Milk is a polarizing food these days. To drink it or to not drink it? For years, research has been published that supports both sides, and this year is no exception.
At the beginning of the year, Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard released a review in The New England Journal of Medicine that challenged the need for dairy in the diet. Currently, the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend the average person has three servings of dairy per day, however, Willett describes the country’s basis of calcium recommendations as “fundamentally flawed.” (Related: 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback)
Another review published this year in Nutrition Reviews by Elizabeth Jacobs, PhD, a professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health in Tucson, argues that dairy shouldn’t even be considered a separate food group on the dietary guidelines. Instead, the review suggests these types of foods be included in the protein category as an option people can opt to eat to help meet their daily protein requirements.
Neither of these reviews suggests that dairy products are harmful to overall health, though. In fact, Jacobs points out that people are naturally moving away from milk consumption and instead gravitating toward milk alternatives. Willett also mentions that dairy farming is especially rough on the environment and something that could exacerbate climate change even more.
Still, one study published this year indicates that dairy could potentially cause adverse health outcomes. The study, which was commissioned by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the World Cancer Research Fund, revealed that women who drank between two and three cups of cow’s milk daily increased their individual risk of breast cancer by as much as 80% in comparison with women who drink soy milk. The average risk a woman has of developing breast cancer is about 12%, so, if she drinks 16 to 24 ounces of milk a day her risk hikes up to 92%. (Related: What Happens to Your Body When You Can’t Have Dairy)
However, there is also research from this year that encourages dairy consumption for its supply of vital nutrients and health benefits. More recently, a study funded by the National Dairy Council and published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found that consuming dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk proteins may actually have neutral to beneficial effects on inflammation. Chris Cifelli, Ph.D., VP of Nutrition Research at National Dairy Council, and one of the authors of the study, adds that milk offers nine essential nutrients, including vitamin D and potassium.
Our thoughts? There is no right or wrong answer. As is the case with most foods, it largely comes down to personal choice. Ask yourself these questions: How do you feel when you eat dairy and how do you believe dairy negatively or positively impacts the body?
For more, read up on 5 Warning Signs You’re Drinking Too Much Milk.