Is milk really necessary? The question, of course, means cow’s milk. Do we need to drink cow’s milk to be healthy? Is cheese good for us? Can we be healthy without consuming dairy products? Do vegans need a calcium supplement? Are there any downsides to drinking a lot of milk?
Toby Amidor, MS, RD says
“Milk is a nutrient-packed food providing nine essential nutrients in every glass, including calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. These are three of four nutrients that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report identified as under-consumed nutrients. There aren’t many other single foods that come close to the nutrients you get from one cup of milk.”
In case you were wondering what the letters after his name mean, he has a Masters of Science and is also a Registered Dietitian. He’s also an Ambassador of the US National Dairy Council, which could make you more or less believing of what he says!
Cassie Bjork another Registered Dietitian has a different view:
“Dairy products can be part of a balanced eating regimen. However, milk specifically has a few caveats. Milk is highly insulinogenic, which means it spikes blood sugar levels. It also has inflammatory properties, so is a common offender of acne, sinus congestion, and digestive distress. Milk isn’t well tolerated by many, maybe even most, people.”
Both of these quotes come from an article entitled “Ask The Experts: Is Milk Good For You?”. It’s clear the experts don’t agree.
The Harvard School of Public Health says:
“Calcium is important. But milk isn’t the only, or even best, source”
Is dairy actually bad for you?
A 2020 study from researchers at Loma Linda University Health found:
“Intake of dairy milk is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer in women.”
The Harvard School of Public Health says:
“While calcium and dairy can lower the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, high intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.”
Dairy products are high in saturated fats. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says:
“Milk and other dairy products are the top source of saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.”
Many of the studies of the benefits of eating dairy are funded at least in part by the dairy industry. Dr Michael Greger has a great video on how the results can be manipulated to suggest that dairy is good for you: How the Dairy Industry Designs Misleading Studies
The Harvard Nurses Study showed a link between teenage acne and milk consumption:
“We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.”
Some acne sufferers confirm that removing milk from your diet can help if you suffer from acne later in life. Christian Allaire explains in a Vogue article how “I Gave Up Dairy—And My Adult Acne Vanished in Under a Month”.
There isn’t conclusive scientific evidence linking dairy consumption with eczema, but the UK NHS says that milk can be a trigger for eczema. There’s certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence from eczema sufferers who have found cutting out dairy has made a huge difference.
In a dramatic article entitled I Almost Died from Eczema: How a Nondairy Diet Saved Me Susan Marque explains:
“drastically changing your diet is no easy feat. Growing up in Minnesota, I ate the basic four food groups: meat, milk, bread, and produce. I liked fruits and vegetables, but they had been extras next to other foods on the plate. A plant-based diet was new for me, but I tried switching things up by eliminating all dairy and meat. The difference was astonishing. Within two weeks of adopting my new diet, I had clear skin for the first time. My health soared, and I’ve been eczema free ever since.”
Do you need a calcium supplement if you don’t eat dairy?
It’s unlikely that milk is necessary for our health and that we cannot get the nutrition that milk provides in other ways.
The Plant-Based Health Professionals website says:
“Fortified soya and pea milks have the same amount of protein and calcium as cow’s milk without the saturated fat and health risks associated with dairy consumption. Health Canada’s 2019 dietary guidelines recognise that dairy is not essential in the diet and have removed it as a food group.”
The Harvard School of Public Health advises:
“Calcium-rich non-dairy foods include leafy green vegetables and broccoli, both of which are also great sources of vitamin K, another key nutrient for bone health. Beans and tofu can also supply calcium.”
Almonds, sesame seeds (and so tasty tahini spread), dried figs and chia seeds are also good sources of calcium.
The US Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine say:
“By eating a varied plant-based diet, you’ll get all the calcium you need to build strong bones without the added health risks of milk and other dairy products.
“Leafy green vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards, are loaded with calcium. Beans, fortified juices, and plant milks are also great sources of calcium. And calcium absorption of plant foods is actually higher than cow’s milk.
There is, of course, also a different argument about reducing our milk intake. The cruelty argument. Milk is not just a convenient by-product of pregnant cows. Cows don’t voluntarily produce more milk than their calf needs. The milk that you drink, the cheese that you eat has almost certainly come about because a cow has been made pregnant artificially (and repeatedly) and that her calf has been taken away at 24 – 48 hours.
“Dairy cows are required to give birth to one calf annually in order to produce milk for 10 months of the year. They are usually artificially inseminated within three months of giving birth.
“Naturally, calves suckle from their mothers for up to a year, and maintain a strong bond with her for several years. However in commercial dairy farming, nearly all calves are taken away from their mother within hours of birth.
“Most female calves will be reared to join the milking herd but as male calves cannot produce milk, they are considered surplus to the dairy industry. Male calves will either be shot after birth, or sold to be reared for veal or beef.”
You can be well and healthy and enjoy great food without being part of this process that turns cows into machines solely for our satisfaction.
In fact, it’s possible you could be even healthier if you gave up dairy.