Health Benefits of Dairy

Dairy is packed with nutritional value

Many people know dairy foods are an important source of nutrients for growing children and teens. Milk and other dairy foods, however, are great sources of protein, calcium and vitamins for people in all walks of life, including adults, seniors and athletes. Dairy products are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, including carbohydrates, protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin and niacin.

Just one 8-ounce serving of milk has 8 grams of protein, which builds and repairs muscle tissue (an equal serving of almond beverage has only 1 gram of protein). One serving of milk also meets the daily values (DV) for the following nutrients (based on Food and Drug Administration guidelines):

  • Calcium (25 percent): Helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth
  • Riboflavin (35 percent): Supports body growth, red blood cell production and metabolism
  • Phosphorus (20 percent): Strengthens bones
  • Vitamin D (15 percent): Helps promote the absorption of calcium
  • Pantothenic Acid (20 percent): Helps convert food into energy
  • Potassium (8 percent): Regulates fluid balance and helps maintain normal blood pressure
  • Vitamin A (15 percent): Promotes good vision and healthy skin
  • Niacin (10 percent): Promotes proper circulation

Types of dairy milk

Using various straining and mixing techniques, milk can be made into a variety of products. Before milk is bottled, all of the fat is removed (skimmed) and added back at specific levels to make different fat-percentage variations of milk. No matter which milk-fat percentage you choose, they all contain the same essential nutrients including protein, vitamin D and calcium.

  • Whole Milk: Whole milk contains 3.5% fat by weight. It delivers 8 grams of fat and 150 calories per 8-ounce serving.
  • 2 Percent Milk: Two-percent milk contains 2% fat by weight. It delivers 5 grams of fat and 120 calories per 8-ounce serving.
  • 1 Percent Milk: One-percent milk contains 1% fat by weight. It delivers 2.5 grams of fat and 100 calories per 8-ounce serving.
  • Skim Milk: Skim (0% fat) milk is what is left after all of the milk fat has been “skimmed” off. It delivers 0 grams of fat and 80 calories per 8-ounce serving.
  • Buttermilk: Traditionally, the term buttermilk referred to the liquid that’s left after butter had been made from milk or cream. Today, buttermilk is made from active cultures added to milk, which creates lactic acid, resulting in the tart taste and thick texture.
  • Lactose-Free Milk: People with lactose intolerance typically lack or have insufficient levels of the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose — the naturally occurring sugar found in most dairy foods. Lactose-free milk is real dairy milk without the lactose. To make lactose-free milk, manufacturers add a small amount of lactase, which breaks down the lactose, resulting in a milk that can be digested without discomfort by those with lactose intolerance.
  • a2 Milk™: Typical dairy milk contains a combination of both a1 and a2 beta casein proteins. Milk from cows exhibiting only the a2 form of the beta casein protein is sold as a2 Milk™. It is marketed as milk for people with digestive issues, however, there isn’t significant scientific evidence to support the claim.

Dairy’s health benefits

Bone Health

Today, there are 10 million Americans with osteoporosis and an additional 43 million at risk of developing the condition. Women are four times more likely to develop the disease, but older men are also susceptible. Although more research is needed to understand the role of dietary protein on bone health, studies show the protein and calcium in milk may play a critical role in bone health and density, thereby decreasing the risk for osteoporosis. Three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy provide essential nutrients that work together to build strong bones. Visit the National Dairy Council for more on dairy and its impact on bone health.

Researchers have also found:

  • Postmenopausal women who consume a diet low in protein and/or calcium were associated have an increased risk of osteoporotic fractures.
  • Low-protein diets may decrease intestinal calcium absorption and are associated with reduced bone mass in most observational studies.
  • Eating foods rich in calcium may offset a possible protein-calcium loss relationship, improving overall bone health.

Heart Health/Blood Pressure Control/Diabetes

Calcium, potassium and magnesium — minerals all found in dairy foods — may play an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Potassium, in particular, helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in the body to maintain a healthy blood pressure. This is an important role, considering one in three Americans is living with hypertension. Without consuming three servings of dairy foods daily, it may be difficult to meet potassium requirements.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage children and adults to enjoy three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt each day. Potassium plays such an important role in blood pressure regulation and stroke prevention that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of this health claim for foods that are naturally low in sodium, fat and cholesterol and provide at least 350 mg of potassium per serving. Three servings of dairy foods contain a total of about 1200 mg of potassium. More on dairy’s impact on heart health.

A growing body of research indicates that dairy food consumption is associated with multiple health benefits, including a lowered risk for type 2 diabetes.

