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Several anti-milk and anti-dairy product claims have become quite popular in recent years, especially with vegan enthusiasts and since the beginning of the Paleo diet craze.
The most common of these claims state that milk causes osteoporosis, that it is not natural to drink milk after weaning and that lactose intolerant people should completely avoid milk. These claims have, however, been disproven by scientific evidence.
Nevertheless, before reaching for a glass of milk you need to consider the positive and negative effects of milk and milk products, including the unethical treatment of cows in the meat and milk industry.
Do humans need milk in their diets?
The short answer is no, but dairy is a very valuable food group. We can obtain all of the nutrients from other sources in a balanced diet. However, unless you don’t produce enough lactase or are allergic to milk’s protein, there is no reason why a balanced diet cannot include milk and dairy products.
Milk and other dairy products are easily available and rich in some important nutrients (see section below). It is perfectly fine to consume milk and dairy products in moderation.
Some studies show that milk consumption can cause some types of cancer and other health problems. However, they usually use a higher than usual amount of milk. In addition, many of these studies are only observational and therefore do not provide strong evidence.
The bottom line is that any food consumed in excess can cause health issues, including the healthiest foods on the planet. To see now much milk is too much click here.
Myths and misconceptions regarding milk
There are claims regarding milk consumption that are either unscientific or are not backed by strong scientific evidence.
- Is it unnatural for adults to drink milk?
One of the most common argument against drinking milk is that other animals do not drink milk from another species. Therefore, it must be unnatural and humans shouldn’t drink milk either.
Humans had a different evolutionary path from other mammals.
Part of it was due to the domestication of other animals and the subsequent diet change. It is also simply impractical and physically difficult for other adult mammals to suck the milk from their mother or other mammals.
That was also something that humans developed.In this context, the association between other mammals and humans in order to explain why we shouldn’t drink milk is illogical and unscientific.
- Do all lactose intolerant people need to avoid milk and milk products?
Definitely not. Lactose intolerance is not a milk allergy where milk protein needs to be avoided due to potentially severe allergic reactions.
Lactose intolerance means that the lactose amount needs to be restricted to the quantity that can be handled by the available lactase enzymes. This amount varies between individuals so it is not a one fits all solution”.
- Milk does not cause osteoporosis!
Milk and dairy products prevent rather than cause osteoporosis.
When is milk bad for you – scientific evidence
Milk can be bad for you in certain circumstances. The following is a list of some cases where milk consumption should be avoided or restricted.
- People with allergy to milk protein
Since milk allergy symptoms can be potentially life-threatening, it is recommended to completely avoid milk and dairy products.
- People with lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance is quite common. It affects around 70% of the total human population. This condition appears when one cannot break down lactose efficiently after infancy.The level of lactose intolerance, however, varies between individuals.
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you don’t necessarily need to avoid milk. Since the tolerance levels differ between individuals, it is recommended that you determine your side-effect free limit.
Milk and milk/dairy products are very valuable parts of our diet, not only because of their rich nutrient composition but also for all of the culinary aspects.
For these reasons, it is worth including the amount of dairy that don’t cause any negative reactions.
- Milk containing hormones may be potentially harmful
Some companies inject cows with rBGH hormones in order to increase their milk production. In spite of the claims that these hormones don’t cause direct health issues in humans through cow’s milk consumption, they have not actually been proven to be safe.
These hormones are definitely not safe for cows, since they cause udder infections and other health issues, making it unethical. Many countries have used this argument to ban the sale of milk and meat from the rBGH injected cattle. These cows are treated for mastitis with antibiotics, creating another grey area in safety in human consumption.
Milk from infected cows also contains pus. (read more..)
Milk (and meat) coming from factory farms where cows are fed with antibiotics and hormones and live in unacceptable conditions should be avoided.
We simply cannot trust what exactly is being added to their feed or what these animals are being injected with.
- Milk and prostate cancer
Consuming excessive amounts of milk and milk products may increase the risk of prostate cancer in men. The available scientific studies are somewhat conflicting and only observational.
Out of the two large reviews, one showed no association, while the other showed that 2.5 servings or more may increase the chances of developing prostate cancer compared with having 0.5 servings or less. (read more..)
- Contaminants in milk and dairy products
In addition to the above unwanted milk components, milk may contain various amounts of contaminants. These can include: (1)
– Direct contaminants from milking utensils, treatment of the udders, milk/daily processing, packaging and preservatives such as: heavy metals, various additives, disinfectants, mycotoxins, and other additives.
– Indirect contaminants from the environment and veterinary applications such as: antibiotics, hormones, various chemicals, radionuclides, organic pollutants and mycotoxins. The amounts of these toxins vary depending on agricultural, hygienic and veterinary practices.
Although the contaminants must adhere to the safety standards, incidents of milk contamination sometimes occur with disastrous consequences.
2008 – China – milk contamination with melamine (4)
1998 – Germany and Netherlands – milk contamination with dioxins (5)
1989 – Belgium – milk contamination with dioxin (6)
1955 – Japan – arsenic poisoning of milk powder (7)To reduce the risk of consuming contaminated milk and milk products use organic products.
- Milk and acne
A hormone called IGF-1 has been associated with acne. Since IGF-1 is present in cow’s milk, drinking milk may be connected with acne.
However, a 2013 review showed that the dairy foods and acne association is weak and needs experimental studies for definite evidence. (8)
Milk from cows treated with the rBGH may contained elevated levels of IGF-1 and is more likely to cause acne than milk from non-treated cows. (read more..)
Health benefits of milk and dairy
There are many health benefits of drinking milk. If there are none of the contraindications mentioned above, there is no reason why milk and milk products shouldn’t be included in everyone’s diet.
Health benefits of milk:
- What is in milk?
