I would be hard-pressed to find a food substance that attracts as much controversy as milk.
Whether or not it is beneficial to overall health, whether or not it helps weight loss, whether we should buy raw or pasteurized, low fat vs. full fat – the list goes on and on.
Hence, I hope to make an attempt to navigate through the speculation, possibilities and try to come up with some ideas on how to think about this issue.
Who to Believe?
On one side, we have groups like the PCRM and PETA (read: Milk is evil).
On the other end of the spectrum is the Dairy Association (read: milk is essential for optimal health).
In addition to health debates, there are political, ethical and environmental factors to consider. Like most other issues, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Let’s try and find that middle.
Milk and Health
400,000 adults were tracked worldwide for 28 years. Those who drank the most milk had lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who drank little or no milk (a study not funded by the dairy industry).
There is a worldwide increase in hormone-related cancers. Cow’s milk is a source of estrogens and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which can cause irregular cell multiplication.
Correlations between breast and prostate cancers tend to disappear when adjustments are made for excess consumption of other animal products – namely red meat.
- Milk drinking does increase the risk of ovarian cancer, however it has been shown to decrease the risk of colorectal cancers – which are far more common.
- There is currently no evidence of a link between milk consumption and type I diabetes
- About 70% of the population has some degree of lactose intolerance. This can be problematic for milk drinkers, but there are lactose-reduced options available. Also, cheese and yogurt have far less lactose and don’t tend to cause problems.
Milk and Bones
Asians have a lower incidence of osteoporosis than Westerners even though they consume less dairy. The Nurses Health Study showed that women who drank more than 2 glasses of milk per day had a higher incidence of bone fractures.
Asians have a much different overall diet and lifestyle and the results of the Nurses Healthy Study may have been a result of them already being at risk and trying to compensate (too little, too late).
Milk and Weight Loss
The once promising research that 3 servings of milk products per day leads to weight loss has fizzled out. Well-conducted, non-industry sponsored research has shown little to no benefit of dairy consumption in the battle of the bulge. Not surprising, considering that one person owned the rights to the dairy-weight-loss claim.
Pasteurized vs. Raw
Louis Pasteur and Weston Price must be spinning in their graves! Those in favor of pasteurization insist it is a necessary process to destroy harmful bacteria and that it doesn’t significantly change milk’s nutritional value or flavor.
Anti-pasteurizationists believe that the process used to kill bacteria also causes the destruction of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are vital to our health. Further, they have shown that bacterial infections due to raw milk are very rare and not likely to cause any major concerns.
So…Is Milk Healthy or Not?
This is a highly individual issue. I’ll try my best to sum up what evidence there is and perhaps others can shed some light on their experiences:
- I don’t see milk as the health food it is promoted as in widespread campaigns. I believe you can have a perfectly healthy diet with or without it.
- That said, milk is not the root of all evil as suggested by the
People Enabling Terrorist ActivityPeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- With all else being equal, 1-3 daily servings of dairy is probably sufficient for the vitamin/minerals and not enough to spark any health concerns
- Milk and other dairy products are likely the best way to get adequate calcium, albeit not the only way. Supplementing with vitamin D is also advisable to make the calcium usable to the bones.
- Don’t expect your glass of milk, bowl or yogurt or hunk of cheese to help your weight loss efforts
- I don’t think there are as many issues with pasteurized milk as the anti-pasteurizationists claim, and the reverse is probably the same with raw milk. The risk of bacterial infection from consuming raw milk seems quite small, but the potential consequences are heavy enough to question it. If you do go raw, it is important to know the animal care standards, sanitary practices and testing procedures of your provider. Drinking live or dead milk won’t likely have a significant impact on health either way when consumed in moderate amounts
I hope you found this information mooving and that doesn’t go in one ear and out the udder. You’ve probably herd most of this information before, but it is important that we not be steered in the extreme directions by special interest groups.
- Elwood, Peter. Milk Drinking, Ischaemic Heart Disease and Ischaemic Stroke. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004
- Weston Price Foundation
- FDA Consumer Magazine. September/October, 2004
- Schwarcz, Joseph. An Apple a Day. 2007. Harper Collins Publishing
Editor’s Note: New research in Nutrition Reviews has looked at 49 trials that examined dairy and weight loss: “Of the 49 trials, 41 showed no effects of diary or calcium on weight, two showed an increase in body weight with a dairy regimen, one showed a lower rate of weight gain and only five showed weight loss.”