The Health Benefits of Horlicks – Explained

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Helen Foster
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Many hot drinks can give us a bit of a health boost – tea does, coffee does (yes, despite what you might have read elsewhere coffee is healthy), green tea is practically a superfood – but what about Horlicks? Are there any health benefits of Horlicks to know about… let us explain.

Horlicks is what’s known as a malted milk drink and it’s made from powdered malt and barley combined with some skimmed milk powder and sugar. On top of this Horlicks is also made with milk and it’s fortified with 14 different vitamins and minerals – and it’s that combination that give Horlicks its potential health benefits. So, what are they?

The Health Benefits of Horlicks

1. Better Sleep

In the UK, at least, Horlicks has a reputation as something you drink before bed to help you sleep – so, it might surprise you to discover that there’s actually nothing in the formula itself that should make you sleepy – a fact that Horlicks themselves point out on their website.

However, that doesn’t mean that people don’t sleep better after drinking it.

A study carried out in the 1970s which showed that older adults, particularly, slept slightly longer and more deeply after a drink of Horlicks then when they went to bed without one – and, the more nights they consumed Horlicks for the greater the benefit.

The researchers said they couldn’t say for sure why this happened, but one theory was that we associate the taste of warm milk with feeling sleepy when we were babies, and that the creamy, warmth of a cup of Horlicks was linked to this memory generating a sense of calm that helped us fall asleep.

If you do have trouble sleeping, you might want to check out our guide to proven ways to fall asleep faster.

2. It’s a Good Source of Calcium

A 25g serving of Horlicks made with semi-skimmed milk provides your body with 800mg of calcium – that’s 10 per cent more than the suggested daily amount of calcium for women and men.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth – and it also plays a role in muscle and heart function.

On top of this consuming dairy is independently linked to a number of benefits to health including lower levels of body fat and weight and lower levels of cholesterol.

3. Horlicks Might Wake You Up

We know what you’re thinking – how can it make you sleepy AND wake you up?

Well, in India Horlicks is not sold as a way to make you sleepy, but as a way to give children the energy to start the day.

And, this one does have a little bit more of an obvious link behind it – as Horlicks is fortified with B vitamins that our body needs to produce energy.

Low iron levels are also a common cause of fatigue, and Horlicks is fortified with 2.7mg of iron – around a third of the amount children need a day.

If you know your nutrition you might be thinking ‘but, calcium reduces the amount of iron you absorb, and you just told us Horlicks was brimming over with it’ – and that’s true, but Horlicks also contains Vitamin C which increases iron absorption – and when the effects of the two were analysed in one study on malted milk drinks and their effects on health, it was determined that the effects of the calcium and vitamin C cancelled each other out meaning iron could be absorbed from the drinks!

Nonetheless, Horlicks shouldn’t be your only source of iron – particularly for a female adult. Women of menstruating age need 14.8mg of iron a day so, while the amount in Horlicks will help contribute to this, it’s not going to supply all you need. You should also aim to add other iron rich foods like red meat, poultry, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables.

If you are lacking in energy, you might want to check out our guide on ways to improve your energy.

4. It’s a Winter-Friendly Source of Vitamin D

When researchers at Kings College London actually looked at people consuming fortified malted milk drinks in winter they proved they do help boost D levels in the blood.

This is good because Vitamin D is linked to so many different benefits in the body we could write a book on it -but, let’s just mention bone health, heart health, immunity and even the prevention of pain.

The problem is, the way we make most of our vitamin D is via sunlight – and, during the winter months in the UK, US, Canada (and even some Southern parts of Australia), the strength of the UV rays that reach the earth isn’t strong enough to trigger this reaction the skin – meaning our levels start to fall.

Unlike most other nutrients, it’s actually quite hard to find vitamin D in foods to make up for this – there’s some in oily fish and some in certain treated mushrooms, but, with a cup of Horlicks supplying a 3ug (around a third of the 10ug we need a day), adding a cup to your nightly routine is definitely one way to help improve your intake during winter.

5. It Contains 100% of Your B12

And, it’s a vegetarian friendly source of vitamin 12, which is good as vegetarians and vegans are two of the groups likely to be lowest in vitamin B12.

Vegans obviously can’t use Original Horlicks as it contains milk powder and is made with milk, but there is now a Vegan version of Horlicks which is also B12 fortified.

Another group of people who might need extra B12 are those taking a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux. These reduce levels of acid in your stomach but, as stomach acid is involved in the absorption of vitamin B12 this can also affect your B12 levels with long term use.

We’re also more likely to be deficient in B12 as we get older. While less than 3 per cent of those aged 20-39 have B12 deficiency, 10 percent of those over 75 are affected (source here)

If you fall into any of these groups supplementing with food fortified with B12, like Horlicks, is a very good idea – it’s even suggested that as we get older we might absorb B12 more effectively from fortified foods than from natural sources.

6. It’s Good if You Have Low Appetite

The original use of Horlicks was as a food for those recovering from illness – and it’s still a very good way to get in a healthy dose of nutrients if you’re not feeling great or your appetite is low – I mean what would you rather do if you’re feeling a bit rubbish, make and sip on a warm drink or make a large meal?

A cup of Horlicks, made as directed, also contains carbs, a little fat and 9.3g of protein which we need to protect muscle mass, making it also pretty balanced for macronutrients.

7. Horlicks Can Help You Gain Weight

Gaining weight involves consuming more calories than you burn each day – and, if you’re an active person, or have a high muscle mass this can be harder than it might sound to the shorter, erm, curvier amongst us. Especially if you’re trying to do it in a relatively nutritious way.

However your body doesn’t register calories taken in via liquid in quite the same way as those in solid food – and as such, caloric liquids are a good way to boost your intake.

The only thing to watch if you decide to use Horlicks to do this is, as mentioned in our piece on ‘is Horlicks healthy’ that it does contain about 10g of sugar per cup – and that’s around a third of the healthy amount suggested you consume in a day (the sugar in the milk doesn’t count in this total), so, you shouldn’t have too many cups a day – but one can definitely help increase your calorie intake.

A cup of Horlicks made with semi-skimmed milk contains 182 calories – if you used whole milk instead that would increase to 210 calories.

Does This Mean Horlicks is Fattening?

Anything is fattening if you eat enough of it!

However, a product is only fattening if by consuming it you take in more calories during your day than you burn. A cup of Horlicks made with milk contains 182 calories, which is less than say a Mars Bar or a bag of crisps. That fact is if you allow for the calories in Horlicks by balancing other parts of your diet you gain weight – if you don’t, you might.

You could also swap to skimmed milk which would reduce the calories to around 162 per cup.

So there are seven of the main health benefits of Horlicks – obviously there are other benefits that come from consuming some of the other individual nutrients – biotin, for example, is good for skin, hair and nails, vitamin C and zinc are essential for immunity, but the levels of these in Horlicks are fairly low in comparison to the amounts we need of these each day so, you can’t really go as far as saying Horlicks will make your skin look better, or boost your immunity – but, they will help work with other sources of those nutrients in your diet to do so.

Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

3 thoughts on “The Health Benefits of Horlicks – Explained”

  1. Thank you- this was interesting and helpful to me. I’m mostly vegetarian and I recently tried drinking Horlicks (at night). It was clear after just a few days that something in it had really improved my metabolism and had to ask why (the synergy?)

    • There’s no real reason why it should speed things up – but, if you’re sleeping better that would have a knock on effect on your energy levels and food consumption the next day which might make a difference.


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