Is Milk Healthy?
Does Milk Do a Body Good?
Do You Really Need All That Calcium?
We have been researching and writing about nutrition now for over a decade and yet it has only been in the last few years since we decided to dig deep into dairy and get to the bottom of whether this is a food group we all should be going out of our way to make sure we get three servings of a day or whether we should eliminate it completely. And, since we have received so many emails from our readers over the years asking specific questions about dairy that we simply did not know the answer to, we thought we would do some research, and help answer a few questions…
Our Most Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Even though dairy contains a lot of calcium, is it true that the animal protein in milk and cheese pulls calcium from our bones?
Yes. Dairy foods are complex mixtures; they have some components that promote calcium retention, such as magnesium, vitamin D, and potassium, but they have other components, primarily animal protein, that promote calcium excretion through the urine. (1) Epidemiological studies actually link osteoporosis not to low calcium intake but to other nutritional factors, primarily a diet high in animal protein, which cause excess calcium loss. It is interesting that, although all plant foods do contain protein, plant protein is not associated with increased calcium excretion. (2)
2. Does drinking milk prevent osteoporosis?
No. In fact, studies show the exact opposite. People who live in parts of the world where cow’s milk is not a staple of the diet are less likely to develop osteoporosis than in places such as the United States, where dairy is a dietary staple. Countries that have the highest consumption of dairy happen to have the highest incidence of hip fractures. A major finding from the Nurses’ Health Study, a prospective study of 121,701 women ages 30 to 55, was that milk consumption does not protect against hip or forearm fractures (3)
3. Are there any good nondairy, plant sources of calcium?
Yes! One cup of cow’s milk provides 291 milligrams of calcium, but remember, not all of that calcium is actually absorbed or used by your body because milk comes packaged with animal protein. There are so many other nutrient-dense plant foods containing comparable amounts of absorbable forms of calcium. Dark leafy greens are one of the most outstanding sources of calcium because they result in far greater net calcium retention than you’d get from dairy, and they come jam-packed with all sorts of nutritional perks in the form of fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins for a fraction of the calories found in dairy! Dark leafy greens are also one of the very best sources of vitamin K, a vitamin that does not get nearly the attention it deserves for its vital role in improving bone health. In fact, in the Nurses’ Health Study, women who got more than 109 micrograms of vitamin K a day were 30 percent less likely to break a hip than women who got less than that amount. (4)
But back to the calcium: Although 1 cup of milk contains 291 milligrams of calcium, did you know 1 cup of cooked collards has 358 milligrams of calcium? Or that 1 cup of cooked spinach has 244 milligrams of calcium? One cup of cooked kale has 94 milligrams, 1 cup of cooked mustard greens has 150 milligrams, and 1 cup cooked Swiss chard has 102 milligrams. The point is, milk is not the only source of calcium.
Note: Living a Clean Cuisine lifestyle means you should be eating one huge serving of greens every day anyway, so you will automatically be getting plenty of absorbable calcium from eating dark leafy greens. Other foods such as beans, tofu, sesame seeds, almonds, bok choy, broccoli, and even raisins and figs contain calcium. Regardless of the message the National Dairy Council has tried to convey, you do not need to drink even one sip of milk to get the calcium your body needs.
4. Does milk naturally contain vitamin D?
No, the vitamin D added to milk is not naturally occurring like the vitamin D you get from fatty fish, egg yolks, or mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light, and it’s not nearly as much as your body can manufacture readily from sunlight. This is an important distinction because it is always best to get nutrients naturally from food (or, in the case of vitamin D, from the sun) rather than from food that is artificially fortified. The vitamin D you get from milk can easily be replaced by a vitamin D supplement and a little bit of sun exposure. And you can eat some fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms too.
5. Is it true that 75 to 80 percent of the world’s adults are lactose intolerant?
Yes. Lactose is a sugar consisting of glucose attached to galactose; when you are a baby you have an enzyme called lactase that can break lactose apart but, after the age of weaning the vast majority of people in the world lose that enzyme and are therefore lactose intolerant.