Benefits of Chocolate Milk: For the Athlete

Dairy nutrition helps athletes of all levels and ages get the perfect balance of nutrients to improve overall performance and health. From bone building to muscle strengthening, the dairy nutrients in flavored milk provide a variety of positive health benefits. Low-fat chocolate milk is the drink of choice for many athletes for several reasons.

Low-fat chocolate milk is:

  • A delicious source of high-quality protein to build lean muscle, without the added sugar of most sports drinks
  • The right carbohydrate-to-protein ratio scientifically proven to refuel and rebuild exhausted muscles
  • A great source of vitamin A to support a healthy immune system and normal vision
  • A great source of electrolytes, including calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium to help replenish what’s lost in sweat
  • A source of B vitamins for energy
  • An excellent source of fluids for rehydration
  • A source of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, protein and potassium to build and maintain strong bones and help reduce the risk for stress fractures

Low-fat chocolate milk can also be part of a delicious snack for children and adults. When you include low-fat chocolate milk and other dairy products in fun ways like this, you can improve your family’s dairy nutrition and ultimately ensure better bone health.

10 Incredible Benefits of Milk

The health benefits of milk include improved bone strength, smoother skin, and a stronger immune system. It aids in the prevention of illnesses such as hypertension, dental decay, dehydration, respiratory problems, obesity, osteoporosis and even some forms of cancer. The beneficial health nutrients obtained from milk are essential for the human body and help to prevent a number of chronic ailments.

What is Milk?

Milk, quite simply, is a liquid that mammals create in mammary glands in order to feed their young ones. The reason mammals have this is because this is what their babies are naturally supposed to consume until they are strong or old enough to hunt for food themselves or eat what their parents typically eat. Humans also have this ability, which is why we have begun to explore the interesting world of milk from other animals, in the hopes that milk could continue to nourish us throughout our lives, rather than simply at the beginning of it.

Many animals can provide us with this vital health substance, but cow’s milk is considered the best wholesome supplement for children as well as for adults. It is also the most accessible, while the milk of other animals like buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, reindeer, and yak is much more difficult to acquire.

Milk from horses and donkeys can also be consumed by humans, but that is even less common, and much less pleasant to extract.

The health benefits of milk can be achieved from drinking it directly or by consuming dairy products such as cheese, butter, curd, clarified butter or ghee, dairy whitener, ice cream, cottage cheese or paneer, flavored milk or milk sweets. Put it this way, around the world, there are more than 6 billion people who regularly consume some type of food that is based on milk from an animal; it is one of the essential elements of the human diet since these animals that create milk are on almost every continent and country. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has clearly mentioned in its Dietary Guidelines to include milk and its products to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.

Milk is an excellent source of all vital nutrients. Photo Credit:

Nutritional Value of Milk

The nutritional value of milk is so well known that people all around the world include it as a staple part of their diet. Adding it to your daily diet can also help you to achieve a well-balanced diet. As per the USDA National Nutrition Database, milk is an ideal source of nutrients such as vitamin A, B12, D calcium, carbohydrates, phosphorous, selenium, magnesium, protein, zinc, and riboflavin. The Teagasc Dairy Products Research Center at Moorepark, Fermoy has reported recent research on using milk to neutralize the cholesterol content of the body. Most of the caloric content in it comes from the natural sugars found in it. These are essential to the overall functioning and health of the body, and they reduce the chances of a number of deficiencies, and boost health in a variety of ways! Let’s explore more about the important impact of milk and its products on our health!

Milk Deficiency

Milk deficiency can cause severe anemia, osteoporosis, and other related illnesses. Its consumption is essential for maintaining good health and having the energy and strength to do normal activities.

It is the best source of calcium for all age groups, and since calcium is considered the most important mineral for healthy growth, functioning, repair, and durability of the bones and skeletal system. It will always have a significant role in people’s diets, as a way of preventing calcium deficiency or osteoporosis.

Health Benefits of Milk

It is an extremely beneficial drink for the health of the human body. Some of the advantages of drinking this life-giving nectar are as follows:

Supplies Calcium

According to Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, in the United States, an estimated 72 percent of calcium comes from milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as from foods to which dairy products have been added, such as pizza, lasagna, dairy desserts. Apart from this, about 7 percent calcium comes from vegetables, 5 percent from grains, 4 percent from legumes; 3 percent from fruits; an additional 3 percent from meat, poultry, and fish; 2 percent from eggs, and 3 percent from miscellaneous foods.

