Milk: Good or Bad?

by in Healthy Tips, September 1, 2009

Cereal with Milk
We’re talking about cows’ milk, that is. Many folks view milk as wholesome and healthy. Others, meanwhile, warn us away and say it’s full of hormones or might make you phlegmy. So what’s the deal with milk: does it do your body good or not?

Nutrition Basics
The healthy nutrients in milk speak for themselves — protein, calcium, vitamins A, D, B12 and riboflavin and the mineral potassium. Sure, you can get these nutrients from other foods and beverages, but milk offers them all in one package. Plus, vitamin D, which helps you absorb calcium, is harder to come by in other foods, and recent studies have shown that many people (especially children) aren’t getting enough.

If you’re eating the skim variety (a.k.a. non-fat milk), it contains only 90 calories and 8 grams of protein and provides 30% of your daily calcium and 25% of your daily vitamin D. Of all the milk varieties, whole milk is the highest in fat and calories (146 calories and 8 grams of fat); reduced fat (a.k.a. 2%) and low-fat (a.k.a. 1%) have less. Most health pros recommend that adults and kids older than two stick with skim or 1% to avoid the extra calories, cholesterol and saturated fat.

The Hormone Issue
Many milk naysayers worry most about the unnecessary hormones. Cows naturally produce the hormone bST to stimulate milk production. Some dairy farmers rely on a synthetic form of this hormone, rBST, to boost their cows’ milk generation. Many health and food safety advocates question whether these extra hormones disrupt our own healthy hormone levels and, in turn, might lead to cancer or other medical problems. Some countries have banned farmers from using rbST on their cows, but other agencies, including the World Health Organization, say that rbST is safe. Here in the U.S. it’s still allowed. If you’re worried, the best thing to do is only buy milk that’s rBST-free (it will say on the label) or organic.

Organic or Conventional?
When a milk is labeled organic, it means that the dairy cows spend at least half the year out on pastures (so they can eat plenty of grass) and there’s no use of synthetic hormones (like rbST). Today, 3% of the milk in America is organic, which is on the rise from years past. Most major supermarkets carry some kind of organic milk, but the price tag is often higher.

There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether organic food is any better for you. Some research supports the theory that organic milk contains more nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin A, lutein and omega-3 fats, but there’s nothing conclusive yet.

When shopping for organic, local milk is another option to consider. Many smaller farms may not spend the time and money required to get certified “organic” but do follow organic practices. Local milk can be hard to find sometimes. In Connecticut, where I live, a few small dairy farms have joined forces to provide their milk to large chain grocery stores; check out the Connecticut Farmer’s Cow website. Keep an eye on your dairy case and you might see some more local options. If you do, you can always call them up to ask if they follow organic practices.

What About Raw?
Nearly all the milk sold today (95% to be exact) is pasteurized, which means the milk was quickly heated to just over 160-degrees to kill off any harmful bacteria. Pasteurization also lengthens shelf life and freshness. (TIP: Always check the sell-by dates at the store; many markets push the older milk to the front to sell it before it expires.)

Raw milk, meanwhile, is just that: raw and unpasteurized. Advocates claim that not pasteurizing means better flavor and nutrient quality. There’s strong evidence to show that pasteurization doesn’t actually affect your milk’s protein, vitamin or mineral content, and the FDA and CDC actually warn the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems to avoid raw milk because of the bacteria risk.

Other Milk Concerns
There are countless theories that blame everything from acne to bed-wetting on drinking milk. Here are some of the things I’m asked about most.

Lactose Intolerance: Some people can’t digest the lactose in milk (lactose is a natural sugar) because they don’t have a certain enzyme you need to break it down. If that’s you, look for lactose-free dairy products; they’re available in most stores and contain all the same nutrients as regular milk. You may find that you can tolerate small amounts of dairy without a problem. Since every case is different, be sure to check with your doctor and registered dietitian to make choices that work for you.

Acne: Have you ever heard that drinking milk makes you break out? Well, a few studies have found that it’s possible. Researchers think it’s the hormones in milk that cause flare-ups in people with acne-prone skin, but there’s no solid association yet. If you’re battling acne, you may want to experiment by limiting the dairy you eat to see if there is a benefit (be sure get milk’s nutrients from other sources while you’re at it).

Mucus and Asthma: Some folks blame milk for increasing mucus production in the nose and throat and possibly worsening asthma symptoms. Yes, I’ve heard people complain that they’re nagged with extra phlegm or a cough after eating a lot of cheese or drinking milk. So far, however, there are no research studies that prove the relationship between dairy and mucus or asthma.

