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Is Milk Good For You?

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Image by Endre Majoros and Used under a Creative Commons license.
Milk Used To Be An Essential Part Of Most American Diets But Recent Pushback Against The One-Time Staple Has Put The Dairy Industry On Its Heels

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Dec. 16, 2016 — Many of us grew up, at least those of us who grew up in North America, thinking that milk was unquestionably a key part of a healthy diet. It has calcium. It has vitamin D. You drink it with breakfast, and schools serve it with lunch. How can something pushed on children by so many adults possibly be bad?

Well, in recent years there has been a serious pushback against dairy products and milk in particular. Those of us who grew up thinking that milk was an unquestionably excellent, super vitamin, strong bone juice have suddenly had to re-evaluate that one-time truth. Should I be drinking soy milk? Almond Milk? No milk at all?

It all begs the seemingly simple question; is milk good for you?

Spoiler alert — there is not a definitive answer.

As with many nutritional quandaries, the truth about milk appears to lie in the gray area, with evidence from experts piling up on both sides. Humans are actually the only species on the planet that consumes milk after being weaned, so that is where part of this debate begins.

One of the primary arguments for milk is that it promotes bone health. However, food journalist Mark Bittman pointed out that milk drinking countries actually have the highest rates of bone fractures. "The rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine,” he said. “Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mother for almost all of human history, and fresh cow's milk could not be routinely available to urbanites without industrial production.”

Americans also have a high rate of hip replacements and many point to milk as the culprit, citing these fracture rates in milk drinking countries as evidence. The argument that humans are the only species that do consume milk like this, and that humans through much of human history didn’t consume other animals’ milk is potentially compelling. But does that actually make it bad? Not necessarily.

Milk contains calcium, which is good for us. Though, there is some evidence that suggest too much calcium can be a bad thing. Too much calcium consumption is linked to increased heart attack risk, muscle pain, mood disorders, abdominal pain and kidney stones, according to Cleveland Clinic. Still, it is essential. Milk in the U.S. is fortified with Vitamin D, another thing we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Though, you can also consume Vitamin D naturally from fatty fish, eggs or sun exposure.

According to The Dairy Council, milk promotes healthy teeth, it has been linked to cardiovascular health, promotes good blood pressure, can help prevent Type 2 diabetes and, contrary to popular belief, it is not actually linked to obesity. Yes, milk does contain fat but in moderation it shouldn’t turn you into an overweight monster, at least according to organizations like The Dairy Council.

The USDA’s diet recommendations also suggest that men and women between 19-51 should consume 3 cups of dairy per day because it is good for bone health and “Intake of dairy products is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and with lower blood pressure in adults,” according to choosemyplate.gov.

Alternatively, much of the argument against milk frames it as though it were straight up poison. There really isn’t a lot of actual evidence for that being the case, though the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate diet recommendations differ from the government’s Choose MyPlate recommendations in that it discourages too much milk consumption since there is some evidence to suggest that milk consumption can be linked to prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.

So, expert opinions are mixed, but how is milk viewed by everyday people?

To gather some random thoughts on the matter, I took a look at a bodybuilding forum in order to see what some very health conscious individuals thought on the matter. The responses ranged from “Milk is great!” to “Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer,” a quote that was attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger, though I cannot verify its voracity. However, a fairly compelling response came from an anonymous user on the forum that helps lay out the other side of the argument for milk.

“I love it when I hear folks say that human adults weren’t meant to consume milk, much less the milk derived from a different animal species. Are you kidding me? So who gets to decide which parts of the cow we should consume? Let me get this straight–we can eat the cow’s muscles, but not the milk that laid the foundation for the growth of those same muscles? Huh? The logic is just too rock-solid for me. Folks who carry the torch against milk consumption typically will have some degree of allergy or digestive intolerance to it, and they take the liberty to project their personal problems onto the world around them. Go frolic in an organic wheatgrass field and spare us your self-righteous noise.”

This person was by no means an expert as far as I know, but the reasoning is at the very least understandable.

There are other reasons to not like milk, of course. Some people feel as though it is morally wrong to consume animal milk, such as Sarah McQuaid, who went so far as to start a Facebook group, the Anti Dairy Movement, for those against milk.

“My answer would be no, it is not good for you,” she said. “I am very passionate about this subject because it has several factors that scream milk is wrong to produce; for people, animals and the environment. There is so much against it that I find it unbelievable it hasn't been banned yet. I believe the main reason people in general support cow's milk is because there isn't an alternative quick hit of calcium and protein...this has been proven to cause a short term benefit of strength and energy... but in the long term more serious health issues.”

Again, perhaps not an expert on the issue, but it is clear this new divide that exists is influencing popular opinion. But here is what we can conclude.

What can we learn from the milk debate? Mainly, milk is not essential. Plenty of people all over the world are perfectly healthy. However, we have also seemed to find that if you drink milk regularly and in relative moderation, it is not the toxic poison some detractors would have you believe, and experts seem to think it can be part of a healthy diet. So, whether or not milk is a good choice appears to depend more on the individual than the substance itself.

Is milk good for you? It can be. Probably.
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