Milk is a staple of nutrition in American fridges. It’s viewed more as a food source than a drink because of its high amount of good-for-you fats, calcium and protein. Recently, it’s become a topic of debate in the food industry. With so many opinions, stemming from tradition and science alike, you have to wonder, is milk actually good for you?
If only the answer were that simple. The best answer is: sure, yeah, maybe. It’s subjective and complex. There are several factors leading up to a final say on milk, so let’s break them down, beginning with what it is.
Science and chemistry: Cow’s milk is 87 percent water. In its original or raw state, it contains a protein called casein. It also has calcium, magnesium, vitamins, like A, D, E and K, and fats. Human breast milk is similar to cow’s milk in its composition of lactose. In infancy, babies have high levels of lactase in their bodies, which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose (two sugars). After about age two, children stop producing lactase as a natural adaptation to getting milk’s nutrients from other sources like solid food. It’s a biological evolution with a genetic origin. Throughout several generations, humans are slowly evolving that gene to stick around after infancy and last through all life stages.
Cow’s milk is pasteurized for purchase, which means it’s heated up to a certain temperature long enough to kill harmful bacteria, then immediately cooled. But not all milk is created equally. (via ILRI )
The cow’s diet: It’s either grain-based or grass-fed, the latter being more appropriate for the cow’s digestion and production of nutrients transferred into the milk itself. But it’s more expensive and produces milk more slowly. Click here to learn how to choose your milk.
Supply and demand = hormones: Some milk production farms provide the cows with hormones (rBGH or Bovine Growth Hormone) to boost the cows’ milk production. The milk can have something called an insulin-like growth factor, which has been linked to breast cancer. Yikes. But the FDA insists those hormones are not physiologically active in humans.
Hold the sugar. Many milk production companies add sugar for taste, especially flavored milks. If you look at the label, it should read 14 grams of sugar per serving, and all of that is from lactose. Anything exceeding 14 grams is added.
Calcium for strong bones. The first image that pops into your head when someone says “calcium” is probably a huge glass of milk. Yet, there isn’t enough calcium in a serving of milk to actually make a difference on bone health. Calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens are an excellent alternative to calcium.
>> Read more: New Study Says Milk May Lead to Bone Fracture
Confused yet? So far, the verdict on the milk is based on opinion and regulation. What you end up drinking is a result of decidedly legal practices. Pair that with passionate populations from both sides of the spectrum.
Milk and obesity. PRO: Two studies concluded that a high intake of dairy fats actually reduced the risk of obesity compared to a low intake. CON: Growth hormones in processed milk can be absorbed by the body and translated into fat storage and weight gain. This goes back to the idea that hormone-made milk can affect hormone levels in humans.
Balancing your diet. PRO: Dairy is a long-standing part of the food pyramid. It provides fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and energy-giving calories. CON: Recommended servings of milk per day can increase intake of saturated fats, which could increase the bad cholesterol.
Wait, what? It seems like cow’s milk is good for you only as long as it’s bad for you. The arguments for and against it cancel each other out leaving it up to choice. The best way to come to your own conclusion about milk is educating yourself on where your milk comes from and what role you want it to play in your diet. One glass of cow’s milk a day won’t hurt you, but it won’t really help you either. Other dairy products like yogurt and kefir contain naturally occurring probiotics, so those would be a healthy dairy alternative if you’re looking to avoid added calories and unwanted fats.
Final answer? It’s not so bad. After all, there’s something so satisfying about a cold glass of milk. Everything in moderation, right?
>> Read more: Almond Milk