The Bottom Line
Cow’s milk can certainly be part of a healthy diet, and all types contain important nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D. Most complaints against milk relate to the potential side effects from added hormones. If this concerns you, buy hormone-free or organic milk (which doesn’t contain added hormones either). If you skip milk because you’re lactose intolerant or avoid animal products, make sure to get nutrients like calcium and vitamin D from your other foods.

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Comments (54)

  1. Stephanie says:

    Well here are the real facts….

    yes, the reason for pasturazation was because they thought tb was from cows milk…(never proven)in the year. So we heat up the milk to loose the bad bacteria…and also the good bacteria especially lactaid the enzyme that helps you digest the lactose in the milk…yet we wonder why people are lactose intolerant!!! its simple people. I am one of the lucky ones that actually gets to drink Raw milk. So many people that shop at our dairy are lactose intolerant yet, the real raw milk, yoghurt, butter etc. does not bother them!!! Fancy that. Not only does it taste better it is truely better for you. The real cream comes right to the top!
    In this life we all need to realize that even with all the diet craizes out there we are not getting skinny!!! Maybe we need to rethink our process by eating naturally. The food that God gave us!!! WE are supposed to eat meat, veggies, and yes even milk. WE need the fat in milk and in meat to survive if you cut it out completely you will become very very ill and perhaps die. Did you ever wonder why and when we really started to get heart disease? Your Great Grandma/Grandpa didn’t have it and if they did they were one of the few. 1/2 the states in the US it is legal to sell raw milk! I wish it would be legal in every state. Once people tried it and realized how much better it is for them then they would know the truth! Please contact your senator to get the Raw milk approved.

    Another way I see it is…(well I don’t understand)
    WE are able to buy alcohol, cigarettes and other items that are bad for us and are proven to be.. yet we can not buy milk that is super healthy for us!!????!!!??? Why?
    Even if you do not want to believe that raw milk is better for you at least give us a chance to buy it! you can have your crappy pasturized store milk with formaldehyde and hormones in it! But let me have my real raw dairy milk.
    I could go on for days about this!! but check out http://www.rawmilk.com and do what is best for you drinking and enjoying real raw milk from a dairy you trust. you will be amazed just like I was. oh and one more interesting thing from a personal experience…I have been really sick for about 5 years or so (every month I would come down with something) not just little colds either…in the hospital!! (I am only 27) I started drinking raw milk daily as of May of 2009 (I only changed my diet of milk and fat/I only used rendered fat that I make my self) I have not been sick since!!! AMAZING POWERFUL RAW MILK I OWE IT TO YOU!!!

  2. Joel says:

    I have two milk cows that I milk twice every day, I know what they eat so I know what is in their milk. If you are concerned about what is in your milk find a local farmer who has milk for sale. I am 43 and have not missed a day of work for illness in 25 years and my cholesterol is lower than anyone I work with so whole milk and butter are not bad for you as a sensible part of your diet.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I have a friend who doesn’t eat anything White. I believe God gave us a variety of things to enjoy eating. Not overeating. I love milk!

  4. Veronica says:

    I m 13 and have stopped drinking milk- in fact my whole family has, due to our doctor who told us the truth about milk…how bad it is..bla bla bla

    TRUE STORY: My mother's friend suffered from cancer a couple of years ago, when she first was told her doctor said, that she should stop drinking milk. He said, that some bacteria in milk feed some cells people have when cancer, and that they just make everything worse. She stopped drinking milk…not much later she was going to get operated adn the y discovered that it was COMPLETELY gone…however they HAD to operate her just in case. They found NOTHING…

    IF she would've continued drinking milk..she would have ended in a surelly different way.

    My other moms friend also has cancer…for about 2 or 3 years now…my mom told her to stop drinking milk..just in case.

    I dont like milk anyway so it was not hard for me to stop drinking milk.

  5. Deez Nuts says:

    About your post it seems biased at best and here’s why. You mention how milk is the total vitamin package in that it contains calcium, iron, b, d, riboflavin, etc. In on food source but fail to mention all of these vitamins and nutrients are synthetic and do not occur naturally in milk. (I.e. Milk has no iron vitamin D or B and must enriched and fortified in order for it to be of nutritional value).

    I am not a vegan or vegeterian but can without equivocation say; milk is detrimental to human well being. If fact the case really has to be made for why it is even considered part of a human diet or healthy at all.

  6. Stephanie says:

    To solve the problem just drink Almond Milk…..It has 35 calories for 1 cup, has 50% more calcium than milk, is rich in antioxidants, and is lactose and dairy free.

