Between carbohydrates, meats, and dairy, the food pyramid is a highly debated topic. Since we talk carbs all the time, today we’re dishing on dairy. There’s an extensive body of research surrounding the pros and cons of eating dairy. We were feeling a bit scholarly, so we decided to dig in. After sifting through numerous studies—reading about hormones, digestive enzymes, milk, and cheese—we’ve come out the other end of deep dive into the world of dairy a little disillusioned with the nutritional guidelines we’ve come to know as true. (Spoiler alert: Those recommended three servings a day are wreaking havoc on your body.)
What we found about milk, specifically, has us wondering if everything is a lie. We consider ourselves the Got Milk? generation, after all; we grew up being told drinking milk would give us stronger bones (and if people like Mary-Kate and Ashley had milk mustaches, then we'd proudly don ours too). But now we're left wondering whether or not milk is bad for you. We'll share the research with you and allow you to decide for yourself. In the meantime, we'll probably pick up some almond milk just as an option on our next grocery run…
Keep reading to find out the truth about milk and dairy.
The Milk MythPhoto: Stocksy
In America, the majority of children grow up drinking milk with at least one meal a day. “Finish your milk” is a directive just as common as “eat your vegetables.” We’re inundated with images of our favorite milk-mustached celebrities and sports heroes, who credit milk for their strong bones and healthy bodies. Unfortunately, some research says otherwise. Despite its reputation for preventing osteoporosis, numerous studies have shown that dairy calcium has no protective effect on bones. In fact, an increased intake of calcium from dairy products is associated with a higher fracture risk. Because the high protein content of dairy products acidifies your body’s pH, the calcium in your bones works overtime to correct the pH imbalance, which weakens them.
The Problem With Dairy CowsPhoto: Stocksy
It all starts with the dairy cows. Cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter—it all comes from one hormone- and antibiotic-filled source. Dairy cows are injected with synthetic growth hormones to increase their milk production. Additionally, the cows are often kept pregnant, which means not only are they pumped with genetically modified hormones, they also have naturally higher levels of estrogen, progestins, and androgens. That high concentration of hormones gets passed through to the milk, which is particularly troubling for women because excess hormones can affect everything from skin clarity to fertility. Research shows that hormones in dairy are linked to several hormone-related cancers.
Dairy and Your BodyPhoto: Stocksy
Humans are the only animals that drink milk from another species. But our digestive systems were not created to digest milk produced by another animal. Given that fact, it’s not surprising that 75% of the world’s population cannot digest milk. Because we lack the digestive enzymes needed to digest dairy, doing so can result in a variety of stomach and intestinal issues, as well as inflammation throughout our bodies. The inflammatory properties of milk can be especially dangerous for women. A recent study found that the mortality rate in women who consumed three servings of milk a day was twice as high as those who drank less. Dairy products are also high in cholesterol and fat, and, as we all know, a diet high in fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dairy and Your Skin
As a pro-inflammatory, dairy exacerbates acne, and it also causes your skin to produce more pore-clogging sebum. The hormones in dairy create a spike in insulin levels, which is a trigger for acne. One growth hormone in particular, IGF-1, which is great for baby cows, is highly inflammatory in humans. Research has linked IGF-1 to acne, eczema, and several other skin conditions. And you already know how terrible sugar is for your skin, so we’ll just point out that lactose is sugar.
For most people, ditching dairy is a tall order. So, if you must eat dairy, skip low-fat dairy. Contrary to the nutritional guidelines we all grew up with, low-fat dairy is actually the worst choice. It’s practically stripped of nutrients, and it’s loaded with sugar. Alternatively, full-fat dairy has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity and type-2 diabetes. One study even found that those who consumed the most full-fat dairy had less belly fat than those who ate low-fat dairy.
Also, be sure to seek out high-quality dairy products that come from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. If you can, drink raw milk (milk that hasn’t been pasteurized) or organic milk to avoid the added hormones and contaminants. And finally, yogurt lovers can breathe a sigh of relief because fermented dairy is the easiest to digest and boasts a number of health benefits.
Which of these dairy findings shocked you the most? Tell us in the comments!
This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.