How Come Parents Bug You to Drink Milk?

By Howard J. Bennett

Let’s face it. You parents do lots of great things for you. They put clothes on your back, food in your stomach and clean up your snotty tissues when you’re sick. They help with homework, cart you all over town and buy you cool stuff on your birthday. So why do they spoil everything by making you eat and drink things you don’t like?

The answer to this question is simple. They want to keep you healthy. As kids get older, two things happen that may reduce their desire to drink milk. First, sugary drinks, including juice and soda, become more appealing. Second, milk tastes best when served icy cold, and cold milk is not always available outside the home. But whether you like it or not, milk is part of a healthy diet.

In order to grow and stay well, your body needs protein, carbohydrates, fats and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Milk is an excellent source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Although you can get plenty of protein from other foods, it’s hard to get all the calcium and vitamin D you need without drinking milk. (Cheese and yogurt have plenty of calcium, but they typically do not contain vitamin D.)

At this point, you might be asking yourself: What’s the big deal about calcium? Most people know calcium is essential for strong bones. What people don’t know, however, is that calcium is used in every cell of your body. If an alien landed on Earth and shot you with a ray gun that sucked the calcium out of your body, you would die instantly.

So since lots of earthlings do not drink milk, why don’t people keel over every day from a lack of calcium? Well, it turns out that the body is often smarter than we are.

When you were a baby, you drank gallons and gallons of breast milk or formula. Most of the calcium you ingested ended up making your bones very strong. The body is constantly replacing old calcium in bones with new calcium. So if you don’t have calcium in your diet, your cells won’t immediately suffer because the body uses the calcium that’s been stored in your bones.

But if you don’t replace old calcium with new calcium, your bones will become weaker over time. The same thing would happen with a bank account. Let’s say you have $500 in a savings account. If you keep taking money out and never put any back, your account will eventually be empty. A similar thing can happen with the calcium stored in your body. Your bones won’t turn to dust, but they can get weaker; and weaker bones are more likely to break if a person gets injured.

So consider drinking milk three times a day. If you’re allergic to cows milk, try “milk” made from soy, rice or almonds. If that doesn’t sound appealing, drink calcium-enriched orange juice, eat vegetables rich in calcium or take a calcium and vitamin D supplement.

If you want to learn more about calcium and bone health, check out the following link:

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 1/10/11.)

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