However, milk is the best source of calcium that we can supply to our body. Calcium protects the body from major chronic ailments such as bone loss, arthritic conditions, migraine headaches, pre-menstrual syndrome, and obesity in children. It also functions as a health aid in losing unwanted fats and reducing weight. Calcium is an essential mineral in the creation of bone matter, and bone mineral density measurements rely highly on calcium as the main support structure of our body. It is the quickest, least expensive, and most readily available source of calcium on the market.

Improves Heart Health

Although most of the focus of calcium is on bones, it has also been shown to reduce cardiovascular diseases and the chances of strokes. Two long-term studies in Japan have positively shown a correlation between daily calcium intake and a reduction in stroke, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular diseases. The peptides found in it are also believed to inhibit the creation of ACEs, (angiotensin-converting enzymes), which increase blood pressure. Therefore, grab some milk for a healthier heart! Furthermore, the magnesium and potassium content in it act as vasodilators, which reduces blood pressure, increases blood flow to vital organs, and reduces the stress on the heart and cardiovascular system.

As per the Dietary Guidelines dated 2010, the amount of potassium an average individual must consume should be 4,700 mg/day, except for those who have a condition of hyperkalemia owing to renal disorders or those who are under some sort of medication. An average American’s dietary intake of potassium is estimated to be 1,755 mg/day. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that only 2 percent of US adults met with the average daily consumption target of potassium.

Healthy Bones

As mentioned above, milk is rich in calcium, which is essential for growth and the proper development of a strong bone structure. Bone disorders such as osteoporosis can be prevented with a significant daily intake of milk. Children deprived of cow’s milk have an increased chance of suffering from bone fractures when injured, and their healing time will be significantly higher if they don’t have a steady stream of calcium to aid in the regrowth of bone matter.

Dental Care

Encouraging children and youngsters to drink milk will give them excellent dental health, as it protects the enamel surface against acidic substances. Drinking it for energy and health would also lessen the frequency of children consuming soft drinks, thus reducing the risk of decaying teeth and weak gums.


Fluids are an integral part of the human body, and the body needs to be frequently replenished with liquids as they are used up within the body.

Water is essential for growing children and they must drink at least six to eight glasses of fluid every day. It contains a good quantity of water molecules and is considered the best fluid for rehydration, outside of drinking actual water. Water makes up more than 80% of our body mass, and the balance of fluids in our body is essential for every single process in our body. That is why, dehydration is such a major and dangerous problem, as it threatens all of our metabolic functions. So, if you can’t find any water, grab a glass of milk!

Skin Care

Have you heard of Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile? She was considered to be one of the most beautiful women of all time. Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that she had a tradition of taking a milk bath every single day!

She used to mix honey and milk in the bath, which enabled her to maintain soft and beautiful skin. For thousands of years, it has been known to benefit our skin by helping us maintain a fair and smooth complexion. Therefore, milk and its products are used in a number of cosmetic preparations to this day!

It is also good for treating dry skin, so if you have dry skin, apply milk on your face and other affected areas, leave it on for about 15 minutes and then wash it off.

The milk solids nourish and smooth your skin. The lactic acid present in milk is known to aid in removing dead skin cells, thereby rejuvenating your skin and keeping it fresh. Finally, simply drinking it, due to its impressive content of vitamin A, helps to improve skin, particularly since the antioxidant potential of it helps to eliminate free radicals, the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism that are partially responsible for premature aging of the skin, resulting in wrinkles and age spots.

Improving Diet & Vitamin Intake

According to medical research, drinking milk considerably improves our intake of vital minerals and vitamins.

A person who consumes a carton of whole milk doubles his chances of fulfilling his calcium requirement for the day, whereas another person consuming a can of carbonated soda may actually lower his calcium levels by 1/3. Calcium, along with all of the other essential minerals listed above, are necessary for the daily diet in order to ensure proper functioning of every aspect of our body.

Acidity Reduction

A report published in the Annals of Internal medicine states that consumption of milk products can also help in reducing acidity throughout the body. Drinking cold milk provides relief from acidity.

Wholesome Food

It contains many vitamins and minerals to keep you fit, healthy and strong. A full glass of milk contains vitamins A and B for good eyesight and increasing red blood cell count, carbohydrates for vitality and energy, potassium for proper nerve function, magnesium for muscular function, phosphorous for energy release, and proteins for body repair and growth. It also keeps your body functioning at a youthful level as you get older, more so than some other vitamins and minerals.

