Milk, it does a body good. Or does it?

milkDo you drink milk? I do sometimes, but I’m beginning to have second thoughts about it. Growing up my mom was always concerned we weren’t getting enough calcium. Although she never made us drink milk she did encourage us to finish the milk in our cereal bowls. I always did, my sister didn’t, I thought surely she was doomed for a life of weak bones. Being a vegetarian for most of my life I’ve always felt that milk was a good source of protein for me because I wasn’t eating other animal products.  I usually try to get 1-2 servings of either milk, yogurt, or cheese per day.

For years the government nutrition recommendations have included three servings of milk or dairy foods per day. These recommendations are based on the fact that the recommended intake of calcium is approximately 1000 mg and a 1 cup serving of milk has 333 mg of calcium, or approximately one third. That logic is a little bit silly because there are many other foods that have calcium besides dairy. Some of those foods include dark green vegetables, almonds, beans, oranges, tofu, and salmon.

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

A couple weeks ago there was a study published in the British Medical Journal that showed Swedish women with high milk consumption (3-4 glasses per day) actually had a higher risk of bone fractures than women with lower milk consumption. How can it be? Milk builds strong bones! That is the message that has been drilled into our heads by the Got Milk Campaign. Interestingly, high milk intake was also correlated with overall increased mortality risk in both men and women. Strange. The study is just an observational study so it can not prove causation, but it does make you think twice. As any good scientist would, I scrutinized the study searching for “lurking variables” (I think my statistics teacher is proud right now). One possibility is that the women who have a family history of osteoporosis or bone fractures drank extra milk in an effort to prevent fractures. Obviously, it didn’t work. One last interesting thing about this study is that the increased risk of death and fractures was only seen with milk consumption, NOT yogurt and cheese. The researchers think it may have something to do with galactose, but it is just a theory at this point. If you to know more about galactose, let me know!

Aside from this new study, there are a few other hesitations I have with milk. For one, approximately 65% of  adults are lactose-intolerant. It does not make sense for us to drink something that makes us bloated and crampy, when we can drink water and have no side effects at all. I think this alone is pretty good evidence that milk is for babies and small children.  Lactose intolerance in babies is actually quite rare. Babies produce larger amounts of the enzyme that helps break down lactose, as we age we lose that ability. Second, Mama’s milk is the perfect food for babies and cow’s milk is the perfect food for cow babies  humans? Hmm, I don’t think so… It just doesn’t add up people! Those freaking milk marketers are really good! Finally, Harvard School of Public Health recommends drinking water instead of milk. I really like the Myplate that Harvard makes as opposed to our government’s “Healthy Eating Plate.” Perhaps the government should loosen its ties with the dairy farmers just a bit…

Heather’s Milk Recommendations

  • Only drink milk if you really love it and keep it to 1-2 servings per day
  • If your kids are drinking milk at school offer them water at home
  • Yogurt and cheese are ok, but I recommend no more than 1 serving of each per day
  • Go organic if you can afford it
  • Don’t be afraid of other calcium sources: soy and almond milk, leafy greens, tofu and beans!

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