Milk – does it really do a body good? The opinions on whether or not you should consume dairy vary from dairy is evil and the cause of all our health problems to dairy is necessary for a healthy diet. What is the real answer to the question of consuming dairy? What are alternatives to consuming dairy?

Whether or not you consume dairy is up to you. There are many factors to consider. You have to consider intolerances and personal preferences. But don’t feel like you are missing out if you are unable to (or choose not to) consume dairy.

Benefits of dairy

Milk and other dairy products may not be the superfoods that the dairy industry would like you to believe, but dairy does contain many nutrients. We all know that milk is high in calcium. It is also reasonably high in protein and is a convenient source for many people. Milk also contains vitamin D or is fortified with vitamin D.

What is wrong with dairy

Gone are the days of the farm boy or girl sitting on the stool and milking the cows at the crack of dawn. The dairy industry is a multi billion dollar industry of which cows are considered part of the machinery.

Milk now contains a number of hormones related to the ways cows are kept in a milk producing mode. Dairy cows (unless organic) are given growth hormones in the US. This is illegal in Canada and Europe.

Dairy consumption may also be associated with higher risks of diabetes and heart disease. Too much dairy can also lead to weight gain. The calories in things like ice cream, cheese (even low fat) and cream can add up.

Dairy sensitivities and allergies

Milk contains a sugar called lactose. Infants and toddlers have the ability to digest this since it is also found in mother’s milk. Generally only adults of northern European descent have the ability to digest lactose in any quantity. Most adults in the world are in fact lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance usually results in bloating, cramps, diarrhea, gas or even nausea. Some foods like cheese or yoghurt may be more easily tolerated because they contain less lactose than milk.

A less common dairy sensitivity is a sensitivity to milk fat rather than lactose. If you notice that milk doesn’t bug you, but ice cream does, then this is likely the case.

Worse than sensitivities are dairy allergies. Dairy allergies are allergies to one or more of the proteins in milk. These can result in hives, wheezing and congestion (similar to other allergies). The most severe dairy allergies can be anaphylactic.

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Does drinking milk keep bones strong?

Keeping your bones strong is likely the number one reason why you are drinking milk. It makes sense, milk contains lots of calcium, our bones need calcium, therefore milk is good for the bones. Unfortunately drinking more milk doesn’t necessarily equate with stronger bones.

Our bones are constantly being remodelled. One type of bone cell builds up bone, another breaks it down. As we age, the breaking down process becomes predominant. Exercise helps to stimulate the bone to build up more bone. Inadequate calcium will cause the body to take calcium from the bones to use for other purposes.

Research has not yet determined how much calcium we need. The US RDA for women over 50 is 1200 g per day or the equivalent of 3 glasses of milk. Dairy is front and centre on the USDA MyPlate. On the other hand studies have shown that women who drink more milk do not have a lower risk of fractures than those who drink less. In countries where milk consumption is uncommon, fracture risk is also lower than in countries where milk consumption is higher.

Vitamins D and K are both shown to be important in keeping bones strong. If you live at a northern latitude, have darker skin or get little sunlight, a vitamin D supplement is probably required. Vitamin K is found in many green vegetables which coincidently also contain reasonable amounts of calcium.

What are alternatives to drinking milk?

If you can’t drink milk due to intolerances or allergies or you choose not to drink milk, it can seem that your choices are limited. There are many commercial alternatives to cow’s milk including soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk. You can also easily make your own almond milk. Unless these are fortified with extra calcium they will not contain as much calcium as cow’s milk.

Be sure to include lots of green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach in your diet. Also, make sure to include adequate protein from other sources.

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