According to some, dairy (milk primarily) is pretty much the best food on the planet. After all, it’s essential for healthy bones, teeth, and skin, according to countless commercials and cereal boxes. In addition, some research shows that it may protect against heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Some pro-dairy organizations even argue that saturated fat from dairy is not harmful and may be good for you. It simply does a body good, right…?
Not so fast, according to numerous movies, books, and websites, some are dairy haters. They say dairy increases the risks of cancer and heart disease, that it is not necessary for bone health, and that it can cause a plethora of other ailments. In addition, they say it’s not “natural”– why would we consume the milk of another animal when no other animal does this?
So who is right?
Neither! Here is why:
1. Pro-Dairy Claim: Dairy is essential for good health, especially bone health.
a. This is false. Individuals in many cultures consume no dairy and live long, healthy lives. All beneficial components of milk can be found in other foods. Osteoporosis, in particular, is a multi-factorial disease that has numerous environmental and genetic factors. Dairy alone cannot prevent or cause osteoporosis; however, most research tends to show that dairy plays a preventative role.
2. Pro-Dairy Claim: Dairy protects against heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
a. Possibly. Some large population studies show that dairy protects against these diseases. However, other studies have shown no benefit. When looking at large population data studies, it is very difficult to tease out whether small differences are caused by the subject of the study (i.e., dairy) or by confounding variables (e.g., exercise, other things in the diet, etc).
3. Anti-Dairy Claim: It is not natural to consume the milk of another animal.
a. Really? Who decides what part of an animal we can consume? We can eat the meat, bone marrow, and liver, but the milk is off-limits? Just because no other animals are smart enough to do it means we shouldn’t? This is simply not a logical argument. However, some people are unable to consume dairy because they lack the enzyme that breaks down the sugar found in it. For those people, it IS not natural to consume dairy, but if you have this enzyme, dairy is just as “natural” as anything else you consume.
4. Anti-Dairy Claim: Increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
a. Once again, prove it. No controlled study has ever shown this. With all the anti-dairy support, there should be enough money to put together a few studies instead of referencing epidemiological data that is littered with so many confounding variables that it is tough to form much of a conclusion. Don’t forget that correlation especially a weak correlation, does not equal causation.
If you do not have an intolerance or allergy to milk, it is a nutritious food source, but not essential for life. If you do have an intolerance or dairy allergy, you probably should stay away from dairy and find alternative sources of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Be aware of sensational claims –most of the time the truth is somewhere in the middle and varies depending on the individual, their goals, and their body.