Milk – Does It Do a Body Good?

I won’t speak for the globe, but it seems nearly everyone in America grew up on milk. Milk with cereal, milk with cookies, milk in eggs, and just plain ol’ milk in a glass. Most of us never questioned this norm, and have carried it with us into adulthood. You can probably still replay those ‘Got Milk?” commercials in your memory! However, from a health standpoint there are in fact more reasons NOT to drink milk than to drink it. Don’t take it from me, ask Dr. Walter Willett who chairs the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard Chan School. Let’s look at some key drawbacks he describes. 

The Dark Side of Milk

1) Saturated Fat – A typical glass of whole milk contains 5 grams of saturated fat—similar to eating 4 strips of bacon! Saturated fat is strongly linked to heart disease, which is the number one killer in the U.S. To avoid such fat, you could opt for non-fat milk. But this still leaves you with drawback #2.

2) Extra calories – Just 2 glasses of whole milk a day adds 300 calories to your diet! And unfortunately, those calories don’t substitute for meals. That is, people don’t tend to eat less when they consume high calorie beverages (i.e. juice, soda, milk). It just ends up being added calories. With low- or non-fat milk, you’re still getting a bunch of extra calories. The same, or worse, goes for café lattes I might add! Water is simply the best choice for low calories and weight control.

3) Lactose intolerance – All babies are born with the ability to digest milk. This makes perfect sense evolutionarily speaking. For most, however, this ability is short lived, and by adulthood only about a quarter of the world’s population maintains the ability to fully digest milk. This is because the body stops producing an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down milk sugar (lactose). In the U.S., about half of Hispanic Americans, 75% of African Americans, and over 90% of Asian Americans cannot tolerate much lactose—the consequence being nausea, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.

4) Prostate Cancer – Diets high in dairy products have been implicated as risk factors for prostate cancer. As of about 15 years ago, nine separate studies had shown the strongest and most consistent dietary cause of prostate cancer to be high milk or dairy product intake. In one study, men who drank two or more glasses of milk per day were almost twice as likely to develop prostate cancer.

5) Ovarian Cancer – When lactose from milk is digested, a simple sugar called galactose is released. Although still inconclusive, numerous studies have shown a link between galactose and ovarian cancer.

Well, what about calcium intake, bone density, and the benefits of milk? In my next blog we’ll address this. You’ll learn why such perks don’t outweigh the negatives.

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                                                                  Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                  Environmental Health Scientist


  1. Now you tell me, I had rather hoped to avoid prostate cancer but ha e spent a life time with milk as a significant component of my diet. I do like bacon and would give up a glass of milk for a couple of strips of occasional bacon but have largely switched to skim so the trade won’t work.
    Where else do you get galactose except from lactose? Maybe the ovarian ca thing is just a correlation with milk ingestion and some other constituent could be responsible.

    1. You raise a good point. And these studies try their best to control for various confounding variables, so as to not get a spurious causal association. With that said, the results are still mixed on the link between milk and these cancers. More studies will need to confirm one way or another.