As a child I was always told to drink milk. My babysitter would always make me drink the milk out of my cereal or drink a glass of milk with my bagel. She always said that I needed to drink milk everyday to make my bones strong. Milk is calcium rich but we can get calcium from other food we consume. The real question is: is milk truly important?
If you would search for milk images on the internet, you would probably find a hundred images with seemingly endless celebrities with milk moustaches, known as the “Got Milk?” campaign. It was an ingenious way for the dairy industry to push the importance of milk in our diets. But, is milk a necessary staple in our diet? This blog is not to argue the merits of whole milk versus non-fat milk nor raw milk vs. pasteurized milk. This blog seeks to reveal the true merit of drinking milk, whatever type, at all.
Obviously, milk is essential in the early stages of mammalian growth and development. In fact, the primary characteristic of mammals is the presence of mammary glands to produce milk for their offspring. One important feature of all non-human mammals is that they suckle their young until they are able to become independent (able to eat solid foods). This varies between each mammal with some mammals such as the hooded seal nursing for four short days, while others such as the orangutan may nurse up to seven years! But what does that mean for humans? In the United States, women receive conflicting advice about when to wean their children completely from breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one year, while WHO and UNICEF recommend at least two years. No matter the duration, what benefit, if any, is there to consuming milk after the weaning process?
According to the Food Guide Pyramid, published by the USDA, humans should consume 2-3 servings of dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) every day, as we see in the photo above. Why? The USDA says that milk and milk products are the best source of calcium, which helps build and maintain strong bones, preventing osteoporosis. But if milk is so important in receiving the required quantity of calcium for healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis, why do mammals stop producing milk?
Whenever calcium is lacking in the diet, it is pulled from the bones temporarily, until it can be replaced. But this is not what causes osteoporosis later in life. During the aging process, bone is lost naturally.
However, if calcium is consumed at high rates early in life, the amount of bone density lost as we age is reduced. The uncertainty occurs because studies have not yet determined how much calcium is needed to build optimum bones and teeth.
Long term studies suggest no correlation between high calcium intake and a reduced risk for osteoporosis. In a large Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses, individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week.
Additionally, when researchers combined the data from the Harvard studies with other studies, no association between calcium intake and fracture risk could be established. American adults may not need as much calcium as is currently recommended. In countries such as India, Japan, and Peru the incidence of bone fractures is very low despite the fact that they take in less than a third of the U.S. recommended calcium intake (for adults, ages 19 to 50).
According to this Harvard milk study conducted by David Ludwig, a professor and pediatrician, milk is only one of many sources of calcium. Calcium can be found in other food sources such as dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes. And though the dairy industry boasts the calcium-rich content of milk, studies show that we may need less calcium in our diets then once thought. And if that is true, the calcium we get from a diet rich in green leafy vegetables and legumes may be adequate.
So is milk truly necessary in your diet? Well in my research I found that it is extremely helpful but maybe not as necessary as we are made to believe. Would I advise one to stop drinking milk based on these findings, no. Milk mustache to your hearts content!