Dear Dietitian – Questions About Milk?

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Published Saturday, March 3, 2018
by Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

I've been reading conflicting information about milk.  We've always heard that milk is good for your bones, but I've read that it does just the opposite, that the pH of milk causes us to lose bone mass.  I've read it increases mucus production, making us more susceptible to infections. Also, I've heard that cow's milk is made for cows; that humans are the only mammals that drink milk after infancy, and therefore, we shouldn't need milk at all. Please clear this up. --Jake

Dear Jake,

Milk is a rich source of calcium which our bodies need for strong bones and teeth.  Our bodies build bone until about age thirty; after that we must obtain calcium from our diet. We need about 3 servings of calcium rich foods each day to meet the RDA requirement of ~1000 mg per day.  This amount varies according to gender and age. You may also use calcium supplements to help meet your calcium needs. 

Milk certainly does not cause bone to break down. Our bodies have specific mechanisms in place to keep our pH at a healthy level regardless of what we eat.

The lactose (milk sugar) in milk may attach to mucus in your body, making it more noticeable but there are no studies that show that it increases mucus production. If this is an issue, drink water after drinking milk.  Some people are lactose intolerant, which means their bodies lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme needed to break down the lactose in milk. They may opt to buy lactose-free cow's milk, soy, almond or rice milk.  You can also purchase the enzyme needed, lactase.

As for the argument that humans are the only mammals that drink milk after age one, it simply doesn't transfer.  First of all, we are the only mammals that walk upright, putting stress on our bones, which is why we need calcium.  Secondly, many mammals are fully grown and ready to leave the home when they are one year old. Obviously, this isn't true of the human population.

Below are different foods and their calcium content:

Fortified soy milk                    1 cup                           80-500 mg

Cow's milk (2%)                       1 cup                           295 mg

Spinach                                   1 cup raw                    55 mg

Kale                                         1 cup raw                    94 mg

Cheese, cheddar                     1 slice                          204 mg

Greek yogurt, no-fat               8 oz                             200 mg

Beans, navy                             1 cup cooked               120 mg

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at DearDietitian411@gmail.com.