June is National Dairy Month! I am sure that you all know how much of a bad rap dairy has gotten over the years. From it being promoted constantly in the “Got Milk?” commercials to now people discouraging dairy and encouraging plant-based drinks instead. Many of these are people like naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, health coaches, celebrities, influencers, and even principals (yes, I had a principal of an elementary school tell me that he does not want dairy being promoted at the school in any way).
I recently promoted dairy at Newtown Middle and High Schools and loved the students asking me their questions and getting more information about dairy. I decided to take some of their questions and answer them for you guys to understand what the deal is with dairy!
Are there hormones added to milk?
Simple answer: No.
Complex answer: Cows use hormones that they naturally produce for their proper function just like us, humans. These hormones can naturally be found in many different types of foods that we consume, whether it is plant or animal-based. While there are no hormones added to milk, some cows are treated with a manufactured and FDA regulated version of a naturally-occurring hormone called Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rbST). (We produce the human type of this hormone in our own bodies.)
This treatment helps cows to increase their milk production. The level of this hormone in milk is not significantly higher from cows treated with rBGH. Since this hormone is not active in our own bodies, even by drinking milk, it is not expected for there to be any unwanted health effects. There is rbST-free milk on the market which is from cows that have not been treated with any supplemental hormone.
Are there antibiotics in milk?
Simple answer: No.
Complex answer: Before milk is even packaged, it is tested for antibiotics. It is illegal to sell milk with any trace of antibiotics. Cows get sick just as we do, therefore sometimes they need antibiotics for treatment. When a cow is given antibiotics, her milk is thrown out until there is no evidence of the antibiotics in the milk. Milk is one of the most regulated foods on the market. You may see milk that says “antibiotic-free” on the label. The price of that milk may be more expensive than the other brands just because it has that label on it, but don’t fall for it! ALL MILK IS ANTIBIOTIC-FREE!
Should I be drinking raw or unpasteurized milk?
Simple answer: No! Definitely not!
Complex answer: Milk is pasteurized in order to kill all harmful pathogens that may be found in milk before we consume it. These pathogens can include E. coli and salmonella. This process does not affect the taste or nutritional value of the milk. If you choose to consume raw or unpasteurized milk, you are putting yourself at risk of infecting your body with one of these pathogens that could even lead to death. Please only drink pasteurized milk!
Should I be drinking organic milk?
Simple answer: That is up to you. Organic and regular conventional milk provide the same amount of nutrients.
Complex answer: All milk produced in the US has to follow the same standards for quality, purity, and sanitation. If milk is labeled as organic, it means that the cows were not treated with supplemental hormones, they were not given certain medications to treat any illness, they were given access to the pasture for at least 120 days, and they are given only food grown without pesticides or commercial fertilizers. In order to receive the USDA organic seal, farmers must go through a rigorous certification process. Because of that, many conventional farmers follow the same set of guidelines as organic farmers, but choose to not go through the process of obtaining the seal. Organic milk and conventional milk have the same exact nutrition label for the nine essential nutrients (protein, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorous, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, vitamin D, vitamin A). Conventional food is equally as safe as organically produced food, however many people buy organic milk for ethical and environmental reasons. Remember that many conventional farmers follow the same rules as organic dairy farmers so before you decide which milk to buy, you may need to do some research on the farm!
What plant-based milk should I drink if I am allergic or lactose-intolerant?
Simple answer: You have to choose which one is best for you based on taste and nutrient composition. If you are lactose-intolerant, you can still buy lactose-free milk which has all of the nutrients as regular milk!
Complex answer: It is recommended to consume 3 servings of dairy daily. One serving is an 8-ounce glass of milk (any variety: flavored, whole, 2%, skim, organic, lactose-free), 1.5 ounces of cheese, and 1 8-oz cup of yogurt. If you are lactose-intolerant, lactose-free milk is always an option. The lactose in milk is pre-digested by a protein that helps us digest it easier. Hard cheeses also do not contain any lactose because of how they are manufactured. Yogurt, especially Greek, contains very little lactose as well. If you consume a dairy product when you are lactose-intolerant, make sure you listen to your body and see how it responds to the product. If it feels okay, then you can keep consuming it! Many people react differently to different sources of dairy.
If you are allergic to milk or dairy, there are plenty of options for you to get the same nutrients. Cow’s milk has 9 essential nutrients that are difficult to get in other places. Fortified soy milk has 5 of those nutrients, fortified almond drink has 4, coconut drink has 2, and fortified rice drink has 4. Soy milk has the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, while the other options have 1 gram or less. Of the plant-based option, coconut is the most expensive and almond is the cheapest. When you choose which plant-based drink to buy, remember to choose the unsweetened and non-flavored version!
What are the benefits of milk?
Calcium helps to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. It helps to promote normal blood pressure and reduces the risks of osteoporosis and stress fractures.
Vitamin D helps to absorb the calcium that we need in our bodies.
Phosphorous also aids in keeping our bones healthy and strong with calcium and vitamin D.
Riboflavin helps us to convert our food into energy and helps in the development of our nervous system.
Protein is the building blocks for our bodies. It helps build and maintain lean muscle.
Vitamin B12 helps with the central nervous system and helps build red blood cells.
Niacin helps convert nutrients into energy and helps our enzymes function properly.
Vitamin A helps with vision, skin, and our immune system.
Pantothenic acid also helps to convert food into energy and helps us use fats and protein.
Comparing the nutrients in milk to other sources, one 8-ounce serving of cow’s milk has as much protein as 1 1/2 medium eggs, as much calcium as 10 cups of raw spinach, as much riboflavin as 1/3 cup of whole almonds, as much niacin as 20 cherry tomatoes, as much phosphorous as 1 cup of kidney beans, as much vitamin B12 as 4 ounces of cooked turkey, as much pantothenic acid as 2 1/2 cups of sweet corn, as much vitamin D as 3/4 ounces of cooked salmon, and as much vitamin A as 3/4 cup of broccoli! Imagine having to eat all of those foods every day just to get the same nutrients as milk! So before you swear milk out of your life completely (unless you have an allergy), remember how important milk is for your body!
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
The Truth About: Milk and Antibiotics
What You Need to Know About Milk- New England Food and Dairy Council