6. Is it true that dairy is the most common food allergy?
Yes! In fact, cow’s milk protein, not nuts, is the leading food allergy in children. (5) Cow’s milk consumption has been linked to environmental allergies in general too. (6)
7. Has milk consumption been linked to autoimmune diseases and cancer?
Yes. A number of studies point to the idea that the proteins in milk can cause the body to have an immune reaction and make antibodies to the milk protein. The link between type 1 diabetes is well documented in respected medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine. (7) In the medical literature, when autoimmune diseases are studied in relation to nutrition, the consumption of animal foods, especially cow’s milk, is associated with increased risk. Milk consumption is also linked with various cancers. For example, nine separate studies have linked prostate cancer with high consumption of milk, including a 2010 study in the journal Prostate, showing more than a doubling of risk. (8) Cow’s milk consumption has also been linked to multiple sclerosis. (9)
8. Is it true that one glass of milk can contain 180 million white blood cells (pus cells) and still be considered safe to drink?
This is downright gross, but true. White blood cells (pus cells) are found naturally in dairy because they are important for the immune system development of the baby cows that are supposed to drink the milk. Humans aren’t really supposed to drink cow’s milk, and the white blood cells don’t do anything to support human health or the human immune system.
9. Is it true that many nonorganic dairy cows are given a hormone called bovine somatotropin (BST), also known as rBGH, to increase milk production?
Yes, and this hormone makes the cows sick and contributes to infections such as mastitis. The sick cows are then given antibiotics, which are then passed through into the milk.
10. Is it true that the vast majority of dairy cows, including organically raised dairy cows, are fed a deviant diet of grain and are not free to pasture and graze the way nature intended?
Yes, and the health of the cow and the nutrients in her milk are directly affected by the foods she eats. Cows that don’t eat the foods nature intended produce poor-quality and nutritionally inferior milk, even if they are organic cows.
Our Conclusion on Dairy
Our conclusion is that although there are nutrients found in milk that your body does need, such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, potassium, and protein, milk is not exactly the cleanest source for these nutrients, and you definitely don’t need to drink milk to get them!
There are far better sources of all of these nutrients than dairy. Dairy foods are not a nutritional requirement. And if you are concerned about preventing osteoporosis, maintaining a healthy weight, and boosting your intake of bone-building nutrients such as vitamin K and calcium, one of the most important things you should do is swap the slogan Got Milk? for Got Greens? Instead of making an effort to consume three servings of dairy a day, try getting just one or two large servings of dark leafy greens each day. You will do your body, and your bones, a big favor!
Dairy-Free Milk and Cream Substitutes That Actually Taste Good!
Once you become convinced that cow’s milk is not the superfood the National Dairy Council would like you to believe, and once you decide to give it up, you are left with the issue of what to substitute it with.
Soy milk and almond milk are not exactly the tastiest substitutes for dairy primarily because commercial soy milk can often have a distinctly nondairy funky taste that can be hard to get used to and commercial almond milk is simply too watered down to give you the creamy satisfaction you get from dairy.
We’ve found the best-tasting substitutes for cow’s milk are as follows:
- For cream we use homemade cashew cream (recipe in our Clean Cuisine book) or hemp cream (recipe also in our Clean Cuisine book), both of which take less than 5 minutes to make. Cashew cream is particularly good in soups and cream-based recipes such as those you’ll find in Part Four.
- For convenience, for adding to cereal, or for baking, we use commercially bought hemp milk. Hemp milk has a favorable omega-3 fat to omega-6 fat profile and also has more “good” fat and therefore a creamier texture than soy milk or almond milk. And no funky aftertaste either! You can buy hemp milk at the supermarket in the non-refrigerated section near the boxed soy milks, but you can make it at home (recipe in our Clean Cuisine book.)
- For smoothies we use nut milks made from raw nuts like macadamia nuts, almonds, and pecans. These are blended with water in our high-speed blender. You can also try the following 1-minute recipe:
1 Minute Nut Milk
Note: This recipe works best with “creamy” nuts such as macadamia nuts, pecans, and walnuts.
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender (such as a Luvele) and blend until smooth and creamy. Store nut milk in a covered container in the fridge for 2 or 3 days. Shake well before using.
Learn more about the best plant based milk alternatives.
Why We Still Eat (a Little Bit) of Real Cheese & Real Butter
We will be honest, we still do eat REAL cheese & REAL butter from pastured cows—but we eat just very small amounts.
