ISLAMABAD-Many people include milk in their diet, but few meet the daily recommended quantities. Experts now urge us to rethink these recommendations and explain why milk may not be as healthful as we think. According to recent research, milk may not be as good for our health as we once believed.

Dairy milk’s image has taken a bit of a beating, with the likes of oat, almond, and soy milk being hailed as environmentally friendly alternatives.

But for many people of all ages, cow’s milk remains a firm favourite —sloshed over cereal, as a frothy companion to coffee, or enjoyed as a bedtime drink.

The United States 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that individuals aged nine years and over consume three cup-equivalents of fat-free and low-fat (1%) dairy products. According to the guideline, put together by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture, this includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy milk.

Strength of evidence is ‘limited’

The debate about milk is, in fact, not a new one.

Back in 2014, Connie M Weaver, emeritus professor and formerly the Head of the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, wrote an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighting the lack of good quality evidence in support of dairy guidelines.

In her article, which was, in part, funded by Danone Institute International, Weaver alludes to the historical reasons behind milk’s importance to our diet.

“Dairy foods play a central role in most dietary guidance recommendations. They provide a package of essential nutrients and bioactive constituents for health that are difficult to obtain in diets with no or limited use of dairy products,” Weaver writes.

Human health and the environment

Dr. Walter C. Willett and Dr. David S. Ludwig, who both hold positions at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, discuss the merits of milk. They also pose questions about the possible risk that consuming it may carry.

Both Dr. Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition, and Dr. Ludwig, an endocrinologist, declare no relevant conflicts of interest or industry sponsorship for their article. Medical News Today asked Dr. Willett why he is interested in studying the relationship between milk consumption and health.

Studies have ‘serious’ implications

In their article, the professors highlight the contributions that milk may make to the multitude of aspects of our health.

Bone health is probably the most familiar to many people. Milk is a ready source of calcium, a mineral central to developing and maintaining good bone function. Yet, the studies that set the daily recommendations for how much milk and by extension calcium, we should consume, were very small.

Weight, heart health, and cancer

Dr. Willett and Dr. Ludwig then turned their attention to a host of other aspects of our health that milk consumption may or may not affect.

Several studies have investigated whether milk consumption is beneficial for weight management in adults and children. The professors argue that these showed no “clear effects.”

Should we drink milk or not?

When MNT asked Dr. Willett whether he thinks people should consider avoiding milk, he explained: “In our review, we concluded that milk is not an essential part of a healthful diet, but consumption of modest amounts is compatible with good health. Thus, we suggested a possible range for health of zero to about two servings a day for adults.”

“I think having flexibility is good because different people have different preferences for many reasons,” he continued.

“For environmental reasons, keeping this to about one serving a day on average would be important. This is actually not very different from current consumption, which is about 1.6 servings a day; going to three servings a day as has been recommended would be a radical change and is not necessary,” Dr. Willett concluded.

“Milk is deeply woven into the culture of many populations in cold climates because this was a way to provide nutrition year-round when many other foods were not available. In most of the world, people do not consume milk as adults, and it is not essential.”

MNT also spoke to Adda Bjarnadóttir, who is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Iceland and our in-house nutrition expert, about Dr. Willet’s and Dr. Ludwig’s article and all things milk.

‘The dose makes the potion’

What kind of research would Bjarnadóttir like to see in the future to help clarify any links between milk and our health?

“There’s already a good amount of research available on milk and dairy, and it’s one of those things that may be hard to study and get concrete results,” she explained.