  7. pmcquiston says:

    You can drink what you want. I just think its weird to drink another species breast milk

  8. anon says:

    There's a certain someone I know who refuses to drink cows milk because "its just not natural"…. Well again, living in high rises and driving cars instead of walking or running is not natural. Can someone define natural? A volture feeding off a dead rotting carcus is natural. And nasty. Animals eating animals. Just the way it is. I for one enjoy "real" milk (cows milk) and soy milk. I drink/use both on a regular basis. To each their own.

  9. Erika says:

    What about Almond milk?

  10. dAxwKPE says:

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  11. @3tab says:

    Kudos to the author for his research and the discussion here. The opinions are as diverse as the ways we can prepare recipes with milk. I'm going to the kitchen for a glass of chocolate milk!!!

  12. Anon says:

    Define 'natural'. Is living in highrise buildings 'natural'? How about driving cars or riding buses? Eating cooked food? Wearing clothes? Using computers? Forming governments?

    Plenty of things aren't 'natural' for any other animal but us. Doesn't mean it is somehow 'wrong'.

    We weren't 'made' to do anything. We just happened to evolve in a certain environment that makes us the way we happen to be.

  13. Melissa says:

    Just to clarify the logic we, as omnivores, eat protein from animals. Eating chicken eggs is not cannibalism. If we ate our own young, that would be cannibalism. The point that some people are trying to make is that because human's were designed to be weened at a young age, that precludes us from drinking a similar source of protein and nutrients, namely cow's milk. I agree that this is a faulty argument, but just wanted to point out that it doesn't follow that chicken eggs and people are the same thing.

  14. Melissa. says:

    Oh, also, in support of your argument, milk and eggs are two different things–one is naturally a source of food (for the calf) and one is itself an organism (if it is fertilized of course).

    Cheers!

  15. Melissa says:

    Here here!

  16. Anne says:

    Wow! A bit off the deep end. You sound fanatical (and nobody likes a fanatic). Milk is pasteurized to kill bacteria, does it matter which bacteria started the practice. It still goes to show pastuerization kills bacteria.

    You bring up Acidophillus – good supplement not so crazy, valid point, then you go 'black helicopter'. Milk makes girls start their periods sooner?? Seriously! Way back when girls were married and had babies at 10, 12, and 14 years old. There was no genetic engineering back then.

    Going from crazy to worse, you say this was wriiten by the milk industry!! And down plays Montsano!! Are we reading the same article? She dedicated the second topic to the issue. She must have rated pretty important. That she wrote what she did might be as far as she is legally allowed. It disturbs me other countries banned rBST. Why do we know more about Montsano's chemicals because we researched them. It is up to these readers to do the same.

    Kudos to the writer for giving us facts and letting us think for ourselves instead of spouting rhetoric and trying to cram it down our throats.

  17. Anne says:

    I love the way you presented your point. I am not a vegetarian, but what you say makes me want to read the book and do a bit more research for myself.

    Thanks!

  18. Josh says:

    Assuming Evolution is indeed the way we became the species we are today, then it is logical to assume that we will continue to evolve and adapt our genetics to best accommodate the nutrients and ecology with which we find ourselves surrounded.

  19. Kansas Country Girl says:

    As with so many other food "issues," moderation is the key. I typically consume 1-2 servings of dairy each day along with 4-5 veggies, including calcium-rich ones and augment with calcium supplements; I know many people, especially young men, who drink a gallon of milk every day. Seems like too much of a good thing to me.

  20. Stephanie says:

    We cant just go to the source…people are forgetting that a cow has 4 stomachs! we don't!! It is not so that it holds more food, the stomachs were designed to diguest the food in order to make milk/calcium. And the reason for cheese, butter was because it was a way to keep it fresh they couldn't always have milk on hand because they did not have refrigeration like we do today.

  21. jow says:

    hmm, so we shouldn't eat meat? we are not cows so we shouldn't eat cows? haven't you seen kittens drinking from pigs when they lose their Moms? The breakdown is similar. Humans all over the world have been drinking and eating cows, sheep and goat milk and milk products for thousands of years. The civilisations that did not have the same access did not evolve to digest lactose. It is extremely challenging to meet your calcium needs without milk (soy/ cows/ rice or otherwise). Sure, have a cup of almonds to meet 30% of needs (and 500kcals that goes with it!). Remember too soy, almond, rice milk are waaay more processed than cows milk.

  22. rogue says:

    yes, but as a lover of cheese and milk, i drink organic milk, and am very picky about not eating any non organic cheese,because i'm afraid of the hormone issue. i'm asssuming this still can be found in cheese, since cheese is made from milk? Yes? So, wouldn't I need to continue to only look for and injest organic cheese, in order not to have Rbt in my cheese?

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