What’s the Skinny on Dairy? Is it Good or Bad?

mother and daughter deciding on dairy products
Milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter, cheese, all things many of us have grown up with as staples in our diet. Especially parents wanting their kids to grow well and develop good strong bones, right?! Well, possibly. Dairy has become a topic of discussion in the healthy industry, for the better part of a decade I would say. You can tell by the rise of milk alternatives that are available, such as nut and oat milks. So, is dairy good for us, or is it bad for us as humans trying to reach optimal health and a better quality of life?

The purpose of this article is to share some facts on dairy and health outcomes, to maybe help you in deciding for yourself, if dairy is helping your personal health, or potentially impairing it.

What is in milk, that gives us nourishment?

Whole milk itself is made up of mostly water, about 87-87.5%. The other ~13% is made up of what are called milk solids, or macronutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrates. Proteins in milk are casein (80% of milks protein content), and whey (20% of milks protein content), and the fat content of whole milk is made up of roughly 65% saturated fatty acids, 32% monounsaturated fatty acids, while the other ~3% is cholesterol and polyunsaturated fats. Lastly, the carbohydrates, or milk sugars are (you probably guessed it) mainly lactose, plus glucose and galactose. On the vitamin side, fortified milk is a great source of Vitamin D, and calcium, as well as a few B-vitamins, and small amounts of Vitamin A and C also.

How does it compare to Unsweetened Almond Milk?

Per Cup Unsweetened
Almond Milk (Silk)
Skim Milk
(Walmart)
Whole Milk
(Walmart)
Calories 30 90 150
Fat Total: 2.5g
Sat. Fat: 0g
Unsaturated Fat: 2g
0g Total: 8g
Sat. Fat: 4.5g
Carbohydrates 1g 13g 11g
Protein 1g 8g 8g
Vitamins
(% Daily Value)
Vitamin D -10%
Calcium – 30%
Vitamin A – 15%
Potassium -2% Magnesium – 2%
Vitamin D -10%
Calcium – 25%
Vitamin A – 15%
Potassium -8% Magnesium – 0
Vitamin D -10%
Calcium – 30%
Vitamin A – 0
Potassium -2% Magnesium – 2%

After comparing side by side, the nutrition facts from these 3 products, you can see that they don’t quite differ too much in their vitamin content. But they do however, differ quite a bit elsewhere. Unsweetened almond milk tends to pack less calories, per serving compared to both types of milk sources. And although only whole milk can be compared in terms of fat content, almond milk as you can see has higher content of unsaturated fats, that are anti-inflammatory, while whole milk is still superior in saturated fat content. Milk also has a higher sugar content, whereas almond milk does not. Protein is really where milk takes the lead, packing more protein per serving.

Bone Health – does milk really help?

For many generations, milk has been promoted as a great way to boost bone density, and reduce risk of osteoporosis, mainly because of it’s calcium content, as well as Vitamin D. This however, might not actually be as true as we thought it was. In a 2014 cohort study (not necessarily the gold standard of research design, but this type of study can give us very insightful and useful information from a large group of people and a health outcome), on over 61,000 women, and 45,000 men, it was actually found that higher milk consumption was related to an increase in bone fracture occurrence in women, although the same couldn’t be said for men. (2)

Another interesting data point to come of this research study was that in both men and women that consumed an average of 3 glasses of milk per day, there were higher levels of inflammation (measured by an immune system cytokine called IL-6), and oxidative stress (a biomarker called 8-iso-PGF2α)(2). There could be other dietary factors playing a role in their levels of inflammation as well, but milk was one common dietary factor among these study participants.

Nutrient dense or not?

We all have heard this age old saying, “You are what you eat,” and well, so are cows! Cow’s milk is naturally high in saturated fats (can promote inflammation), and very low in polyunsaturated fats (healthy anti-inflammatory omega 3’s are polyunsaturated fats). In a 2013 study from the Journal of Dairy Science, when grass-fed cows milk was compared to grain fed cows milk, it had a higher omega 3 ratio, while the grain fed cows did not but did produce 3 times more milk in volume (1). So, what cows are fed, can play a major role in milks nutrient content and healthy promoting benefits.

Another important fatty acid in cow’s milk is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which can be beneficial in building lean body mass, our cardiovascular health, and lowering risk of diabetes. Those grass-fed cows in the previously mentioned study, produced milk with 5 times more CLA, than grain fed cows (1). Boosting its nutrient content and quality even more.

The Verdict?

There are many more areas that could be explored when it comes to milk and it’s health benefits or lack thereof. But after touching on some main points and sharing some research on dairy, it’s safe to say that dairy isn’t terrible, but also not essential for optimal health. One point that stands out among the rest is that dairy can promote inflammation, which is a driving force for many chronic diseases. If you find that you aren’t lactose intolerant, and enjoy some cheese, or ice cream, go for quality grass-fed sources of those that will have less inflammatory properties! Although if you also find yourself with inflammatory health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or even allergies, looking at your diet and possibly making a shift from primarily dairy milk, to others might be something to consider in your treatment plan!

At STRONGLIFE Functional Medicine in Lithia, FL, Dr. Justin Scott can help you address any underlying issues, whether you realize they’re there or not, and improve your overall health.

“I hope that you found this as valuable as my patients have over the years. If you’re interested in a patient-centered process that takes into account all aspects that affect your health, then I would encourage to visit our website at www.stronglifefunctionalmedicine.com to see how we help our patients improve their health and to find if you are a good candidate for a Functional Medicine approach.

  1. https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(12)00754-0/fulltext#secd850222e1922<!–?li >
  2. https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6015

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