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Milk: Health Benefits And Disadvantages

Updated on March 6, 2017
ShailaSheshadri profile image

I like to cook and eat natural, healthy, and tasty foods, and I enjoy sharing recipes from my native Indian cuisine.

About Milk

Milk consumption:

Milk is the beginning food for the babies. Only mammals, including human beings, can produce milk for feeding their offspring until they are able to consume solid food. However, human beings continue taking milk throughout the lifetime, considering the health benefits associated with milk.

Contents in Milk:

Milk contains many nutrients, such as vitamin A, D, B12, calcium, carbohydrates, phosphorous, selenium, magnesium, protein, zinc, and riboflavin. The Teagasc Dairy Products Research Center at Moorpark, Fermoy has reported in a recent research on using milk to neutralize the cholesterol content in the body.

The varied nutrients in milk offer many health benefits. Calcium in milk can prevent osteoporosis and has the ability to strengthen the bones. As milk is fortified with vitamin D, it helps to maintain bone health.

Lactose intolerance and milk allergy:

There are people who are not able to digest lactose, the sugar in milk because they do not produce enough of the enzyme called Lactase. Lactase is needed to digest milk properly.

It is not uncommon to come across people with lactose intolerance and with milk allergy. In such cases, you can go for alternative products to milk, such as almond milk, soy milk etc. that are artificially made. I here mainly focus on cow's milk, its' health benefits, and disadvantages.

Boiled milk and milk pouches I use
Boiled milk and milk pouches I use

Health Benefits of Milk

Milk is an integral part of human diet. It is a known fact that it has abundant nutrients that help in keeping good health. Humans consume milk from an early stage of life till the end; that is, individuals make use of milk throughout the lifetime.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for 2015-2020 suggest that Americans should consume "fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages." Milk has higher levels of fat and cholesterol. Hence, regular consumption of fat milk is not so good for health and is linked to increased risk of heart diseases.

USDA has also recommended not to use more than 10% of calories each day from saturated fats, such as butter and whole milk.

Milk is good for bones:

Milk is an excellent source of calcium, which is essential for teeth and bone health. Cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D which benefits bones. Calcium and vitamin D help to prevent osteoporosis.

Studies have shown that regular intake of milk does not show a significant advantage on bone mineralization and bone integrity in children and adolescents.

A seven-year study that tracked the diets and physical activity of adolescent girls indicated that calcium intake through dairy products did not prevent stress fractures. However, vitamin D intake lowered the risk of stress fracture among the high-impact physical activity.

However, milk and milk products are considered beneficial for bone development in children. Using milk, we make many varieties of sweets and savory dishes for children.

a child drinking milk
a child drinking milk
a few of Milk products available in market
a few of Milk products available in market
Sago and pineapple dessert(own pic)
Sago and pineapple dessert(own pic)
Mango smoothie with ice cream(own pic)
Mango smoothie with ice cream(own pic)

Milk benefits for the heart:

Cow's milk is a source of potassium which can reduce blood pressure. According to a study by Dr. Mark Houston, director of The Hypertension Institute at St.Thomas Hospital in Tennessee, increasing potassium intake and decreasing sodium can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, less than 2% of US adults consume the daily recommendation of 4700 mg potassium. A point to be taken into consideration here is, a substantial increase of potassium intake may increase the risk of many health problems, including heart disease. Hence, consult a doctor before changing your diet plan.

Milk is beneficial to prevent cancer:

Milk is fortified with vitamin D. It plays a role in preventing irregular cell growth and preventing cancer formation. People residing in geographical areas with less sunlight have increased risk of colorectal cancer. As milk has vitamin D, it offers the similar protection that of sunlight.

The National Cancer Institute states that the results of the study support the relationship between higher intake of calcium and reduced risk of colorectal cancer. However, the results of the studies have not been consistent. Studies have also shown that higher intake of calcium and lactose may prevent ovarian cancer.

Milk prevents depression:

If you go to consult a doctor for symptoms of chronic fatigue, in many cases, it is due to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with depression. An adequate supply of vitamin D helps in the production of serotonin, a hormone associated with mood, appetite, and sleep. As cow's milk is normally fortified with vitamin D, consumption helps in preventing depression.

Milk helps in building muscles:

A calf grows fast by drinking cow's milk. In a similar way, humans who drink milk can bulk up fast. It is a rich source of high-quality protein and has all essential amino acids. Whole milk is a good source of energy in the form of saturated fat, which can prevent the usage of muscle mass for energy.

Young adults and older adults who go for strength training and resistance exercise benefit greatly with the increased consumption of cow's milk for building muscle mass and strength.

However, drinking fat milk may not help in weight control, as it contains saturated fat which may add to your weight. Planned consumption of low-fat milk can help in weight control and at the same time, can provide you the necessary nutrients.

Milk can prevent osteoarthritis progression:

Osteoarthritis of the knee is a chronic ailment and, normally it has no suggested medicine for it. Studies have shown that drinking milk regularly can keep the progression of this ailment in check.

Choline in milk has many benefits:

Milk contains choline in high quantity, which is an essential nutrient that helps in muscle movement, sleep, memory and learning activities. It helps in the transmission of nerve impulses, absorption of fat and also in lowering chronic inflammation.

Milk is good for skin:

Taking bath with a mix of milk and honey improves fairness and softness of the skin. Queen Cleopatra of Nile, the most beautiful woman of all times, used to bath with milk and honey mixture. This is the reason why milk is being used in the making of many cosmetic products.

Important Information on milk facts:

  • All people may not benefit from drinking milk. There are individuals who should take milk with precaution.
  • Lactose intolerant people have no enzyme(lactase) to break down the sugar in milk. Hence, for them, proper digestion of milk is not possible. Such people should opt for lactose-free milk or other supplements to milk to avoid the symptoms like bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.
  • People with the milk allergy should avoid taking milk. Otherwise, milk allergy may lead to asthma, wheezing, diarrhea, rashes, or gastrointestinal discomforts. Such people can go for soy or almond milk as an alternative.
  • Overconsumption of milk may lead to higher level of calcium intake. It may cause constipation, kidney problems or kidney failure in the long run. Excess calcium may deposit in the arteries, leading to the heart problem, mainly with a low magnesium intake.
  • Mother's milk is the best food far an infant up to the age one year. At least until the first three months, a baby should be on breast milk to prevent getting type1 diabetes in the later age. The study states that a baby who is not on breast milk until first three months has an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes in the later years.
  • People on weight control can consume low-fat milk or skimmed milk(o% fat) or soy milk which contains less fat and high protein.
  • Sometimes we see cows feed on toxic materials scattered on the garbage or on the streets. Also, the cow may have some disease in them which people may not notice. In such cases, drinking the milk produced by them may be harmful to human health.
  • Leafy vegetables are also a rich source of calcium. Calcium absorption by the body is more efficient while using leafy vegetables than using cow's milk. Hence, use plant-based calcium in your food plan.
  • Milk contains many nutrients. A few of the nutrients in milk, especially vitamin A and riboflavin get destroyed when exposed to sunlight. To avoid this, store milk in a non-transparent vessel and close it with a lid.
  • The best time to drink milk is a controversial topic. If you drink milk in the morning, it will be easily digested with the help of sun's heat. According to Ayurveda, if you drink it at night, it will aid you in getting good sleep. What I believe is, drink milk in moderation during any time of the day, ensuring that it should be at least 2-3 hours before going to bed. The logic being, milk should be properly digested to reap the potential health benefits.

Reference: and other reliable sources


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