There has been a lot of discussion in the past few weeks on the healthfulness of milk. As usual, the claims that milk is some how bad for health are coming from unqualified chefs, who I’m sure make a delicious pizza but shouldn’t be giving out nutritional advice. So let’s clear a few things up.
Milk makes bones thinner and causes osteoporosis
There has been a lot of discussion of the healthfulness of milk in the last couple of weeks. The debate has been stirred up by Paleo advocates who claim that drinking milk leaches calcium from bones and is actually the cause of osteoporosis.
There is no evidence to support this claim. Joel from Diet and Disease was curious about this claim and so did some digging in to the literature. You can click here to watch it. Summary: 2 2015 papers found a small but statistically significant increase in bone density when participants drank milk. As with everything thing in nutrition, disease, or the lack of, does not come down to a single factor. So it seems that while the benefits of milk on bone strength may have been oversold, it certainly does not cause any harm to bones.
Dairy is fattening
I have been told many times by my patients that they don’t drink milk or have other dairy products because they’re worried that it will make them gain weight. This myth has been around for a while now without any solid reasoning behind it. Perhaps it is that milk contains energy from carbs, fats and proteins and this is why dieters will often go for skinny milk?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one food will make you fat. Just like no one food is going to make you skinny. This includes dairy. Case closed.
Raw milk is better
A couple of years ago, raw or “bath” milk took off in Victoria with proponents claiming it was “better” for you. The claim was that pasteurizing was bad and harmful to the milk and that by heating the milk, most of the nutrients were lost along with bacteria and enzymes.
At the time, raw milk was sold at health food stores as “bath” milk as it wasn’t meant to be consumed. However, people still drank it and it wasn’t until a child died that health authorities decided to step in. Sales of raw milk were banned and now “bath” milk must contain a bittering agent so even if someone wanted to drink it, it would taste disgusting.
Now, you can get cold pressed “raw” milk that is safe to drink because it has been processed so there isn’t any harmful bacteria in it. Which is exactly was pasturisation does to milk. Kills the bad bacteria.
“…tests show our patented cold high pressure method is gentler on milk’s nutrients, which means that you get more of the rich, essential nutrients straight from the cow like vitamins B1, B2, B12, A and potassium.”
There no research available on their website however, to confirm this. When I asked them for specifics they had this to say:
“We will be posting a range of micro, enzymatic and vitamin studies we are currently undertaking to our FAQ’s page when the work is complete, I’ll look address your question then.”
As for the bacteria. I’m unaware of how much bacteria is in a cup of milk, whether it be cold pressed or not. There isn’t much evidence available on this one. However, I do know that yoghurt is an excellent source of beneficial bacteria and that you will get far more bacteria in a tub of yoghurt than you could potentially get from a glass of milk.
This website might help shed some light on the vitamin and mineral content of raw vs. pasteurized milk. There isn’t much difference between the two, it seems.
And enzymes. Any enzymes present in the milk are most probably destroyed in your stomach. Your stomach is a very acidic place that is designed to break down food and potentially harmful bacteria, viruses etc and enzymes are no exception to this.
Bottom line: conventionally processed milk (aka pasturisation) is perfectly fine to drink and you don’t need to source alternatives to get the health benefits. Unless you are on a dairy farm and can get raw milk fresh from the cow, you shouldn’t be drinking it.
Milk causes inflammation
It gets my hackles up when someone mentions the word “inflammation”. It’s often in the same category as those ambiguous “toxins” that detox companies assure you that you are getting rid of by drinking their shakes. Again, the proposed mechanism for action is never really explained. Unless you have an allergy to milk, that is. That mechanism is perfectly clear.
This 2014 systematic review of the evidence surrounding dairy and inflammation makes things pretty clear though. Dairy actually has a significant anti inflammatory effect on health. And no, this systematic review was not funded by the dairy industry.
If I have digestive discomfort, milk caused it
According to recent reports, this is the leading cause of people giving up dairy. Many people claim they feel better and less bloated when they stop eating dairy. And yes, if you have a diagnosed lactose intolerance you will need to cut down (not out!) on how much and how often you have dairy with lactose to help manage your symptoms. The vast majority of people with a lactose intolerance can still have yoghurt (as the bacteria digests some of the lactose) and hard cheeses as these contain very little lactose. There also many lactose free versions of milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Self diagnosing a lactose intolerance and simply cutting out a whole food group is not the answer. There are many causes of digestive discomfort. Symptoms like bloating, gas, diahorrea can be caused by many different things and the best thing you can do if you have these symptoms and they worry you, is to visit your doctor.
The calcium in dairy is poorly absorbed
I often hear this argument from people who are pushing plant based alternatives to dairy. It is true that the calcium in foods like broccoli, kale, bok choy and Brussel sprouts is better absorbed than in dairy products (~50% vs. ~30% for dairy foods). However, it is actually the calcium content of foods that matters most, not how bioavailable the calcium is.
You see, 100g of broccoli has 33mg of calcium in it. 100ml of milk, 107mg. If we take the above values as absolutes then we should be absorbing:
33 x 0.5 = 16.5mg of calcium from every 100g of broccoli
107 x 0.3 = 32mg of calcium from every 100ml of milk
So you see even though the calcium in broccoli is better absorbed than that from milk, we still get double the amount of absorbable calcium from milk, simply because it has more calcium in it to begin with.
I used NUTTAB for these calculations- a database of literally every food and its nutritional content that you can find in Australia.
Your diet, your choice
Again, at the end of the day it is your own personal choice whether you drink milk or not. If you find that it disagrees with you, see your doc and go for some calcium fortified alternatives. I can’t debate the ethics of this with you, because ethics. You need to decide whether or not drinking milk sits with your own personal values. Whatever you choose is fine! If you’re on the fence about whether you should drink it from a health perspective- I’m here to help guide you through the scientific and nutritional information and to help counter some of the mis-information out there.
I am reeallllyyyy sick of hearing/seeing people spout off ridiculous things like:
“…DESPITE thousands of scientific studies showing how detrimental to our health it [milk] is?”
“The industry has literally been bribing nutritionists to spout the nonsense that milk is a good source of calcium for decades. In actual fact it eats away at your bones and fills your body with unhealthy hormones intended for calves, not humans.”
These are in quotation marks since they were comments left on Facebook when The Nutrition Press shared my first article on this topic.
If you do not want to drink milk or consume dairy, that is fine. But I would love it if we all could try and stick to more neutral language when we’re discussing this topic. Let’s stick to evidence and lets step away from explosive emotive language that might
manipulate persuade people into making decisions about what to or not to eat based on half truths or complete nonsense.
If you’re deciding whether or not to drink milk, be careful where you get your information from. Anyone can set up a blog or a Facebook page and publish whatever they like, with little consequence. Always check the credentials of the writer or poster, and if you can’t find them, ask for them. If they have not undertaken formal training in nutrition ask yourself if you should be listening to what they have to say?
If in doubt #SeeanAPD. Accredited Practising Dietitians have undergone extensive training (a minimum of 4.5 years at university) to provide individuals with tailored nutrition advice. They are bound by a code of ethics that means that they can only provide evidence-based information to you. No bullshit. No fear mongering.