Milk: Does it do your body good?

Milk: Does it do your body good?

 Got milk? A decade of data says probably not and raises the question if the old standby still has a spot on the dinner table.

U.S. dairy milk sales have declined steadily over the past decade, dropping $1.1 billion alone in 2018, according to the Dairy Farmers of America. Recently, America’s largest milk producer filed for bankruptcy, citing the prolonged slide and lower demand.

Once an everyday staple, American milk consumption decreased 37% from 1970 to 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While dairy sales sink, consumers are moving more toward plant-based, dairy-free milks made from soy, almonds and oats.

It’s clear that tastes and trends are changing, and cow’s milk is being left in the barn.

“Not too long ago, you could find milk in just about every household. Now, there are more beverage choices and healthier options than ever before,” says Heather Klug, a registered dietitian with Aurora Health Care.

Do we really need milk to make us healthy?

Humans are the only mammals on earth that consume milk after childhood. On average, each American still consumes nearly 150 pounds of milk every year.

There’s no doubt that milk has many health benefits, especially for kids and adolescents. It builds bone mass and is a great source of protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin D.

But cow’s milk often has more calories than plant-based milks and can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are both linked to heart disease. Even the long-held notion that cow’s milk helps prevent bone breaks has been challenged.

“The old adage of three glasses of milk each day for everyone has changed,” says Klug. “Based on your diet, most adults only need two servings of dairy daily. Kids and teenagers should still strive for three servings. They can come from cow’s milk, calcium-fortified plant-based milks, cheese, yogurt or other members of that food group.”

If you like it, drink it

Despite slipping sales and the trend toward plant-based milks, Klug says cow’s milk is still a strong source of the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. While it’s not considered to be the super-beverage it once was, it can still be your go-to. Just don’t drink it ‘til the cows come home.

“Cow’s milk is essential for kids and can be enjoyed into adulthood as part of a healthy and balanced diet,” says Klug.

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  1. I know this doesn’t sit well with some, but the reality is dairy consumption will continue to decrease the more we understand the history of why the recommendations began. No other mammal consumes another mammal’s milk. There are many ways to get calcium that does not involve dairy. I highly recommend that people watch “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health” on Netflix. As healthcare professionals, we have to be better informed. We have to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem…..

    “A 2016 study was called into question for suggesting that chocolate milk could be beneficial for teens recovering from concussions. Not surprisingly, the study was funded by the dairy industry. For decades, milk marketers have been spreading misleading information about the supposed health benefits of dairy products.

    Thanks to these marketing campaigns, milk myths abound in our culture. But science doesn’t support them. Let’s take a look at five common claims about dairy products:

    Myth 1: Milk builds strong bones.

    The dairy and bone health link is one of the most pervasive milk myths. One large-scale Harvard study followed 72,000 women for two decades and found no evidence that drinking milk can prevent bone fractures or osteoporosis. Another study of more than 96,000 people found that the more milk men consumed as teenagers, the more bone fractures they experience as adults. Similarly, another study found that adolescent girls who consumed the most calcium, mostly in the form of dairy products, were at greater risk for stress fractures than those consuming less calcium.

    Myth 2: Drinking milk can help you lose weight.

    While advertisers would like you to believe that drinking milk can slim you down, studies consistently show that dairy products offer zero benefits for weight control. One major study even found that dairy products might lead to weight gain. In 2005, the Physicians Committee petitioned the FTC to put an immediate end to the dairy industry’s misleading campaigns about milk and weight control. In response, the government no longer allows advertising campaigns to claim that dairy products lead to weight loss.

    Myth 3: Milk is “nature’s perfect food.”

    Cow’s milk might be ideal for growing baby cows, but it’s far from a perfect food for humans. More than 60 percent of people are lactose intolerant, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, and bloating. Regular consumption of dairy products has also been linked to prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

    Myth 4: Kids need milk to be healthy.

    After babies are weaned from breast milk or formula, they do not need any type of milk to be healthy. Milk consumption during childhood has even been linked to colic and type 1 diabetes. Another study found no evidence that low-fat milk plays any role in preventing childhood obesity.

    Myth 5: Milk is heart-healthy.

    Milk and other dairy products are the top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet. Milk products also contain dietary cholesterol. Diets high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, which remains America’s top killer.”

