For all the dinner table differences across America, a glass of milk—and the requirement that it must be finished before leaving the table—seems to be a constant, at least it was when I was growing up. Though the “Got Milk?” campaign wasn’t yet released when I was a kid, it was widely believed that milk was integral in building strong bones and teeth. It was a parent’s liquid solution to good nutrition when kids wouldn’t touch the veggies.
But although the bland white stuff seems as uncontroversial as apple pie, milk has its vehement detractors. Opponents of milk, including the Anti-Dairy Coalition and Notmilk.com, claim that cow’s milk should be for calves, not people. They point to dairy products as a source of many evils, including allergies, heart disease, and cancer.
The pro-dairy contingent, on the other hand, lauds dairy and milk for their calcium content and bone-building benefits.
So, who’s correct? It can be hard to wade through the cow pies to reason what’s right, and the evidence is far from clear.
There’s no doubt that dairy products, and milk in particular, are packed with good stuff. It’s high in protein and calcium, and most milk products are supplemented with Vitamin D and A. But although the United States Department of Agriculture (who has the conflicting role of both regulating and promoting dairy) recommends three servings of milk a day, this may be too much. Although most of us immediately equate milk with strong bones, dairy products have perhaps been oversold in this arena.
While it’s well known that our bones need calcium, some studies suggest that high calcium intake doesn’t necessarily lower a person’s risk for osteoporosis or fractures. A Harvard study found that people who drank two or more glasses of milk had no greater protection from breaking a bone than those who drank a glass or less a week.