Anticancer Potential

In a 2011 report published by Dr. Lampe JW, Division of Public Health Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington, in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, intake of milk may also provide some relief to those suffering from cancer. This study suggests that a diet rich in dairy products may slightly extend the lives of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Word of Caution: Some people may have lactose intolerance and may have trouble digesting milk because of the lactose found in it. The symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea. For kids, it is advisable to consult your health care provider since this is not so common among children. For adults, lactose-free milk and its products are readily available on the market. You can also drink varieties of soy or almond milk to avoid lactose, yet still, receive many of the same benefits.

Food Processing & Technology

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The Amazing Health Benefits of Whole Milk

Whole milk lovers rejoice! Here at Numa, we aim to use only whole, all-natural ingredients and for milk, that means 100% whole milk. Before you begin to flash the fat alarm, take a minute to read some of whole milk’s nutritional benefits below as well as some research on why it may be better for you than you may have thought.

1 cup of whole milk contains:

  • 30% DV of calcium
  • 7.9 grams or 16% DV of protein
  • 24% DV of vitamin D
  • 18% DV of vitamin B12
  • 11 essential vitamins and 8 essential minerals

What a great all-natural source of sustained energy! But what about the fat?! Yes, it’s no secret that whole milk is fat-heavy, but here’s why you shouldn’t fret. About half of whole milk’s fat consists of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and over one-third of it’s fatty acids are Omega-3 – which means it’s got a great balanced composition of healthy fats. It’s also important to remember that fat is essential in the daily diet to give your body energy and support cell growth (why whole milk is great for kids, moms!). If you’re still not convinced, Time Health Magazine wrote a great research-backed case for whole milk which you can read here.

Let us know if you’re already a whole milk lover or if you plan on incorporating into you or your loved one’s diets in the comments below!

Before I get on my soapbox, I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t always on the full-fat dairy train. When I was growing up, my family always bought low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese. After all, that’s what was considered healthy in the ’90s and early aughts.

But within the last few years, I’ve changed my tune, switching to whole milk, whole-milk yogurts, regular cheese, and butter instead of Smart Balance. That’s largely in part to the growing body of scientific evidence that’s saying the saturated fat in dairy may not actually be so bad. Not to mention, whole milk tastes a hell of a lot better than watery skim—both in my coffee and mixed with chocolate syrup after a speed workout.

When I was the food and nutrition editor for Runner’s World, I made it a point to serve up content in the magazine and website that encouraged runners to eat a balanced diet, which included the full-fat stuff. Yes, I know nutrition science is constantly changing—a huge challenge when trying to advise readers on what’s best to eat—but the more I read and experienced firsthand, the more I began to agree with author Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

I’ve talked before about my battle with an eating disorder, and it wasn’t until I started eating everything in moderation—ice cream, bread, burgers—that my weight stabilized, and I felt good about myself.

When I started buying whole milk instead of skim, the number on the scale didn’t go up. My pants didn’t get too tight. I felt fuller. My coffee with cream tasted better than the dirty-water swill that came from adding skim milk.

Last week, a new study came out (we wrote about it here) that found the saturated fat in dairy was not tied to heart disease over the long term. And that’s not all: One of the fatty acid chains in particular may even be linked to a decreased risk of stroke.

Unlike previous studies, this research looked at three fatty acids in dairy, as opposed to just one. And it followed adults over a long period of time—more than two decades.

“Our research adds to an increasing body of evidence showing no harm (or benefit) to heart disease or overall mortality associated with consumption of whole-fat dairy foods,” says lead researcher Marcia Otto, Ph.D., nutritional and cardiovascular epidemiologist at UTHealth Houston’s School of Public Health.

She also pointed out, in an email to Runner’s World, that these findings need to be confirmed and further investigated in larger studies “so that we may understand potential mechanisms linking this fatty acid to lower risk of stroke.”

While these findings were based on older adults (65 and above) who weren’t necessarily active, that only strengthens the case for runners to eat full-fat dairy, says Pam Nisevich Bede, R.D., owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat.

“Given that athletes have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease anyway, these findings make me feel even more confident for athletes. Their risk is even lower,” Bede told Runner’s World.

So going full-fat dairy is not only not bad for your health, it comes with a whole host of other benefits for runners: It makes you feel full so you’re not snacking on empty calories later in the day, and the fat allows for certain nutrient absorption, like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dairy is also an excellent source of protein, to help your muscles recover, and calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D to help strengthen your bones.

Okay, so if you’re still not convinced, and you’re saying, “Well you can get those nutrients from low- or fat-free dairy,” you’re not wrong. But when you remove fat from foods, you need to replace it with something to make the food or drink more palatable. We’re talking about artificial fillers, thickeners, and yep, sugar—which is worse than fat, but more on that at another time.

