Milk: Balanced diet or unhealthy drink?

Study suggests, Milk which is largely considered to be a “balanced diet” is not as healthy as it seems. 

According to the latest study on milk, the pure drink may not be a good health option for human beings. Dairy Milk in comparison to Oat, Almond and Soy milk is not a healthier option, claims report. According to a recent study these alternatives to dairy milk are far more environmentally friendly.

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Dietary Guidelines as as provided by the United States in the last five years, shows that individuals between the ages of nine years and above, on average need to consume nearly three cups equivalent of fat-free and low-fat (1 percent) dairy products. The Guidelines, suggested by the Department of Health and Human Services in the US as well as the Department of Agriculture, include milk, yogurt, cheese and fortifies soy milk in these percentages. However, the average American adult only consumes roughly 1.6 cups.

This poses the question, if people should increase their dairy intake? Experts in the New England Journal of Medicine believe that there is no need to so. They do none the less, recommend ‘alternative sources’ for consumption of necessary nutrients. They also suggest that we question the ‘quality of evidence’.

In a previous study, Connie M. Weaver, formerly Head of the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, wrote that there is a ‘lack of good quality evidence’ to support the Dairy Guidelines of the United States. Weaver further alluded to historical reasons for why milk intake is vital to an individuals’ diet, in her research article funded by the Danone Institute International. Weaver wrote that dairy food ‘plays a central role in most dietary guidance recommendations’ and that they provide ‘an essential package’ of nutrients needed for health otherwise difficult to obtain in diets with limited use of dairy products, respectively.

“Since the agricultural revolution, when energy sources shifted from plant foods relatively high in calcium in the diets of hunter-gatherers to cereal crops with low calcium content, the major source of dietary calcium has been milk,” she continues.

Connie M. Weaver Former Head of the Department of Nutrition Science, Purdue University

According to reports, milk has always been a part of the US Dietary Guidelines as far back as 1917, with the Advisory Committee updating and reviewing the evidence available. The former Head of Department, Weaver referenced research that focused on how a dairy-free diet as advocated by the US department would in fact lead to a struggle to intake calcium in adolescents between the ages of nine and eighteen, to be able to fulfill the criteria of consuming the required nutrient intake.

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Weaver believes that based on US standards, the relevant quantity of nutrients can be consumed by means of milk and cheese, in the following approximations:

  • 46.3 percent calcium 
  • 11.6 percent potassium 
  • 7.9 percent magnesium 

She further writes that the ‘strength of the evidence’ for the consumption and health ‘is limited’ due to what she considers ‘a lack of appropriately powered randomized controlled trials’.

Furthermore, both Dr. Walter C. Willett and Dr. David S. Ludwig of Harvard, also question the possible risks of milk consumption. While in conversation with Medical News Today, Dr. Willett discussed his interests in relation to milk consumption and human health.

This is an important topic because milk is one of few foods that are specifically part of dietary guidelines in the U.S. and many other countries, and the recommended amount in the U.S. (3 glasses per day or equivalent amounts of cheese or other dairy products) would make up a large part of an overall diet.

Dr. Walter C. Willett Harvard University

Dr. Willett further added that studies over the last few decades have not supported the need for ‘high intakes’ for the prevention of fractures which is why it is important and helpful to review the evidence on risks and benefits of milk. He further adds that “milk has a heavy environmental footprint, especially greenhouse gas production, and if everyone consumed 3 glasses per day, this would make avoiding extreme global warming very difficult”.

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