OTHER THAN ORGANIC VEGETABLES, it seems like everything supposedly good for you also has “yeah, but” warnings about it.
Fish…mercury. Fruit…too much sugar. Nuts…high-calorie. Whole grains…carbs!
Dairy is controversial this way. Some very fit guys drink milk, eat dairy products, and use post-workout recovery drinks and energy bars with milk proteins. Others entirely shun dairy.
What should YOU do? Let’s look at pro’s and con’s, and my two cents on sorting this out to make your own decision. Let’s focus on milk as the key ingredient in any dairy product.
THE CASE AGAINST MILK
Many of the benefits have been drilled into us since toddler days. So, let’s start with potential negatives, which are more likely to be new to you.
1. Hormone effects
Some cows receive recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). This in turn causes cows to produce more of another hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1). Humans produce IGF-1 too, but milk intake elevates the levels in our body. And critics say elevated IGF-1 increases cancer risk.
However, proponents point out these hormones are digested and removed by the human body, not absorbed (as opposed to if we were injecting them). Or that this only matters if you consume a huge amount of milk.
The American Cancer Society says, “It is not clear that drinking milk produced using rBGH significantly increases IGF-1 levels in humans or adds to the risk of developing cancer.”
Verdict: A large portion of milk for sale is “from cows not treated with rBGH.” Organic milk will automatically be this way. So from a practical standpoint, look for non-rBGH milk and don’t further worry about this!
2. Antibiotic effects
This is an area that sounds like it’s bad, but there’s not really evidence of any issue.
Verdict: If you feel strongly about this, but want milk for all its benefits, go organic.
3. Prostate cancer risk concerns
Critics say there are linkages between dairy and prostate cancer risk. As so often is the case, this is fuzzy.
The American Cancer Society says “Some studies have suggested that men who consume a lot of calcium (through food or supplements) may have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Dairy foods (which are often high in calcium) might also increase risk. But most studies have not found such a link with the levels of calcium found in the average diet, and it’s important to note that calcium is known to have other important health benefits.”
Verdict: Unless you consume unusually large quantities of dairy (which you shouldn’t anyway, for other reasons), this is not a reason to avoid milk.
4. Doubts on purported calcium and potassium benefits
Critics essentially say “there are risks, and the purported benefits aren’t even as great as claimed, so that’s why you should stay away.”
They talk about how potassium itself isn’t the goal, but rather sodium/potassium balance (and we can achieve that by reducing sodium, not increasing potassium). Also, they point to countries where milk consumption is low, but incidents of bone fracture are no higher than in high-dairy countries…thus leading to doubts about the importance of calcium for bone health.
Verdict: The “reduce sodium” answer is tough for many guys to achieve. And for athlete’s, we need to replace sodium we sweat out! The questions on bone health remain “mixed” in terms of what research finds. Unless you drink a huge amount of milk and thus take in a huge amount of calcium…calcium from milk seems to me at least like an insurance policy that may be valuable to your bone health. Note: calcium is also associated with weight-loss – see next section.
5. Lactose intolerance causes multiple digestive problems
I’m intolerant, and take it from me, man, this is REAL. They say 75% of people are intolerant to some degree. But supermarkets all have lactose-free milk nowadays (and ice cream).
Verdict: This is a real problem, but one also easily avoided where lactose-free dairy is available.
6. High calorie and fat levels (especially whole milk)
Milk has substantial calories and, especially for whole milk, a material amount of saturated fat. The USDA-recommended three daily cups, if whole milk, have 440 calories (18-22% of most guys’ daily calorie total), and 69% of the recommended daily saturated fat limit.
However, proponents point to studies showing milk drinkers having less body fat than non-milk drinkers. And, drinking skim, 1% or 2% reduces the fat and calorie concerns to different degrees (see section below).
Verdict: The math on calories and fat is what it is…so don’t pooh-pooh this if you’re watching weight. But milk calories help control hunger. So just make sure know your daily math on calories and saturated fat (and that your weight is staying stable where you want it). Just so long as you’re “cool” there with milk in your mix, then no big deal.
