Milk – does it do a body good?

When they first realize they are sensitive to dairy, many people experience anxiety about eliminating it from their diet. This is partly because we’ve been told for decades that to grow up strong and healthy and to stay that way, we need to include multiple servings of cow’s milk and milk products in our diet.

But, let’s dig deeper. Here are some of the typical questions I hear in my practice.

Can a diet still be healthy and well balanced if we eliminate an entire food group?
Every food group in Canada’s Food Guide contains a variety of food items-except for the milk and alternatives group. That group includes soy milk, but aside from that, the majority of the food items are made from cow’s milk. We don’t see anything like that in the grain, fruit and vegetable, or meat and alternatives groups. Each of those groups is comprised of a wide variety of food items, not just one. Giving cow’s milk such importance is not justified. It makes about as much sense as it would to say that broccoli should have its own food group, solely because of its enormous array of well-known nutrients. It just doesn’t make sense. So, the issue is not that you are eliminating an entire food group. In reality, you are eliminating just one food item.

But hasn’t diary been part of Canada’s food guide for over half a century, and a dietary staple for far longer?
I’m side-stepping the fact that our food is by no means the same as it was many years ago. That’s an entire discussion by itself. But I would ask, “Just because something has been one way for a long time, is that a good enough reason for it to stay the same?” The one and only reason something should remain unchanged is because it continues to promote well-being.

Isn’t there proof that cow’s milk is good for us?
When you look at the research, the answer is controversial at best. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests poor health outcome for those who consume the largest amount of dairy.

Here are just a couple of research findings that show the lack of validity for pushing cow’s milk as a superfood:

Children who drink too much dairy are at risk of iron deficiency anemia.   (Research supported by SickKids Hospital)

Dermatologists have determined that a dietary regimen that includes intake of dairy, for some, contributes to the development of acne. Acta Dermato-Venereologica. 2012 May;92(3):228-31.

What about preventing osteoporosis?
A study was published in 2014 showing that women who drank more milk not only had a higher incidence of bone fractures, but also had a higher rate of death. (BMJ 2014; 349 doi Published 28 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6015)

According to the literature, the United States has a higher rate of hip fractures than Latin America, Africa, China, and Hong Kong. Here in North America, as a population, we consume a lot more dairy than most other countries, yet we have one of the highest rates of bone fractures globally. If calcium and dairy consumption were the key to preventing osteoporosis, then we would see that reflected in the studies. But, instead, we see the opposite.

Wouldn’t cutting out diary cause nutrient deficiency?
Milk’s claim to fame is its high content of calcium along with few other minerals and vitamins, which are listed in the table below. I have also listed non-dairy alternatives that contain high amount of the same nutrients.

Nutrients Found in Milk Alternatives to Milk
Calcium Dried basil, soybean sprouts, dried figs, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, tahini, sardines with bones, salmon with bones, blackstrap molasses
Potassium Bananas, spinach, beet greens, winter squash, sweet potatoes, white beans
Phosphorous Scallops, sardines, salmon, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds
Vitamin D Sunshine, beef, salmon, snapper


Note: The dairy industry claims milk is high in vitamin D. In actuality, there is not much vitamin D found naturally in cow’s milk. Milk is therefore fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin A Sweet potatoes, carrots


Note: A few bites of sweet potato or carrot will give you more vitamin A than a whole glass of milk.

Vitamin B2 Soybeans, beet greens, spinach, almonds, beef, lamb
Vitamin B3 Mushrooms, passion fruit, avocados, peanuts, legumes, chicken, turkey, salmon

What’s the takeaway?
Cow’s milk is not necessary for anyone, at any age-unless you are a growing calf.

No matter how many celebrities with milk moustaches promote the “goodness” of milk, the benefits of milk are overinflated and unsubstantiated.

Substituting other food items for milk will not cause nutritional deficiency. In fact, it will correct our populations’ significant deficiency in fiber and antioxidants, which greatly contribute to many illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

Also, if you eliminate dairy and the after a month, reintroduce it back into your diet and you notice, no change for the better in your condition, then, keep dairy in your diet.  Eliminating dairy and replacing it with other high nutrient foods is only a suggestion for those who are symptomatic when consuming dairy products .

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