Have you had a milky day today?

Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile in Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile in Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Is milk good for you?

The answer depends on who you talk to. If you have milk allergy then of course it is not good for you. If you have no allergy then why wouldn’t you drink milk?

“America’s iconic ‘Got Milk?’ campaign was pulled this year (2014) after a successful run of over 20 years. Graced by the likes of Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell, Elton John, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie sporting a milk moustache, the campaign garnered wide recognition. Yet milk was losing favour against a growing variety of breakfast and drink options,” says Dr. Anita Jain, India editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ October 29, 2014).

Now the dairy industry is focused on promoting milk as rich in protein content. Protein is good for you. Milk has long been promoted as a source of protein and calcium essential for bone health. The evidence, though, on the health benefits of milk consumption is scant and divided, says the BMJ article.

Milk continues to be a controversial dietary recommendation. There are not just health risks and benefits to be considered, but often also the availability and feasibility of consuming milk against deriving necessary nutritional value from other foods.

With growing public interest in a vegan diet, the morality of consuming dairy products presents a new angle too, says Jain. A vegan diet is one that consists of only plant-derived foods. Vegans do not use or consume any animals or animal products including milk.

Many asthmatics perceive their asthma is worsened by drinking milk. There is no scientific evidence to confirm that.

There is no evidence that milk leads to excessive mucus secretion. It does not make saliva thick. These unscientific controversies make people forget that milk is an important source of calories, calcium and vitamins for children.

What is the difference between milk allergy and lactose intolerance?

Milk allergy usually shows up early in life. It’s one of the most common food allergies in children. Cow’s milk is the usual cause of milk allergy, but milk from sheep, goats, buffalo and other mammals also can cause a reaction. Milk allergy is a true food allergy caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in milk.

Lactose intolerance is caused by not having enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

Why is it important to drink milk?

Government of Canada food guide website says having milk or fortified soy beverages every day provides the nutrients that you need for healthy bones and optimal health. It recommends the following:

  1. Drink skim, one per cent or two per cent milk each day.
  2. Have 500 mL (2 cups) of milk every day for adequate vitamin D.
  3. Drink fortified soy beverages if you do not drink milk.
  4. Select lower fat milk alternatives.
  5. Compare the Nutrition Facts table on yogurts or cheeses to make wise choices.

Yes, milk is good for you. Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell, Elton John, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie cannot be wrong! Every day ask yourself: Have I had a milky day today?

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

Food wastage is costing Canadians billions of dollars.

The Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a key component of the Hoover Dam Bypass project. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
The Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a key component of the Hoover Dam Bypass project. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

More than $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada. When energy, water and other resource costs are factored in the true cost could be up to three times that much (CBC News, Dec 11, 2014).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency produces a Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising that sets out a “Durable Life Date”. The authority for producing the guide comes from the Food and Drugs Act. The guide sets out what items must be labeled and the format of the date.

It is expensive to throw away food. A family of four loses $1,500 each year on food it throws away. But the damage is global as well when you take into account how much water, energy, and labor it takes to grow, package, and transport the food that never gets eaten. What’s more, food that has been tossed is the biggest component of landfills, and as it decomposes, it produces the greenhouse gas methane.

What to do with food that has passed expiry date? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) web site says expiry date matter. Do not ignore it.

According to Wikipedia, shelf life is defined as the length of time that a commodity may be stored without becoming unfit for use, consumption, or sale. Most expiration dates are used as guidelines based on normal and expected handling and exposure to temperature.

Consumer Reports (July 24, 2918) says, “Confusion over expiration dates leads Americans to throw out food when it might still be good.”

The report says there are several reasons why we throw away food that may be good to eat – picky kids, overstocked pantries, or even leftovers that sit in refrigerators too long.

But another major factor is the misconception about what all of those dates on food package labels – “sell by,” “use by,” and “best if used by” – really mean.

Statistics show 90 per cent of Americans misinterpret the dates on labels and throw out food that could still be consumed or frozen for later use, says Consumer Reports.

That raises the question: If expiration dates aren’t a reliable gauge of food spoilage, how does a consumer know what to keep and what to toss?

Consumer Reports gives the following guidelines:

  1. With the exception of baby formula, there are no federal regulations on date labeling.
  2. Often the “best if used by,” “sell by,” and “use by” designations are just manufacturers’ best guesses about how long their food will taste its freshest.
  3. Supermarkets may also use the dates as a guide when stocking shelves. But the dates have little to do with how safe the food is.

It is a tricky situation. How confident would you be to eat food that has passed “expiry date”?

Here is what Consumer Reports says: As a general rule of thumb, most canned foods (for example, canned tuna, soups, and vegetables) can be stored for two to five years, and high-acid foods (canned juices, tomatoes, pickles) can be stored for a year up to 18 months, according to the USDA. Watch out for dents and bulges in cans, though. That might be a sign it’s time to toss those products.