Why do we still eat cheese and butter? There is no other reason other than that cheese and butter taste good. Really, really good. Just a teeny bit of butter can do wonders for transforming vegetables and a sprinkling of gourmet cheese on top of a bowl of whole grains, beans and vegetables can totally make the dish.
But, please understand that we do not eat cheese and butter because we think they are healthy food choices; we know they are not. Instead, we look at these delicious foods as a delicacy that should be consumed in extreme moderation.
We think that if you eat healthfully 95 percent of the time then eating a little bit of splurge foods such as cheese and butter is not going to be the end of the world.
Now, if you can totally live without any dairy at all then more power to you! We just haven’t been able to do it ourselves. But again, we keep the cheese portions very small.
Clean Nut Cheese
We love nut-cheeses, especially when made with cashews! However, many brands are filled with emulsifiers, and unnecessary additives that make them anything but healthy.
Luckily, the demand for truly clean health food has risen, and brands that offer these products are becoming much more prevalent. Here are our favorite, most-trusted nut cheese brands!
TreeLine offers a large variety of different types of cashew-based vegan cheeses, and commits to avoiding all unnecessary additives like emulsifiers, or starches. This brand’s flavor is superior, and is my go-to nut cheese brand. Find their products here!
This is another brand that we love and trust. Not only do they have great spreadable cheeses, but they also offer an incredible vegan, cashew-based butter! Click here to see what they offer.
Dr-Cow nut cheeses re made from…you guessed it…. nuts! A 100 percent organic, living raw, vegan, and gourmet alternative to dairy cheese, Dr-Cow produces a wide variety of artisan fresh and aged nut cheeses that truly can hold their own against the very best gourmet dairy cheese. (Aged macadamia nut cheese is among our favorites). Dr-Cow cheeses are made with absolutely no preservatives, stabilizers, artificial ingredients, or additives of any kind. They are a true treat indeed. You can order Dr-Cow cheeses online by clicking here.
Pin this graphic for later!
Living Milk Free with Clean Cuisine No-Milk Shakes
In our Clean Cuisine book, we show you many different ways to live dairy-free deliciously. Our creamy “No Milk Shake” recipes are one of our biggest secrets. Made with raw nuts or hemp seeds, our “No Milk Shake” recipes have the rich and creamy texture of full-fat milk or cream but they are 100% guilt free and incredibly nutritious (and kids love them!) They taste like a milk shake and they have zero added sugar—all sweetness comes from “whole” fruit and dates.
- U. S. Barzel and L. K. Massey, “Excess Dietary Protein Can Adversely Affect Bone,” Journal of Nutrition 128, no. 6 (1998): 1051–55.
- D. E. Sellmeyer, K. L. Stone, A. Sebastian, and S. R. Cummings, “A High Ratio of Dietary Animal to Vegetable Protein Increases the Rate of Bone Loss and the Risk of Fracture in Postmenopausal Women. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 73, no. 1 (2001): 118–22.
- D. Feskanich, W. C. Willett, M. J. Stampfer, and G. A. Colditz, “Milk, Dietary Calcium, and Bone Fractures in Women: A 12-Year Prospective Study,” American Journal of Public Health 87, no. 6 (1997): 992–97.
- D. Geskanich, P. Weber, W. C. Willett, et al., “Vitamin K Intake and Hip Fractures in Women: A Prospective Study,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69, no. 1 (1999): 74–79.
- 15 A. Host, “Frequency of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Childhood,” Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology 89, no. 6, suppl. 1 (2002): 33–37.
- 16 A. M. Collins, “Xenogeneic Antibodies and Atopic Disease,” Lancet 1, no. 8588 (1988): 734–37.
- M. Knip, S. M. Virtanen, K. Seppä, et al., “Dietary Intervention in Infancy and Later Signs of Beta-Cell Autoimmunity,” New England Journal of Medicine 363, no. 20 (2010): 1900–08.
- S. Raimondi, J. B. Mabrouk, B. Shatenstein, et al., “Diet and Prostate Cancer Risk with Specific Focus on Dairy Products and Dietary Calcium: A Case-Control Study,” Prostate 70, no. 1 (2010): 1051–65.
- D. Malosse, H. Perron, A. Sasco, and J. M. Seigneurin, “Correlation between Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Multiple Sclerosis Prevalence: A Worldwide Study,” Neuroepidemiology 11, nos. 4–6 (1992): 304–12.