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The case against milk
Some people choose to not consume dairy in order to follow a vegan diet, which means avoiding any foods that come from an animal, including milk, cheese, eggs and honey.
Others may cut dairy out of their diet as an acne treatment, or when following the popular "Paleo" diet.
Humans are the only species who continue to drink milk after being weaned.
American food journalist Mark Bittman challenges the notion that milk should be the first food you turn to for good bone health. In a New York Times article, he states that:
"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.
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.
The [US] federal government not only supports the milk industry by spending more money on dairy than any other item in the school lunch program, but by contributing free propaganda as well as subsidies amounting to well over $4 billion in the last 10 years."
Allergies, intolerances and sensitivity
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the enzyme to break down the sugar found in milk for proper digestion. Those with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, flatulence or diarrhea when consuming milk and milk products.
When consuming milk products, those with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, flatulence or diarrhea.
Drinking lactose-free milk, which has added enzymes to help with lactose digestion, may ease or eliminate these symptoms. Levels of lactose intolerance vary per individual. One person may be able to tolerate aged dairy with low levels of lactose such as yogurt and hard cheeses. However, another may be unable to tolerate even a splash of milk in their coffee.
A milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance and refers to an abnormal immunologic reaction in which the body's immune system produces an allergic antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody, which results in allergy symptoms such as wheezing, diarrhea or vomiting.
Those with an actual milk allergy must strictly avoid milk and dairy in any form. Symptoms of a milk allergy can include asthma, eczema, gastrointestinal distress, as well as bleeding, pneumonia, and even anaphylaxis (shock).
Different from both allergies and lactose intolerance, some people have sensitivity to the casein (a type of protein) in milk. This sensitivity can trigger inflammation throughout the body, which may produce symptoms such as sinus congestion, acne flares, skin rash and migraines.
Most people can consume dairy without any of these issues, but if you suspect that dairy could be causing some of these symptoms, seek out a dietitian to conduct food sensitivity testing or to help you determine whether following a dairy free diet may improve your condition.
On its own, milk is high-nutrient food containing naturally occurring sugars. However, many manufacturers load flavored milks with added sugar, syrups, artificial sweeteners, binders and unrecognizable ingredients.
Always read the ingredient label. Manufacturers can stick whatever they want on a package to make it look healthy, but they cannot hide the actual ingredients. All dairy products will contain some natural sugars, but look at the ingredient label to make sure that no added sugar or sweeteners have been added.
Consuming too much potassium or phosphorus, both of which are high in milk, can be harmful to those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium or phosphorus from the blood, it could be fatal.
High calcium intakes have been linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer in some studies. However, others have found no associations between prostate cancer and calcium intake.2
Your best bet
If you do decide that consuming milk is right for you, what kind should you choose?
Recent studies from the United Kingdom show that organic milk from pasture-raised cattle has higher rates of beneficial fatty acids than conventional dairy.
Conventionally raised dairy cattle (most of the milk available is from cattle that are considered conventionally raised/non-organic) are fed primarily grain and often have limited access to roam and graze.
If the cows have access to healthier food, you also get the benefit when you consume products from that cow (meat, cheese, milk, etc.).
YouTube video on the benefits of grass fed cattle:
As you can see, the answer to whether milk is good or bad for health is not definite and varies depending on the person and their specific dietary needs.
Maintaining proper nutrition is a personalized undertaking. What makes sense for one person may not be in the best interest of the next. If you have questions about whether milk or dairy products are a good choice for you, please consult a registered dietitian.