Is drinking milk healthy?

One questions that is frequently asked to me, especially by journalists, is whether drinking milk is healthy. This often relates to a number of underlying questions; What are the benefits of drinking milk? What are the risks of drinking milk? Do we need to consume milk at all? In this blog, I will give my perspective on these questions.

First of all, what are the benefits of drinking milk? If we look at a Western diet, a relative large portion of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc) and B vitamins (B2, B11 and B12) originates from dairy products. A number of them (especially calcium, vitamins B2 and B12) hardly originate from other food sources in an average diet. On top of that, the protein in milk is easily digestible and provides a large share of our essential amino acid intake. Especially in a Western diet, rich in grains (bread, pasta, etc), milk provides those essential amino acids that are low in grain, making them a good complementary combination.

But what about the risks of drinking milk? There is a wide range of potentially harmful components in milk. Just try to google this topic and you may be afraid of drinking milk ever again. But are these allegations correct? I previously dealt with two topics, hormones and antibiotics in separate blog posts. In both cases, the risks of drinking milk are simply not there.

Finally, do we need to consume milk at all? Here, I believe the answer is “no, but…”. Although milk contributes many nutrients, as mentioned above, there are alternative sources for these nutrients. At the same time, one should realize that there is no single replacement that contains all these nutrients. Even plant based (e.g. soy) drinks do not provide the full nutritional quality of milk, especially when it comes to amino acid complementarity. So dairy would need to be replaced by a range of other foods. So although this is technically possible, I believe it is rather complicated and would change the diet more extensively.

So, is drinking milk healthy? In my opinion, the answer generally is yes. In our diet, it contributes many essential nutrients and leads to a well-balanced diet.

Kasper Hettinga, September 2017

Author: Kasper Hettinga

Associate professor Dairy Science & Technology

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