  2. A recent study reported on this blog by Advocate stated that consuming a reasonable amount of whole milk led to LESS chance of cardiovascular disease. In America we do not know the meaning of moderation on anything. A glass of whole milk now and then or milk on your cereal is not going to be harmful. Soy milk contains natural estrogen which is bad for children and especially bad for men. The reason mammals do not drink milk is simply that is is not available to them as adults. Try giving a little milk to a dog or cat and watch them lap it up. Their mother’s stop producing it and it would be difficult for a dog or cat to go to the store to buy it! Relax and enjoy milk in moderation as I do.

  3. Thank you, Andrea. The more informed we are, the less likely people will pour themselves a glass of milk. I’m one of the 60% who is lactose intolerant so I have to find other sources of calcium.

  4. Hey Andrea! Do you know if there’s a list of all these sources? I’m studying dietetics and would like to share with my classmates, but a lot of the source links do not work. PCRM says the pages cannot be found. The harvard study link works and a few others do, but it would be nice to read all of them. I am pretty neutral about milk, but I do hate the argument that “no mammals besides humans drink another mammal’s milk.” Other mammals are not capable of complex thought processes like humans are. I’m not sure who was the first person to stare at a cow’s udder and say “I bet I could drink that,” but I’m sure it had to be out of survival. So many products come from milk and not just cow’s milk as well. We have butter, cheese, custard, cream, yogurt, and casein, a byproduct of milk, is used in many non food products in some chalks and glues.

  5. Next year, milk will be back on the healthy food list. If health care providers want to offer advice, it should be to throw your “smart phones” in the trash and get out for a long walk and enjoy the natural creation.

  6. Andrea, humans can digest many things that most other animals can’t (coffee, tomatoes, etc). If it tastes good and won’t kill us, it’s “natural” for a human to eat it. Just in moderation. I don’t doubt the dairy industry has been cooking the books of milk’s health data, but the argument that we shouldn’t because no other animals do it doesn’t hold water. Or milk.

  7. “But cow’s milk often has more calories than plant-based milks and can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are both linked to heart disease.” Please provide a link to substantiate that consuming food high in cholesterol is linked to heart disease. Everything that I have read within the past 20 years says that consuming food high in cholesterol does NOT raise blood cholesterol levels. “Cow’s milk often has more calories than plant-based milks…” Really? Hmmm….skim milk has less calories than rice milk and the same as soy milk (which shouldn’t be given to certain populations) according to this source I do, however, wonder what a ‘coconut milk beverage’ is….
    This article is not up to the standards of what I expect from a healthcare provider.

  8. Charlie J, soy does not contain “natural estrogen”. It contains “phyto-estrogen”, a plant precursor to mammalian estrogen that will bind at human cellular estrogen receptors. Phytoestrogen binds but does not affect cell function, thereby competitively inhibiting estrogen and reducing abnormal cell growth. Your concern over soy is unwarranted, my friend.

  9. The main reason that I don’t drink cow’s milk is the concern that I have about hormones and antibiotics that they feed to the cows.

  10. Andrea thanx SOOO much for the TRUTH!! We are blinded by media manipulation and the greed of our supposed “representative/lawmakers”. The history of milk/dairy lies should outrage us all that want to accept the truth about our food industry. Only humans would drink another animals milk meant for a giant cow!! Good stuff!!

  11. Thank you Andrea for the great information! And thank you David for shedding light on Charlie J’s inaccurate comment that “Soy milk contains natural estrogen which is bad for children and especially bad for men”. Some more info on soy:

  12. I encourage everyone to watch Forks Over Knives and What the Health on Netflix. It was incredibly eye opening for me as a healthcare provider and offered many references on the subject. Be well my friends 🙂

  13. A surprisingly large portion of the human race is lactose intolerant. Lucky for me, I am not one of them. I adored milk as a child and would attempt to drink three glasses every time I had dinner. I still love it, although I mainly have it with cereal in the morning. Occasionally I will drink part of a glass of milk to accompany some sweet. It is a feel good food for me that gives me an instant sense of health and gratification, just like salmon, avocado and legumes. I resist demonizing any food group. We are omnivores. And we are not all alike, coming from very different genetic backgrounds. Let’s take the advice of the writer, if you like drinking milk and it doesn’t bother you, then enjoy it in moderation.

  14. Henry @ Naturesblendshop June 8, 2022 at 11:43 am · Reply

    My Grandfather is almost 80 and he is very very healthy for his age, he drinks milk every single day, he can’t live without it, he freaks out when milk runs out, but keep in mind he lives in a village and buffaloes in that village feed on natural grass and plants. And it also depends on each person weather milk suits you or not.

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About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.