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Busting Age-Old Milk Myths: Is Milk Good or Bad For You?

11/15/2019
By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS

Milk has been in our diets for hundreds and thousands of years. It’s now being scrutinized by coaches, nutritionists, and doctors for its negative effects on the body. With some studies showing pros and other proving cons, which ones should we believe? When people regurgitate these studies, they fail to mention that its effects vary from person to person. It may give Joe bad side effects, but leave you feeling fine—and that’s perfectly normal. No; you don’t have to stop drinking milk if you don’t have any negative side effects. But hey—let’s get down to the bottom of this. Is milk good, or bad for you? Here, we will discuss the pros and cons of drinking milk and consuming dairy products.

Milk Nutrition Facts

First, here are some facts we can all agree on. Milk is considered to be a whole food. It has plenty of vitamins and 18 out of 22 essential nutrients. It also has more protein per calorie than almost any other food you can consume. Check out the percentages below, based on an 8.5 ounce serving.

Pouring milk into a glass. Is milk good or bad for you?
Is Milk Good or Bad For You? (Image Source: Shutterstock)
  • Calcium (28% of your recommended daily amount or RDA)
  • Magnesium (7% RDA)
  • Phosphorus (24% RDA)
  • Vitamin B-12 (18% RDA)
  • Protein (14% RDA)
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin B-6
  • Vitamin E
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin A
  • Zinc

The fat content obviously depends on what type of milk you purchase: whole, low fat, 2%, 1%, skim, etc. The fat content below is based on whole milk. 

  • Unsaturated fats (2.5g per serving)
  • Saturated fats (4.5g per serving
Little girl flexing muscles on both arms after drinking milk, as a sign that she's stronger.
Milk Has Many Vitamins and Minerals (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Pros of Milk

Again, the effects of milk largely depend on the individual’s constitution and behavior.  However, multiple studies show that it can curb appetites for a wide variety of people. Because it is a whole food, you get protein, carbs, and fats in an 8-ounce glass, which will help you not eat as much, or make you less likely to grab a snack before your next meal. Milk has also not been linked to weight gain or obesity.

It Helps Your Bones

Remember when your mom would tell you to drink your milk so that you could grow up to be big and strong? She wasn’t wrong. It helps with weight and bone density in children and reduces the risk of broken bones in small children. 

My mama gave me and my brothers a glass of milk each, every single day with dinner. To this day, I have never broken a bone (which is surprising, considering how much trouble I got into). And while that’s anecdotal evidence, at best, it certainly corroborates this proven benefit.  There have been numerous studies that prove that calcium-rich dairy does indeed help with bone growth and density.

In regards to growing girls, as long as you stick to organic milk, it is better for bone development and growth than any calcium supplement on the market. If it’s non-organic, the cows are pumped with growth hormones—which is shown to encourage the earlier onset of puberty in girls. 

Last but not least, the calcium in dairy can help you prevent cavities and maintain your dental health.

It Keeps Your Heart Healthy

Milk helps keep your HDL or high-density lipoprotein at healthy levels. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol, which helps you fight heart disease and whittles down your chance of stroke. 

On top of keeping your heart healthy, milk is an awesome source of potassium, which helps your body balance blood pressure and keep it in a healthy range.

Cons of Milk

Again, the side effects of milk vary from body to body. Here are some of the negative effects you may experience. 

Acne and Eczema

There have been quite a few studies that link acne and other skin conditions to milk. The majority of these studies, however, show that these skin conditions are linked to skim and low-fat dairy products, but not to whole milk products. 

Face of a girl with acne problems.
Milk May Cause Acne Breakouts (Image Souce: Pixabay)

Eczema flare-ups are also linked to these products, but there have been studies that have proven that women who breastfeed can reduce their baby’s risk of eczema and other food-related allergies by adding whole milk to their diet. 

Acne and other skin conditions are inflammatory reactions. If you do see these flare-ups when you consume dairy, limiting consumption or avoiding it altogether can get rid of these symptoms. 

Lactose Intolerances

Milk specifically from cows has a higher amount of lactose than most other animal milk. More than half the population has an intolerance or allergy to lactose. Lactose allergies look like:

  • Eczema or other skin reactions
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing

Most children with lactose allergies tend to grow out of it—and it’s also very possible for adults to develop a lactose allergy or intolerance. 

Milk Alternatives

Plant and nut-based milk are amazing alternatives to dairy products. There are even vegan (non-dairy) cheeses that taste exactly like the real thing. Below is a list of alternatives—and what you’ll gain or lose by switching to these options.

Soy Milk

This contains half the carbs and fats, but has a similar amount of protein. It does, however, contain a large amount of plant estrogen, which can be disruptive to our hormone patterns if consumed in large enough quantities.

Soy milk in a mason jar next to a bowl of soy beans.
Soy Milk as a Milk Alternative (Image Source: Pixabay)

Almond Milk

This is a low fat, high in calcium option. But it is low in protein.

A bowl of almond milk surrounded by scattered almonds.
Almond Milk as a Milk Alternative (Image Source: Pixabay)

Oat Milk

This is lower in fat, and high in fiber, but low in protein, with higher carb content.

How to Make Oat Milk – Peaceful Cuisine

Cashew Milk

This is low in calories, but also low in protein. It is not as vitamin and mineral-packed as the other alternatives.

How To Make Cashew Milk at Home – Skinny Recipes

Hemp Milk

This is low in calories and low in carbohydrates, but extremely low protein.

How To Make Hemp Milk in Less Than Three Minutes – Katrina Mayer

The Bottom Line: Is Milk Good, or Bad For You?

Yes. Milk is a whole food that is densely packed with vitamins and minerals that your body can use and access easily after it’s consumed. It is very beneficial for breastfeeding mothers, babies, and developing children.

Drinking Milk for Adults Good or Bad? – Best Health Answers

Which option you choose, however, is important. Whole milk is shown to be more beneficial than their lower-fat cousins because it tends to be pure and not pumped with things that make it taste better to make up for the lower fat content. It is also best to choose organic milk that is free of antibiotics and hormones. And don’t forget, dairy products come in many forms. For example, you could try Icelandic or Greek yogurt.

After weighing the pros and cons, if milk is not something you want to consume, then try the many alternatives and see what works for your healthy, balanced diet. 

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