I recently took part in a conference hosted by the Idaho Dairymen and the U.S. Dairy Export Council on dairy and human nutrition. As a nutritionist, the two days spent discussing milk production was new and interesting to me, especially learning the importance of milk in addressing stunting and wasting among children.

ACDI/VOCA cows in BangladeshAs we toured a large dairy farm in Idaho that milks 3,000 cows, each producing 38 liters of milk a day, I couldn’t help but think of the farmers I visited in Bangladesh with ACDI/VOCA’s Livestock Production for Improved Nutrition project. I wished I could have shared with them what we learned about milk’s potential to improve childhood nutrition.

In Bangladesh, ACDI/VOCA partners with farmers of small herds of three to five cows, each producing just one-half to two liters of milk a day. For them, milk production has little effect on their nutrition or incomes. The Bangladesh Livestock and Nutrition project, funded by Feed the Future, aims to change that by training and introducing farmers to improved fodder, food fortification, and hygienic milking practices.

Because of these interventions, farmers have grown yields to five to seven liters a day and decreased mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue, by 90 percent. They enjoy daily access to nutritious milk year-round and additional income from selling the milk they cannot consume at home.

Along with these benefits, milk also protects against diseases that influence malnutrition in growing children, who are most at risk during the first 1,000 days of life. In the United States, most of us know that milk helps us grow tall and strong. What you may not know is that milk is also essential to supporting healthy gut flora.

ACDI/VOCA got milk?

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Why do we need healthy gut flora in the first place? Well, did you know that 70 percent of immunity comes from healthy gut flora? Good bacteria—like those found in yogurt—thrive on lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk. Drinking milk feeds good bacteria and gives them an edge over bad bacteria, leading to better health. Who knew that milk’s gut-friendly lactose plays such a key role in addressing stunting and wasting?

Milk’s ability to not only improve livelihoods but also benefit a healthy gut makes it an ideal choice for agricultural interventions aimed at improving nutritional outcomes. So, the next time you need something to drink, consider reaching for a glass of milk.