Important thing is to be safe. Follow good food handling and storage practices. This will prevent unnecessary spoilage and ensure food safety.

The U.S Congress is trying to define what dates on food labels mean. One Congressman said, “It’s time to settle that argument, end the confusion, and stop throwing away perfectly good food.” In the meantime be safe. Buy what you need so you don’t waste food.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

There are many health benefits to eating bananas.

A bowl of mixed fruit. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A bowl of mixed fruit. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

More than 100 billion bananas are eaten each year worldwide.

North Americans eat an average of 27 pounds of bananas per person per year – making it the most heavily consumed fruit in America.

“A medium-sized banana provides about 105 calories with virtually no fat, cholesterol or sodium,” says Joanne Hutson, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Her article appears on the Mayo Clinic website.

“Nobody gets fat or develops diabetes from eating too many bananas,” says Jessica D. Bihuniak, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Bihuniak is quoted in a Consumer Magazine article on bananas (April 18, 2018).

But some carb- and calorie-conscious consumers have relegated bananas to the “do not eat” list because of the fruit’s high sugar and calorie count relative to some other fruits.

That rationale is misguided, Bihuniak says. Virtually, there is no harm from eating too much of any fruit. And as with all fruits, bananas are loaded with a bevy of nutrients, some of which promote a healthy heart, gut, and waistline.

I love eating bananas. I was born and raised in Musoma, Tanzania on the shores of Lake Victoria. We used to get our bananas from the neighbouring country of Uganda. The weekly boat from Uganda would arrive at the port of Musoma. The port was about five kilometers from our house. We did not own a car but I was a keen biker. Every Sunday morning when the boat would arrive from Uganda carrying bananas, I would go on my bike to the port and buy one or two large hanging clusters of bananas and take them home on my bike. I was about 13-years-old. Those were the days!

I still love eating bananas. Individual banana fruit is 75 per cent water and 25 per cent dry matter. Cooking bananas represent a major food source and a major income source for many farmers.

The highest consumption of bananas is in countries such as Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. The majority of bananas North Americans eat come from Latin and South America. However, they are grown in more than 100 countries with tropical climates.

Bananas are perhaps best known for their potassium count, that governs heart rate, blood pressure, and nerve and muscle function. The body carefully maintains levels of potassium and sodium to keep fluid levels in balance.

A banana can help prevent muscle cramps after exercise, says Hutson. They also provide a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as magnesium.

An average banana also contains about three grams of fiber, which can help provide a feeling of fullness plus aid the digestion process. These insoluble fiber components help maintain healthy gut bacteria and enzymes needed to digest foods and benefit the immune system.

Bananas are very convenient and portable – in their own sealed package. Simply grab and go for a quick mini breakfast or snack.

Banana is a portable fruit like an apple. It can be carried with you when you go to work, go for a walk or go biking and jogging. Enjoy!

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

Are you afraid to eat food cooked in a microwave oven?

Ducks enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Ducks enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

I met a lady who said she does not own a microwave oven and does not eat anything cooked in it. She believes it is not healthy. So I went on the Internet looking for some information.

First I checked the World Health Organization website. It has a document on the safety of microwave ovens dated February 2005 (WHO Fact Sheets 182 and 183). It concludes by saying, “Food cooked in a microwave oven is as safe, and has the same nutrient value, as food cooked in a conventional oven. The main difference between these two methods of cooking is that microwave energy penetrates deeper into the food and reduces the time for heat to be conducted throughout the food, thus reducing the overall cooking time.”

Microwaves are high frequency radio waves and, like visible radiation (light), is part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Microwave ovens cook food with waves of oscillating electromagnetic energy. The energy is similar to radio waves but move back and forth at a much faster rate. The microwave oven energy is more penetrating than heat that emanates from an oven or stovetop. It immediately penetrates and reaches molecules about an inch or so below the surface.

The food cooked in a microwave oven does not become “radioactive”. Nor does any microwave energy remain in the cavity or the food after the microwave oven is switched off. It is like turning on and off a light bulb. Once it is turned off no light remains.

Is it safe to stand close to a microwave oven while it is turned on?

I tend to walk away from the microwave oven while it is turned on because I feel I am being exposed to radiation. I thought I would have less wrinkles on my face (and look younger) if I did that. I learnt microwave ovens are designed to prevent people being exposed to microwaves while the oven is on. A person 50 cm from the oven receives about one one-hundredth of the microwave exposure of a person five cm away.

Finally, I will have the Harvard Medical School website (June 2008 update) have the final word, “A marvel of engineering, a miracle of convenience – and sometimes nutritionally advantageous to boot.” It is talking about the microwave oven. You can say the same thing about the person who cooks your wonderful meal everyday. So, don’t complain, enjoy!

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!