While we all know that milk is a great source of calcium, many people in Singapore tend to avoid drinking it as they believe it contains too much fat.
When participants from a recent focus group were asked how much fat they thought milk contains, they gave an average answer of 46 per cent, said researcher Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran from Temasek Polytechnic on Tuesday (14 November).
In reality, however, less than 4 per cent of milk is fat, said Dr Kalpana, who is the domain lead for applied nutrition and glycemic index at the school, as well as the lead researcher on a first-of-its-kind survey here called “Milk Perceptions”.
A total of 30 participants across different age, income and gender groups took part in the focus group, the findings from which were revealed to the media on Tuesday. The focus group was conducted with the help of an independent research company as well as food company FrieslandCampina, which is behind brands such as “Danone” and “Dutch Lady”.
During the media briefing, Dr Kalpana also highlighted 2010 findings from the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which revealed that nearly half (45.5 per cent) of Singapore residents do not drink milk at all.
“We were surprised to learn through our findings that while Singaporeans generally enjoy an abundant availability of food and are consuming more calories than before, nutritionally, many are still falling short on critical nutrients such as calcium and protein,” said Dr Kalpana.
“This can be simply addressed by adjusting daily diets to get the best out of the food we eat. It is as simple as adding one glass of milk to our meals.” Dr Kalpana also highlighted other misconceptions and attitudes that Singapore residents have, which may be holding them back from consuming more milk:
UHT milk is less nutritious than fresh milk
Based on the focus group, some people in Singapore avoid buying UHT milk thinking that it is less nutritious than fresh milk, said Dr Kalpana. UHT milk refers to ultra-high temperature processing milk or milk that is sterilised through heating at about 135 deg C for one to two seconds, which allows the milk to have a longer shelf life.
Some focus group participants also said that they avoid buying fresh milk because it spoils quickly, she added.
However, the difference in nutritional value for both UHT and fresh milk is very little, said Dr Kalpana, and it should not stop people in Singapore from drinking the former. UHT milk is also longer lasting, cheaper and available for purchase in bulk, she added.
I can’t drink milk because I’m lactose intolerant
Some in Singapore also mistake regular gastrointestinal problems for lactose intolerance, said Dr Kalpana. But even if you are lactose intolerant, this does not mean that you should avoid milk altogether.
According to research findings, “drinking milk in small amounts during the day or consuming it with a meal can help you meet the recommended daily calcium intake”.
Milk is only important for the young and elderly
Milk is important for everyone, not just the young and the elderly. According to the report, “having a calcium-rich diet throughout life is important as it allows our bodies to continually replenish the calcium in our bones, keeping them strong for life”.
Furthermore, if you start drinking milk when you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, chances are, it’s already too late, said Dr Kalpana.
Calcium supplements are as good as milk
Supplements can definitely help you boost the levels of nutrients that are lacking in your body, but depending on calcium supplements alone will make you lose out on other nutrients that milk has to offer.
Besides being a source of calcium, milk also contains protein, potassium, zinc and vitamins A, B and D, among other nutrients, said the report.
Drinking milk is not part of Singapore culture
Many participants from the focus group also perceived milk-drinking to be part of Western culture. In Singapore, many would prefer to drink coffee and tea instead of a cup of milk.
Additionally, milk is perceived as a drink commonly consumed at home during breakfast (with cereal) or after dinner. However, our fast-paced society and culture of eating out leave fewer opportunities for individuals to have breakfast or dinner at home.
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