more research was needed. A more recent independent review reached much the same conclusion. One of the many other misconceptions surrounding A2 milk is that it’s less likely to cause allergies than regular milk.
With no substantial evidence to suggest that A2 milk is better for health than regular milk, you’re better off basing your buying on taste and price.
See our latest review of milk products.