“You’re not doing yourself any health favors with low- or fat-free,” says Bede.

And yes, we’re still advocating for full-fat dairy even if you’re trying to lose weight. Why? You need fat in your diet. As I mentioned, it helps your body absorb nutrients. It also helps produce certain hormones your body needs. And it protects your organs and keeps you warm.

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“Just pay attention to portion sizes,” says Bede.

I don’t doubt we’ll see a study come out that says, “Wait a minute, maybe we were wrong to recommend full-fat dairy.” That’s how nutrition science goes—it’s in a constant state of flux. But I’m confident that if you consume everything in moderation, eat a balanced diet that’s rich in fruit, veggies, whole grain, and yes, full-fat dairy, and exercise, your health, weight, and performance will be better off. Not to mention, food will taste a lot better.

Heather Mayer Irvine Freelance Writer Heather is the former food and nutrition editor for Runner’s World and the author of The Runner’s World Vegetarian Cookbook.

Why whole-fat milk may be better for you than you think, according to experts

Many people believe that consuming milk that’s low-fat or dairy-free is better for your health than opting for whole-fat varieties.

However, a major study has concluded that including full-fat dairy in your diet can actually be extremely beneficial for the wellbeing of your heart.

Researchers from McMaster University in Canada carried out a study of 136,384 people aged between 35 to 70 years old from 21 countries, that was published in The Lancet journal.

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The participants were assessed over the course of nine years, during which their daily dairy intake and overall health were recorded.

They were split into four separate categories: those who ate no dairy at all, those who had less than one serving a day, those who had one or two servings a day and those who ate more than two servings a day.

Furthermore, the type of milk that they consumed, whether they had whole-fat or low-fat dairy, was also taken into account.

Those who had around three portions of dairy a day had lower rates of mortality and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke than those who had no dairy at all.

On top of that, the people who consumed three servings of whole-fat dairy a day were reported as being less likely to experience heart disease than those who only had half a serving of whole-fat dairy a day.

Lead author of the study Dr Mahshid Dehghan explains why past advice given about the benefits of solely eating low-fat dairy foods may have been misguided.

“Focusing on low-fat is predominantly based on the assumption that saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol,” she says, according to TIME.

“But dairy contains many other components – amino acids, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium. They can be fermented and have probiotics. We should not focus on a single nutrient.”

Dr Dehghan, a senior research associate in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, believes that the research team’s extensive study indicates the need for regular dairy consumption to be encouraged.

“Our findings support that consumption of dairy products might be beneficial for mortality and cardiovascular disease, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is much lower than in North America or Europe,” she says.

The data regarding the participants was accumulated by the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study.

According to the researchers, regular consumption of milk and yogurt had a greater impact on mortality and overall wellbeing than butter and cheese.

In the past, health professionals have suggested avoiding whole-fat dairy due to the apparent detrimental effect of eating too many saturated fats.

In the opinion of Anna Rangan, associate professor of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Sydney University in Australia, people should take these particular findings with a pinch of salt.

Meat and dairy companies to surpass oil industry as world’s biggest polluters, report finds

“The results from the PURE study seem to suggest that dairy intake, especially whole-fat dairy, might be beneficial for preventing deaths and major cardiovascular diseases,” she says.

“However, as the authors themselves concluded, the results only suggest the ‘consumption of dairy products should not be discouraged and perhaps even encouraged in low-income and middle income countries.’

“Readers should be cautious, and treat this study only as yet another piece of the evidence – albeit a large one – in the literature.”

The Health Benefits of Milk

Despite their children’s begging and pleading for soda or juice, many parents never serve anything other than milk with dinner. “Drink your milk,” they say. “It’s good for you.”
As adults, we’re all well-acquainted with this idea. Milk is good for us. But beyond this vague notion and the familiar milk-mustache media campaign, confusion clouds the specifics of exactly why that is. What about milk is good for us? How does it really improve our health? Experts share the makeup of milk and dive into the details that make this drink a dietary staple for millions of Americans.
Milk’s Makeup
According to the National Dairy Council, milk is filled with nine essential nutrients that benefit our health:

  • Calcium: Builds healthy bones and teeth; maintains bone mass
  • Protein: Serves as a source of energy; builds/repairs muscle tissue
  • Potassium: Helps maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Phosphorus: Helps strengthen bones and generate energy
  • Vitamin D: Helps maintain bones
  • Vitamin B12: Maintains healthy red blood cells and nerve tissue
  • Vitamin A: Maintains the immune system; helps maintain normal vision and skin
  • Riboflavin (B2): Converts food into energy
  • Niacin: Metabolizes sugars and fatty acids

