Milk: Is it Healthy or Not?

By Mike Howard

3047-milk-healthy-or-not.jpgI 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).

But…

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.

On the other hand…

Correlations between breast and prostate cancers tend to disappear when adjustments are made for excess consumption of other animal products – namely red meat.

Other things we think we know…
  • 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.

But…

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.

But..

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:

  1. 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.
  2. That said, milk is not the root of all evil as suggested by the People Enabling Terrorist Activity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t expect your glass of milk, bowl or yogurt or hunk of cheese to help your weight loss efforts
  6. 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.

References:

  • 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.”

Filed in Dairy, ,

58 Comments

  1. Michael

    I think you should be more on the safe side:
    If you think milk is OK and you have milk products on your daily menu, that is fine UNTIL…
    you start having asthma problems, skin problems or autoimune disease, etc.
    If so, you should probably drop milk products immediately because many people cannot digest properly etc.
    Enjoy while you can…

    Reply
  2. Bobby Vander

    If you really want to get the facts check out THE MILK DOCUMENTARY – ‘Got the facts on Milk?. It is an award winning documentary that gets into the true facts about milk and dairy consumption.

    Reply
    • Ted

      yes, it’s good, we covered that here. I recently cut milk/dairy out of my daily diet and I’m noticing subtle positive changes in my health.

      Reply
  3. Tony

    This was a great article. I feel that everyone should take your stance. The article was both impartial and informative. Kudos to you. Although, I do believe that milk leads to weight loss, but not directly. Milk creates a feeling of fullness in the stomach seemingly quicker than eating (unpublished results from my university). While this does not lead directly to weight loss it more often than not causes people to eat less.

    Reply
  4. adam

    there are many nutrients that need to be balanced to add up to a certain amount of calories, if you want to be healthy you have to plan EVERYTHING.
    all foods can be worked into the equation, all you have to do is recognize how they fit together for a healthy diet.
    a healthy diet can consist of meat and a healthy diet can consist of no meat.
    don’t eat hormones.

    Reply
  5. Emily

    I agree with Heather. Most individual animals eat what is in their range. Eg, you wouldn’t naturally see an arctic fox eating a banana. Humans on the other hand import their food from all over. A squirrel has probably eaten a few nuts today. I’ve eaten pepper, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, strawberries, banana, almonds, bread, cheese, cereal, orange juice, chocolate pudding….. And 3 glasses of milk.
    🙂 Yum.
    And to be honest, i feel better physically when I have drank lots of milk.
    I see that it is strange that we are the only mammals that seem to drink another species’ milk after being weaned. That’s why i googled this topic. But looking to our ancestors, note the mental revolution humans went through after they began to hunt for food. Our diet has played a huge part in our evolution. I’m all for naturality, but these types of changes in lifestyle must be a factor that has set humans apart.
    That being said, the main concern of drinking milk should relate to the animal’s welfare. It’s wrong to abuse the hand that feeds us, and all people have the mental capacity to consider this.

    Reply
  6. sooook

    you are all wasting your time telling people how to eat. I eat anything that tasts good period. I feel just fine im rarely sick and have no medical issues what so ever. Milk is the bomb and i will drink it till the day i die…beer too…. >:p

    Reply
  7. louise

    I think that we should drink milk(at least everyday!)so we can be strong and healthy.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    What ever you choose, just remember it’s your choice, but take in consideration that milk is far more health enhancing than fizzy drinks!

    Reply
  9. jay

    Symptoms (ie mucus, asthma) to milk can be an indicator that your immune system is at high alert. Since most of the immune system is in the digestive system, you may want to consider dietary changes ie lower-carbs, higher-fiber, less PUFAs, less processed foods, more fresh fruits and veggies.

    Reply
  10. nikki

    Not to be a Bible preacher but way back when they survived for 100’s of years on grains and fruits along with veggies alone. Meat came into play much later on and it wasn’t an everyday thing. Believe what you will but meat and dairy need to be seriously questioned especially nowadays with everyone trying to make a buck.

    Reply
  11. Cory

    Wait… do cats not drink cow milk?

    Reply
  12. Adriel

    You also don’t see dogs writing, walking upright, driving cars or building airplanes and highways and Andriod phones. You’re argument on milk is all and good and gravy but don’t go comparing humans to animals…..

    Reply
  13. milk delivery

    As for me, obviously, majority of us believes that milk is good, it’s just the way we intake and we choose the proper one matters.

    Reply
  14. Vegans are psycho

    Vegans aren’t necessarily healthier than non-vegans. They are fragile and arrogant because they try and push their weird beliefs of eating only vegetables on other people. Only eating high protein meals such as meat can support healthy muscle growth, and vegetables just don’t cut it. They don’t provide all the nutrients that meat does. God, liberals piss me off.

    Reply
  15. Nunya Bidness

    Bart, I completely agree. Vegans are nuts, and I would bet money every one of them is a liberal. The human body wasn’t designed to eat only vegetables and no meat. People who think that are delusional and need to stop being so arrogant thinking they are better than everyone else because they don’t eat meat.

    Reply
  16. D1gb3

    I am 23, and drink about 1 liter of milk a day, I do notice the difference between organic and regular milk. And now only buy raw organic milk, I have no known health problems. Milk has never made me sick in any way. Much as I appreciate there may be so health worries, eat a highly varied diet (as I work as a chef) and consider my diet healthy.

    p.s.
    I have tried eating vegetarian, an vegan meals, some of which were rather nice (to my surprise) and now do from time to time have a meal like this, but no matter what the health implications, meat just tastes to good to give up.

    Reply