Milk: Is it Good or Bad for You?
17 September 2021
Although milk and milk products have been considered healthy food for a fairly long time, recent years have seen much debate on its consumption. There is considerable skepticism about the benefits of dairy products. Hence, people have started to prefer alternate products derived from rice, soybean, almonds, oats, etc., especially in developed countries. This has also led to increasing research on dairy product consumption and its correlation to possible risk of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases.
Interestingly, the results are often contradictory. Following are some of the diseases and conditions that have been researched, with a correlation to the consumption of milk.
· Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Milk, being rich in high-quality protein, facilitates weight loss and reduces body fat mass, thereby reducing the risk of childhood obesity. Milk, as well as fermented products, such as cheese and yogurt, are associated with a low risk of type 2 diabetes.
· Cardiovascular diseases
Low-fat dairy products, that are calcium-rich, are reported to lower blood pressure. High-fat dairy products increase levels of good cholesterol in our body, although there is an associated risk of increasing ‘bad’ cholesterol levels too. Large studies and meta-analysis data suggest an inverse relationship between dairy intake and risk of stroke as well as hypertension.
· Bone health and osteoporosis
Milk has considerable nutrients that enhance bone health, and this is something that has been reinforced in our minds from time to time. All the nutrients required for healthy bone growth (protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, vitamin K, with the exception of vitamin D) are present in milk. Milk continues to be a positive factor for bone health in children and adolescents.
However, the process is much more complex in an adult body. Therefore, there is limited evidence with respect to the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
The reports of different studies are quite contradictory. Some studies show a positive correlation, while others do not. There is considerable speculation that high consumption of dairy products leads to a high risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers. However, there is a lack of direct and conclusive evidence.
Whether milk is good or bad, it cannot be denied that the market for plant-based milk substitutes has expanded. Hence, it is equally important to analyze the health benefits and nutritional quality of these substitutes. There is considerable variation in nutritional properties, depending on the kind of raw materials used, as well as the subsequent processing, fortification, and packaging.
· Soy drink is quite a popular substitute, and for good reason. Its protein content is quite near to that of cow milk. The protein content of other substitutes is quite low, even those that are derived from rice, oats, and almonds.
· Plant-based products are naturally low in saturated fat content, and milk substitutes are no exception. Despite that, some of these products show higher energy content than milk, because of the presence of oil and added sugars.
· This also has risk associated with it, as high sugar content correlates to obesity, high blood pressure, and numerous other health complications. If so, then it defeats the original purpose of resorting to milk substitutes.
· They might yield more energy, but plant products fail to supplement the consumer with key micronutrients like iodine, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium.
These points make it increasingly clear that there is a need for more evidence and research on both milk and milk substitutes, before either is completely dropped for the other. Therefore, it is illogical to warn the general lactose-tolerant and non-allergic population against milk consumption.