In other words, milk packs quite a punch when it comes to nutrition—and you don’t have to drink a gallon to reap the benefits, the National Dairy Council says. In fact, the council says that just one 8-ounce glass of milk provides the same amount of vitamin D you’d get from 3.5 ounces of cooked salmon, as much calcium as 2 1/4 cups of broccoli, as much potassium as a small banana, as much vitamin A as two baby carrots and as much phosphorus as a cup of kidney beans!
Milk and Weight Loss
All of these nutrients contribute to our overall health and wellness, and they can even play a part in weight loss, says Dr. Brian Roy, an associate professor of applied health sciences at Canada’s Brock University.
Dr. Roy published a study on the impact milk has on the body post-exercise. While he admits there’s some controversy surrounding milk’s influence on weight loss and body fat in general, he also shares that recent studies have shown that when milk was consumed by young adults after weight training, they lost more body fat and gained more muscle mass than those who had consumed different drinks that contained the same energy and macronutrients.
“The important message from this is that it is probably important to include multiple servings of milk as a part of your daily diet,” Dr. Roy says. “However, simply adding more milk to your diet will add to your total energy intake. So, if you add more milk to your diet, it likely will be most effective if it replaces other sources of energy from your diet, to ensure you are not consuming excess calories.”
Read about milk’s shocking effect on disease

In recent years, with the boom of alternative and dairy-free options, milk has gotten a bit of a sullied reputation. But, in reality, milk is packed with nutrients that can boost your nutrition and overall health.

“Drinking milk is a great way to meet needs for nine essential nutrients, including: phosphorus, B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, and protein,” says Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Most non-dairy milks contain only 2-4 nutrients and generally lack protein; they may also have added sugars if sweetened. Milk, on the other hand, has a natural balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat (in low fat milks).”

Between soy milk, coconut milk, and the latest alternative milk to jump on the scene, oat milk, it seems like dairy milk is being phased out, but don’t let that fool you. Drinking milk can be good for your health—especially for women.

Yes, milk really is good for bone health and preventing osteoporosis.

You’ve heard this one before, but “Dairy, including milk, is one of the best sources of calcium—which, along with Vitamin D, magnesium, and protein—are essential for bone health,” says Majumdar. “While some vegetables and foods like tofu and salmon do contain calcium, they don’t have nearly as much as milk,” she adds.

Dairy is one of the best calcium sources.

During your middle years, ages 30 to 50, women are still building bone and aren’t yet losing bone density before menopause,” says Heather Beall, MD, obstetrics and gynecology with Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital. “It’s important to get enough calcium in your diet so you’re prepared for the bone loss that accompanies menopause. Eating adequate calcium can help slow that bone loss to keep your bones stronger and prevent fractures and osteoporosis,” says Dr. Beall.

Milk may help your skin, too.

“The protein found in dairy products can help promote skin elasticity as we age,” says Dr. Beall. Milk also contains retinol, a known anti-aging and skin-restoring antioxidant. Plus, milk’s vitamin D is also an anti-aging vitamin thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects and protection from UV rays.

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Dairy has also long been associated with causing acne. However, a review of studies on acne and milk published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that sugar (and the Western diet that has a high glycemic index) may be more likely the cause acne.

And the same goes for your teeth.

“The benefits of milk also apply to teeth and the jaw, which can lose density if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet,” says Beall.

Milk is also good for your heart.

A 22-year study published in 2018 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consumed full-fat dairy had higher levels of dairy-related 3 fatty acids in their blood (pentadecanoic, heptadecanoic, and trans-palmitoleic), which coincided with decreased risk of dying from heart disease, and approximately 42% less likely chance of dying of stroke. In short, the study suggested that milk may help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as help lower blood pressure.

Plus, it can help to repair muscles.

A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science found that milk contributes to post-exercise muscle synthesis and re-hydration, as well as aiding in post-exercise soreness.

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Dr. Beall adds that she drinks it personally. “I’ve run 26 marathons, and I use chocolate milk as a recovery drink,” says Beall. “Chocolate milk has the right combination of sugar, carbs and protein—it’s important to get that calorie mix in the time frame right after your workout. I recommend it over purchased supplements or shakes.”

Does milk actually put you to sleep?