THE CASE FOR MILK
Yeah, the list above raised concerns the state Dairy Associations haven’t exactly trumpeted. But on the other side, the case for milk has strong arguments.
A. Complete food with protein, fats, carbs, and numerous micro-nutrients
Such as calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamins B1 and B6, selenium, zinc and magnesium. We’re always urged to eat a balance diet, and milk brings its own balance.
Verdict: You can get all these things other ways, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad to get them all in one place. Just so long as heavy milk consumption isn’t blowing your total calorie, fat or carb “budget” for the day, milk as a beverage blows away juice, soda (sugared or diet), and other soft drinks.
B. Good way to get high-quality protein in your diet
The protein in milk is a good blend of fast-acting protein from whey (for recovery soon after exercise) and slower-acting protein from casein (for muscle growth and maintenance).
Verdict: With strength and muscle maintenance being key for the OlderBeast, milk protein is a key arrow you may in your quiver, brother.
C. Associated with weight loss
Despite the fat, research studies show even whole milk leads to reduced body fat. Milk has a high “satiety” characteristic that puts off hunger and reduces sugary/starchy eating.
Verdict: don’t only focus on calories/fat from milk…but take a look at how your overall results are when you include milk.
D. Tasty and satisfying
This matters, doesn’t it? In our modern world, there are all kinds of ways to get different nutritional elements into your body. But getting nutrition from things we want to consume over the long term greatly increases odds that we will get these nutrients.
Verdict: If you LIKE milk, man, don’t be a martyr in service of a dairy-free pledge you’re not entirely sure why you’re making!
WHAT FAT PERCENTAGE?
A cup of skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk varies greatly in grams of fat (duh), but not nearly so much in protein or carbs. So why not just drink skim milk?
- Weight loss studies show whole milk may help lose weight better than skim. The theory of this comes back to “satiety,” with higher-fat milk bringing more of it.
- Some sources (less well-known, zealous, and maybe just pseudo-scientific ones) point to perceived evils of processing needed for skim. These include use of “milk solids” to improve palatability, and the fact that milk’s added vitamins may be more “soluble” when taken in together with some fat.
- Some studies concluded fat-containing milk is better than skim for enabling muscle growth.
I’ve recently been using 1% milk to get its benefits without being at either extreme of skim or whole. I consume about two cups a day, plus I get other dairy within whey-based energy bars I eat. If I were taking in less dairy, I’d probably use 2%.
If a bunch of doctors and PhD’s can’t give one simple “answer,” then I can’t either, man. But within all the considerations and conflicting views, I’ll offer these conclusions for you to mull over.
- Take a middle path, between avoiding all milk on one hand and consuming large quantities of it on the other. Consider being a bit under the USDA-recommended three daily cups; don’t be much over it. Definitely still drink a lot of water!
- On fat-percentage, experiment and see what has the best combo of tasting good and feeling like it helps you manage total daily calories. For most 40+ guys, my guess is 2% or 1% is your answer.
- Have milk be your main source of dairy, not yogurt or cheese (or ice cream, God love it). These products have a lesser nutritional profile than milk, and often have added sugar. Yeah, yogurt often has healthy probiotics, but unless you eat plain yogurt, it has a bunch of added sugar.
- If you’re thinking non-dairy because you’re going hard-core low-carb — my friendly advice is to think smart, moderate carb instead.
Choosing to go dairy free despite all this? Just make sure you get enough protein from other sources. And sufficient calcium and vitamins/minerals (Vitamin D especially). And are you gaining weight or having trouble losing it? Then maybe you should in fact try some milk for the satiety benefit.
“And you say, “For what reason?” and he says, “How.” And you say, “What does this mean?” and he screams back, “You’re a cow! Give me some milk or else go home.” And you know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mr. Jones?” (Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man—click to listen)
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