Milk vs Eggs: Why One Cannot Replace the Other

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Milk instead of eggs will be given to children at anganwadis in Madhya Pradesh to tackle malnutrition, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said on Tuesday, 15 September, reportedly out of concern for vegetarians.

Only a week ago, Imarti Devi, Women and Child Development Minister, had said that eggs will be distributed in mid-day meals in the state to those children who do eat them.

The CM’s call has been termed controversial by many acquainted with the subject, who assert that milk is not a replacement for eggs, and that both foods are essential for the growth and development of children to tackle malnutrition.

To provide some context, according to the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey, about 54 percent of kids in Madhya Pradesh in the age group of one to four years are anaemic, compared to the 41 percent national average.

Yes, Milk Is Important

Milk offers multiple benefits and essential nutrients needed in a growing child. According to a Financial Express report, a diet containing milk or dairy products provides 25-33% of the protein requirement and may have a positive effect on weight gain and linear growth in malnutritioned children. Milk also provides several micronutrients like calcium, vitamin B and B12, potassium, among others, needed for stronger bones and better cognitive and motor functions.

Speaking to FIT, nutritionist Dr Rupali Datta had said,

“Milk is one of the A-class protein sources. It is one of the best sources of calcium. It also has a positive effect on our heart’s health. A lot of studies have shown that intake of milk according to your requirements actually protects you against diabetes.”
Dr Rupali Datta

“Milk is the best source of calcium in our diet because the bioavailability of milk calcium is the most. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of milk is 600mg for adults, so 500-600ml of milk will technically provide all you need daily along with other important nutrients,” Dr Datta added.

Adequate calcium intake has also been shown to play a role in maintaining blood pressure, blood clotting, and nerve impulse transmission.

Why We Need Eggs: Calcium and Protein Are Both Essential

Eggs are a rich source of protein and micronutrients, cost effective, easy to cook with no chances of adulteration.

In an earlier article, FIT had argued that the findings on eggs are loud and clear: eggs are the ideal protein to fight undernourishment. Protein builds muscle, increases height and balances hormones in growing children. Just look at the chart below which compares the nutritive content of eggs and vegetarian options at a similar cost:

The quality of the protein is measured by biological value (BV), the percentage that can be absorbed by the body. Pulses have 60 BV and cereals between 60 and 70. Egg protein has 100 BV. Now the amino-acid make-up of eggs is similar to that of human tissues, so egg are nearly 100% absorbable, especially in children who eat small quantities of food.

A big criticism of eggs is that they have more fat than fibre. But these are good fats, and growing children need calories to increase their weight, facilitate the absorption of other nutrients and for brain development as well.

Plus, for those who are lactose intolerant, milk is not a viable option and eggs may be even more essential.

Though vegetarian alternatives like soya chunks, tofu, large quantities of milk can match the protein requirements of an egg, there are none where all nutrients, (vitamin A, iron, calcium and fat) are available from a single source. Moreover, tofus and soya may not be affordable options for children at anganwadi’s.

Given the severe malnourishment most children in rural India face, protein in the midday meal schemes has shown to improve the health of children.

While vegetarianism is a choice, enforcing it in a country where malnutrition is the leading risk factor for disease burden, may end up being detrimental to the cause.

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