The old wives tale that drinking a cup of warm milk at night to help you sleep does have some validity to it. “It could be from the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin that also helps us sleep,” says Majumdar. “But milk contains amino acids that would have to fight to cross the blood-brain barrier with tryptophan, so it’s more likely the ritual of warming and drinking the milk that’s helpful.” Bottom line: if drinking milk before bed leads to a more restful sleep, go for it! Though, might we recommend a spot of tea instead?

Can milk make you gain weight, though?

“Drinking milk will help you meet your nutritional needs to prevent weight gain,” says Jessica Crandall Snyder, RDN and founder of Vital RD.

A 2017 review of 13 clinical trials on dairy consumption in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that having 500mL per day of dairy was associated with decreased appetite and desire to eat, while increasing satiety. Translation: “Every nutritious food has calories in it, but nothing compares to the nutrient gaps you’d miss if you cut out milk,” says Snyder. “For the 90-150 calories per cup (depending on which type of milk you drink), you’re getting a really good deal nutritionally for that low amount of calories.”

So if you are cutting out milk due to calories, it’s not the smartest diet strategy. “A lot of women start to substitute water for milk in an effort to lose weight. I’d rather see them drop added sugars in their diet, which are straight-up carbs,” adds Beall.

So, what type of milk is healthiest?

Whether you should drink skim, 1%, 2%, or whole, depends on a few factors.

“Percent milk fat comes down to taste and individual nutritional needs: If you like the way the milk tastes, you’re going to drink it and get a great package of nutrition. All dairy milk, regardless of the fat content, has the same vitamin composition,” says Majumdar.

All dairy milk, regardless of the fat content, has the same vitamin composition.

“For most people, choosing the lowest fat option within their taste preference is a good bet, but that may differ by individual.”

Is it good to drink milk everyday?

In short, yes. “The average adult consumes 1-2 servings of dairy per day, while the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages 3,” says Majumdar. The current daily recommendations for calcium will be increasing in the next dietary guidelines update, she says. “Nutrition labels have a daily value based on 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium. As of January 2020, they will be based on 1,300 mg,” explains Majumdar.

Are milk alternatives good for you?

Many people switch to alternative milks because of lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy. While others opt for it “because they think it’s healthier,” says Snyder.

“The thing about non-dairy milks is that they simply do not possess the same nutritional values as dairy milk, and are likely higher in sugar and carbs,” she explains.

Milk substitutes don’t contain the same nutritional value.

“Alternative milks across the spectrum have more added sugars and are higher carbs, including rice milk, soy milk, and oat milk,” says Crandall Snyder. “Protein content, as well as calcium and vitamin D, are also significantly lower.”

“If you’re looking for an alternative milk, the only ones that come close to the same protein content are soy and pea milk,” says Crandall Snyder. “But from there, I think it is mostly preference when it comes to taste.”

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When I was a growing teenager, I drank as much milk as possible (often straight from the carton while standing in front of the open fridge, much to my mother’s chagrin). I’d seen the TV ads — milk and other dairy foods were the express ticket to stronger bones and bigger muscles.

But today dairy’s nutritional reputation is as clear as, well, a glass of milk. Dairy is either good or bad for you depending on the latest diet trend or recent study. So what is the truth — is dairy healthy, or a health risk? “Dairy isn’t necessary in the diet for optimal health, but for many people, it is the easiest way to get the calcium, vitamin D, and protein they need to keep their heart, muscles, and bones healthy and functioning properly,” says Vasanti Malik, nutrition research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dairy products as a source of calcium and protein

Dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese, are good sources of calcium, which helps maintain bone density and reduces the risk of fractures. Adults up to age 50 need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. Women older than 50 and men older than 70 need 1,200 mg. (For comparison, a cup of milk has 250 mg to 350 mg of calcium, depending on the brand and whether it’s whole, low-fat, or nonfat. A typical serving of yogurt has about 187 mg of calcium.) Milk is also fortified with vitamin D, which bones need to maintain bone mass.

Older adults also need protein to protect against sarcopenia, the natural age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, and dairy can be a decent source. The recommended amount for older adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. A 180-pound man would need about 65 grams of protein per day, and a 140-pound woman would need about 50 grams.

Still, when it comes to the direct health impact of dairy, the existing science is mixed. Some research warns against consuming too much dairy, while other studies show some benefits from regular dairy consumption.

Is one form of dairy better than another?