Milk is a great source of many nutrients (read more..):
– Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc
– Vitamins such as vitamin A, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B12 and Vitamin K2 (menaquinone)
– High quality protein
– Fat (in full fat milk, especially beneficial fats such as conjugated linoleic acid, trans-palmitoleic acid, and omega 3 fatty acids)
– Bioactive peptides
– Milk fat globule membrane (MFGM)
– Probiotic bacteria (in fermented milk)Of course, these nutrients can be obtained from a variety of other foods. However, milk is one source that contains them all.
- Milk benefits related to bones health
Milk is beneficial for the bone health.
There is strong evidence that a high amount of proteins in combination with calcium from foods such as milk, yogurt or cheese strengthens the bones and prevents osteoporosis.
This connection contradicts the popular myth that acid-ash foods such as milk deteriorate the bone density.In addition to calcium, milk is high in phosphorus, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and zinc which have bone building properties and enhance calcium bioavailability. (9) (read more..)
Recent studies reveal that menaquinones (Vitamin K2) (primarily synthesized by bacteria and mostly available from cheese and curds) may have protective properties against vascular calcification and coronary heart disease. (10, 11, 12, 13)
- Milk benefits related to heart health
A high intake of menaquinones (vitamin K2) is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Other components of milk may also be protective of the heart: trans-palmitoleic acid, proteins, peptides, potassium, calcium and magnesium. (15)
- Milk benefits related to digestive system
- Fermented milk and antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) in children
- Milk benefits related to cancer
Milk fat is composed of: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), sphingomyelin, butyric acid, ether lipids, beta carotene, vitamins A and D. These are associated with anti-cancer activity. (20)
A large 2011 meta-analysis and systematic review of cohort studies show that milk and dairy products, excluding cheese, are associated with the reduced risk of colorectal cancer. (21)
- Milk/dairy and type 2 diabetes
A large 2013 systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies found evidence of association between the consumption of dairy products, low-fat dairy products and cheese and the reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (22)
- Whole milk and weight loss
Recent studies on whole milk and milk products, although inconclusive, indicate that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods do not contribute to obesity, but may rather help in weight loss. (23)
- Milk benefits related to teeth and tooth decay (dash studies)
Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D contents in milk contribute to the maintenance of normal teeth. (9)
Epidemiological studies have shown that milk consumption has no negative effects on caries buildup, but may even prevent it in children, especially those with poor oral hygiene, who do not use fluoride and are on a high sucrose diet. (24)
- Fermented milk and skin
Although evidence is limited and further studies are needed, it has been shown that fermented dairy product consumption and topical application may be beneficial for the skin. (25)
- Milk and fermented milk benefits related to blood pressure
Milk and fermented milk products have been shown to reduce blood pressure. (26)
Fermented milk (with or without probiotics) contains inhibitory peptides (short chain amino-acids), that can reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in pre-hypertensive and hypertensive people. (27, 28, 29)
- Fermented milk benefits related to gastrointestinal health
Bifidobacterium present in fermented milk may reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, including IBS related constipation and bloating, thereby improving the health-related quality of life.
- Other benefits of milk and dairy
New studies show that dairy consumption may help in reducing the risk of stroke through decreasing platelet aggregation and insulin resistance.
However, more studies are needed. Although potassium seems to have the greatest effect, the combination of all 3 nutrients in milk (potassium, calcium and magnesium) seems to have the best effect. (26)
Best milk to drink
After all the discussion about milk consumption and considering the great variety of milk products available in the market, it is important to determine which is the best milk to drink.
Here are some characteristics of the healthiest dairy products:
- Organic – have comparatively small amounts of unwanted additives and toxins;
- Full fat milk and dairy products obtained from grass-fed cows – are nutritiously superior to common milk, since they contain significantly higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. (33, 34)
In recent decades, low fat products have been heavily promoted and whole milk has received a bad name, commonly associated with atherosclerosis and heart disease.
However, saturated fat is not as harmful as commonly believed. There is no scientific evidence that dairy fat and high fat dairy products contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases.
Whole milk contains trans-palmitoleate, which is associated with reduced insulin resistance, metabolic risk factors and diabetes incidence. More studies are needed, however. (37)
However, full fat milk and milk products contain potentially cancerogenic constituents, such as conjugated linoleic acid and fat soluble vitamins, such as A and D. (20)
- Fermented – (yogurt and kefir) are a great source of probiotics, improve the digestibility of lactose, are easier on the gut than milk since some lactose is turned into lactic acid, increase shelf life and enhance taste.
For the best results, fermented milk should be of good quality, with lactic acid and a high amount of friendly bacteria”, such as Bifidobacterium, with no added sugar, refrigerated and consumed close to the day of production.
- Pasteurized – although outbreaks of diseases related to unpasteurized milk and milk products are not common and affect a relatively low number of people, having pasteurized milk products significantly lowers the risk. (38)
The answer to the question is not black and white and varies from individual to individual.
A large part of the population has some level of lactose intolerance, meaning that milk consumption needs to be restricted on an individual level. The restriction may be also important in men due to the prostate cancer risk.
In addition, a small percentage of the population suffers from milk protein allergies. Therefore, the consumption of all dairy products should be avoided.
Milk can also contain various contaminants, depending on many environmental and milk production factors. In this case, the consumption of those specific products should be restricted.
On the other hand, milk and dairy products are very nutritious and have many health benefits, including protective properties against some of the deadliest diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
For individuals who do not experience allergies and are not highly sensitive to lactose, milk and dairy products are a healthy part of a balanced diet, but only in amounts that are tolerable on an individual basis.
NUTRITION FACTS VS NUTRITION MYTHS
You will find a summary of the most common nutrition myths and evidence-based nutrition facts here.