Should you drink milk? If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen before that before I became a dietitian, I was all about that #alternativemilk life. I never liked the flavor (or smell) of milk growing up. I had heard alternative milks were healthier (headlines, not actual data), anyway, so it was an easy move for me in my high school years as they became more popular and my interest in nutrition grew. For years I would only use soymilk, then when almond milk hit the shelves I used it instead.
I won’t ever forget the moment I was sitting in a sports nutrition lecture by then-Dallas Cowboys dietitian Amy Goodson and she showed this infographic on milk versus alternative milks (below). Whoah, game changer. That’s when I finally started using cow’s milk.
What else I think is interesting, is that although I thought cow’s milk wasn’t really “good” for you prior to that lecture, I thought Greek yogurt was. I see that pattern in my clients as well. Why is it that, as health-conscious consumers, we have this idea that cow’s milk is not good but Greek yogurt is? They’re both dairy products and offer a lot of the same nutrients. To me I think it comes down to marketing and media hype. It was so valuable to me as a consumer, not just a dietitian, to learn why milk is actually really fantastic for you.Is cow's #milk good for you? Surprisingly #good details here. Click To Tweet
What’s Good About Cow’s Milk?
Cow’s milk is super nutrient-dense – a lot more nutrient-dense than any of the other alternative “milks.” It has 10 essential nutrients: protein, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin, magnesium, niacin and vitamins A, D, and B12. Five of these are “shortfall nutrients” (meaning we don’t get enough of them) according to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans: magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D (1).
So, I don’t mean it’s “kind of” a good source of nutrients. I mean it’s a really good source of nutrients. Sometimes I hear people say things like, “Well broccoli has calcium!” Yes… but it would take you 22 cups of broccoli to equal the amount of calcium in 3 servings of dairy daily. I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling 22 (insert T. Swift tune) CUPS of broccoli a day.It takes 22 cups of broccoli to equal the amount of calcium in 3 servings of #dairy daily. Click To Tweet
Research shows that diets including dairy correspond with decreased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and obesity (1).
Are Other Milks Even… Milk?
Technically, no. Alternative “milks” aren’t true milk. Milk is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows” (2). Alternative milks don’t match the FDA description or hold the same nutritional qualities as dairy products, and in fact the FDA has been called upon by members of Congress and the National Milk Producers Federation demanding alternative milks use a name other than “milk” to limit consumer confusion (3, 4).
People call alternative milks “milk” because they identify with using them like milk. They pour it on cereal or use it as a base in a soup, use it in baking mixes, etc. But, alternative milks do not offer the same nutritional value of cow’s milk. Because most people drinking alternative milks assume they’re getting the same benefits of cow’s milk (which they aren’t), the argument for not allowing the term “milk” to be used for alternative milks might actually be valid. From my personal experience, most clients are shocked to learn the nutritional value of alternative milks doesn’t measure up.
What About Allergies or Intolerances?
If you have lactose-intolerance, I’d suggest a lactose-free milk, like Lactaid, Fairlife (my personal favorite and what we drink in my house) or Mootopia. If you don’t have an actual diagnosed lactose-intolerance but feel like you have the same symptoms, it could be you have difficulty digesting A1 beta casein and you could try the brand A2 Milk, which is made from only A2 beta casein (totally geeky and I’ll tell you more about that product in another post).
If you have a milk protein allergy, no you should not drink milk or have dairy products.
Final Verdict – Should You Drink Milk?
From a nutritional standpoint (so long as you do not have a milk protein allergy and consuming animal products falls in line with your belief system) – I would suggest yes. However, you are definitely entitled to your own decisions! You may need to consider a calcium supplement and/or a vitamin D supplement if you choose to not include dairy in your diet. If you don’t like milk, then yogurt and cheese (I’d suggest mostly using part-skim cheese, like mozzarella) also count as dairy servings.
I would suggest most of your dairy servings be low-fat or non-fat to limit saturated fat and keep calories in check. If you prefer full-fat dairy, limit the amount and compensate other places throughout the day to keep calories and saturated fat balanced.
What If I Still Don’t Want to Drink Milk?
I would say the second runner up in terms of nutritional value would be a fortified soymilk. Soymilk naturally contains protein and is likewise high in calcium (just less of the other vitamins/minerals found in cow’s milk). Nut milk would come in third place. If you prefer a nut milk (or can’t do soy), I’d get one that has added protein if you’re intending it to be a protein source at your meal, especially breakfast. I saw Silk released this Protein Nutmilk, which is made with pea protein. Remember regular almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and rice milk don’t have any protein.
In any case, whether or not you choose to include dairy in your diet, make sure you eat lots of plant foods (fruits and vegetables) at every meal including a wide variety of different colors, and a variety of lean proteins in your diet!
I hope this was a helpful for you! Let me know what I can answer for you next!
Disclosures: None. All opinions are genuine and my own. This post was not created in partnership with any product or brand.
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Accessed May 2017. Available here.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Accessed May 2017. Available here.
- National Milk Producers Federation. May 17: State Milk Regulators Ask FDA for Assistance on Assuring Proper Use of Dairy Product Terminology. Accessed May 2017. Available here.
- Letter to the FDA, December 2016. Accessed 2017. Available here.