The American Heart Association still recommends adults stick to fat-free or low-fat dairy products. But new research suggests full-fat dairy might not be much of a threat to heart health. A report presented at the 2018 Congress of the European Society of Cardiology looked at 20 studies involving almost 25,000 people, and found no association between the consumption of most dairy products and cardiovascular disease. The exception was milk, but the results showed that only very high milk consumption — an average of almost a liter a day — was linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some science has even suggested that the right kind of dairy may prevent heart disease. A study involving 2,000 men published by the British Journal of Nutrition found that those who ate plenty of fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese had a smaller risk of coronary artery disease than men who ate less of these products. This supports earlier studies that showed that fermented dairy products have more healthful effects on blood lipid profiles and the risk of heart disease than other dairy products.

Another proposed benefit, however, has not panned out. “Despite the push by the US dairy industry to promote dairy products, especially milk, as a weight-loss tool, research hasn’t supported that except when also restricting calories,” says Malik.

The bottom line

When it comes to overall health benefits, it seems that dairy is neither a hero nor a villain. Adding some dairy to your daily diet — a splash of milk in your coffee or a cup poured over your breakfast cereal, or a slice of cheese on a sandwich — can help you get some of the vital nutrients you need. “But keep in mind that eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of green leafy vegetables and nuts can better help you get the calcium and protein you need rather than relying too much on dairy,” says Malik.

Malik still prefers most people stick with low-fat dairy, as this helps reduce your intake of saturated fat but still offers good amounts of nutrients. Alternatively, you can choose almond and soy milk substitutes — but be aware that they have lower amounts of protein than regular milk. For a single go-to dairy source, Malik recommends plain Greek yogurt. (Avoid flavored versions, which are high in sugar). “It has more protein than regular yogurt and contains probiotics that help with gut health. And it’s quite versatile, as you can eat it alone or add it to other dishes like smoothies and use it as a substitute for cream in recipes.”

Dairy and alternatives in your diet

Eat well

Healthy dairy choices

The total fat content of dairy products can vary a lot. To make healthier choices, look at the nutrition information on the label to check the amount of fat, including saturated fat, salt and sugar, in the dairy products you’re choosing.

Much of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated fat. For older children and adults, eating too much fat can contribute to excess energy intakes, leading to becoming overweight.

A diet high in saturated fat can also lead to raised levels of cholesterol in the blood, and this can put you at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.


The fat in milk provides calories for young children, and also contains essential vitamins.

But for older children and adults, it’s a good idea to go for lower fat milks because having too much fat in your diet can result in you becoming overweight.

If you’re trying to cut down on fat, try swapping to 1% fat or skimmed milk, as these still contain the important nutritional benefits of milk, but are lower in fat.


Cheese can form part of a healthy, balanced diet, but it’s good to keep track of how much you eat and how often as it can be high in saturated fat and salt.

Most cheeses, including brie, stilton, cheddar, Lancashire and double Gloucester, contain between 20g and 40g of fat per 100g.

Foods that contain more than 17.5g of fat per 100g are considered high in fat.

Some cheeses can also be high in salt. More than 1.5g salt per 100g is considered high. Eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure.

Try choosing reduced-fat hard cheeses, which usually have between 10g and 16g of fat per 100g.

Some cheeses are even lower in fat (3g of fat per 100g or less), including reduced-fat cottage cheese and quark.

If you’re using cheese to flavour a dish or a sauce, you could try using a cheese that has a stronger flavour, such as mature cheddar or blue cheese, because then you’ll need less.

But remember, it’s recommended that “at risk” groups, such as infants and young children, people over 65 years of age, pregnant women and those who have a long-term medical condition or weakened immune system, avoid eating certain cheeses.

These include mould-ripened soft cheeses like brie or camembert, ripened goats’ milk cheese like chèvre, and soft blue-veined cheese, such as roquefort.

These cheeses may carry bacteria called listeria.

But these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking. Baked brie, for example, is a safer option.

Find out more about cheeses that babies and young children can eat

Other dairy foods

Butter is high in fat and saturated fat. It can often be high in salt, too, so try to eat it less often and in small amounts.

Choosing lower fat spreads instead of butter is a good way to reduce your fat intake.

Cream is also high in fat, so use this less often and in small amounts, too. You can use lower fat plain yoghurt and fromage frais instead of cream.

Or you could opt for reduced fat soured cream or reduced fat crème fraîche in recipes.

But remember, these foods can also contain a lot of saturated fat.

When eating yoghurts or fromage frais, choose lower fat varieties, but look at the label to check that they’re not high in added sugar.

Plain lower fat yoghurts are a good choice as they usually do not contain added sugars.

Look at the Eatwell Guide for more information on healthier dairy choices.

The benefits of milk

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