The first food we all consume

The importance of milk: You can easily take it for granted. But don't

Milk doesn’t always get its just due. It's worth focusing attention on the lifelong benefits derived from milk.

Michael Zacka, Tetra Pak

By Michael Zacka, president and CEO, Tetra Pak North America

On most days, millions of Americans jump out of bed, take a quick shower and grab a bowl of cereal before they start their commute. They never think about the significance of this ordinary routine. Our quality of life comes from the little things we take for granted - from a bed to sleep in, running water for a shower or the milk to pour on cereal.

Milk doesn’t always get its just due. We consume very few things as nutritionally dense and wholesome as milk, the first food we experience as babies. So it's worth focusing attention on the lifelong benefits derived from milk, and hoping it will soon be available to billions more children, adults and seniors worldwide in nothing short of a nutrition revolution.

So why do we take milk for granted?

Perhaps out of habit. It’s the staple our great-grandmother had in her old-fashioned icebox and the staple we have in our modern one, in part thanks to its ready availability in America.

It is the first food we all consume ¬– whether it is from the breast or the bottle – for a reason. The latest dietary research by the USDA finds it ageless, and indicates it deserves a place at our tables throughout our lifetimes.

It is the only beverage that we consider a food, and is so nutritionally important and multi-purpose that it has its own classification on the USDA’S food pyramid.

It also represents powerful yet contradictory views, for we perceive it to be old fashioned and modern, local and global, a treat and a necessity and natural and innovative.

Milk was the original health food 

Long before health foods and drinks were a trend, milk was an important and significant source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Humans’ unique capacity to digest the milk of cows and other animals was developed some 7,500 years ago as a way to access a rich supply of Vitamin D in sunlight deprived regions of Central Europe, according to research in the Public Library of Science’s Journal of Computational Biology.

MilkWhile Vitamin D is the most well-known vitamin found in milk thanks to the way it’s emblazoned on every label, it’s far from the only one. Milk also supplies bodies, bones, and brains with protein, vitamins A and B12, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin, zinc and magnesium, report University of Wisconsin nutritionists. They also note that the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is roughly the same one required by the body for bone creation and maintenance.

So, milk’s cache of calcium is another remarkable asset for humans. Scientific studies have stressed this wonder food’s value in bone creation from cradle to grave – particularly in adolescents as they go through their awkward and gangly growth spurts, according to a study published in the Journal of International Medical Research and available for review online at the National Institute of Health’s PubMed. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition also encourages dieting adults to consume dairy products, as does a study on osteoporosis for seniors trying to head off bone loss in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Expanding global access to milk benefits

According to projections in our 2011 Dairy Index, we will see surging demand for milk as emerging middle class families in China, India, Vietnam, Kenya and elsewhere have the ability to improve their family diets. Our forecasts anticipate world demand for liquid dairy products will grow by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020. Spurred by these developing markets, companies and industries all over the planet are going into hyper-drive to meet global need as dairy sales worldwide are forecast to approach $500 billion by 2015, according to a January 2012 report on the dairy products industry from Global Industry Analysts.

The way these emerging middle-class families will consume milk is different. Unlike the United States, where we’re used to seeing refrigerated bottles and cartons, children who may have never seen a refrigerator in developing countries will drink milk in a shelf safe carton that was placed on store shelves right off the bed of a pick-up truck. And as rural dwellers move to the cities in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, they will no longer be supplied by “milkmen” carrying loose unpasteurized milk from nearby farms in large metal cans on their bicycles and mopeds, but rather have access to safe, hygienic and nutritious milk in aseptic packaging.

Our vision at Tetra Pak is ‘we commit to making food safe and available everywhere.’ We pioneered the use of aseptic shelf-safe cartons, a remarkable technology that enables even sensitive products, such as milk, to be delivered over long distances without refrigeration or preservatives. This development helped, and will continue to help, expand the access and consumption of nutrition-dense milk both in developing and developed countries by enabling parents to give milk to their kids in a safe way anytime, anywhere.

A future of safe, mobile and easily stored milk worldwide is unquestionably a good thing from a global health perspective. Milk has always been a major component in American children’s diets. But when millions more children around the world also have the benefit of this nutrient boost, we will know that observances such as World Milk Day and National Dairy Month have been effective.

It seems our busy lifestyles cause us to take much for granted. We should pause to remember that the glass of milk in your hand or your baby’s fist is really something special.

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