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Is milk really that good for an adult, and if so, how much?
March 8, 2004 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Got Milk? It does a body good? But is it true? There have been things recently, studies and such, that say milk may be better all around than people thought 10 years ago. But is it that good for an adult, and if so, how much should an adult have?

I rarely drink milk, when I do it is 1% milk.
posted by benjh to Health & Fitness (28 answers total)
 
Nasty fluid, milk. Good only for coffee and baking.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:29 AM on March 8, 2004


It's a very Google-able question.

Most recommendations seem to center around regularly taking in specific levels of nutrients, such as calcium, rather than advocating drinking milk per se. Cheese and yogurt are frequently-suggested alternatives, and besides, calcium is not restricted to the dairy family.

You will find plenty of government/nutritionist studies on the net, not to mention vehemently pro-milk and virulently anti-milk manifestos. It should not be difficult to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
posted by clever sheep at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2004


Such a generaly question will likely not have a simple answer. Whatever gave you the idea that milk isn't good for you? Understanding that might help in clarifying your specific concerns.

For a simple answer stick to this maxim: Your diet should emphasize two things, moderation and variety.
posted by daver at 9:14 AM on March 8, 2004


On the anti-milk side, there's notmilk.com [warning: based on Drudge's layout]. Lots of it is pretty disgusting.
posted by subgenius at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2004


Basically I wanted some extra thoughts from a community, as opposed to the Internet in general. When I did a Google search, I recieved so many answers, and most I felt were too political to be trusted. Pro-milk, yeah from the Dairy producers. Anti-milk, yeah from the Atkins/Low Carb people, because Lactose is a form of sugar.

The basic concept of milk not being good you comes from statements from various health people over the years that adults can't generally digest lactose as well as children, that it was full of fat, etc.

But then, recent studies have shown the connection of milk/dairy and obesity prevention in children. And in some of the studies, those have been drawn to adults. But one of the sponsors of that study is milk industry.

Maybe it is just one of those questions that has no simple answer... amazing how something as simple as milk can be controversial and arise so many different answers.
posted by benjh at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2004


Here are my personal thoughts on milk, based on sort of what I have picked up through osmiosis and observation. I don't drink much of it, but I don't eschew it. I live in a dairy state, with small dairies so I am fairly confident that the milk I buy is not full of Bovine Growth Hormone [pro/con links]and is produced humanely and employs my neighbors. That's good. On the downside, milk production in the state has been contentious because the milk prices in this state [which are set state-wide] people feel are being set artifically low, forcing dairy farmers into economy-of-scale situations just to stay afloat doing what they have been doing. Some people have been able to work within these restriction, but many family dairy farms are going out of business. Some say that's inevitable, the whole issue is very loaded.

On a more nutrition-based side, I try to get calcium in my diet, but often lean towards cheese or yogurts. Milk is easy to glug down, and has more calories than I feel like getting out of whatever I am drinking with my meal. The older you get, the more calories matter, so I don't drink anything except skim or 1%. I also prefer soy and rice milks because I think they taste better, are easier for me to digest, and eliminate constantly-pregnant cows from the milk equation. I think many food choices incite controversy among people who make conscious choices pro or against certain foods. Add to that the very powerful milk lobby [whose job is to keep us drinking milk, creating some very silly campaigns and initiatives from the got milk people] and people who are equally emphatic about avoiding all dairy products and yeah, it's a tough issue.
posted by jessamyn at 9:54 AM on March 8, 2004


I believe the question does have a simple answer - or at least a simple responsive question: Why would your body be built to need something coming out of a cow's udder - designed expressly for that cow's infant cow?

Also, about three-fourths of the world's population cannot digest cow's milk. This is not a controversial or political idea. If you're caucasian, you probably can digest the lactose, but that's far from the only questionable component.
posted by soyjoy at 10:46 AM on March 8, 2004


Calcium requirements is a very interesting and complex issue. It seems intuitive that you need lots of calcium in your diet to prevent calcium loss from bones and teeth. However, there is apparently a pretty clear positive correlation between osteoporosis and high calcium intake in general and dairy products in particular - i.e. the more dairy a population consumes the more osteoporosis it suffers. Clearly there are other factors involved - e.g. protein and phosphorus consumption, Vitamin D consumption or sunlight exposure, and exercise. Meanwhile the medical establishment, the FDA, and, surprise, the dairy industry tell us that we need to consume lots of dairy products. It's very difficult to know who to believe and what to do. Which is ultimately why I think, barring any clear consensus, daver's advice is best.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:57 AM on March 8, 2004


One of the anti-dairy arguments I have heard and somewhat agree with is that cow milk is specifically designed for baby cows in the same way that human milk is designed specifically for baby humans. Milk from a non-human mother should not be consumed by humans because it is not designed for humans. It would probably be healthier if humans drank milk from humans.

On preview, what soyjoy said.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2004


None of the food we eat was "designed for humans". You wouldn't argue "muscles were designed for facilitating locomotion, not for eating" or "spinach leaves evolved to gather sunlight, not to serve as food for humans". If you can digest lactose (something many people have a problem with), milk is a potential source of nutrition. The question as to whether it's a healthy source of nutrition, and in what quantities it should be consumed for optimal health, is more complicated.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:22 AM on March 8, 2004 [1 favorite]


Humph. Who cares if its good for you? It tastes good so you drink it. Unless, of course, it doesn't taste good to you in which case don't drink it.

Just because it is intended to satisfy the nutritional needs of veal doesn't mean we humans can't derive some benefit from it. The suggestion that we should drink human milk is an interesting one. I'm picturing rows of stalls with lactating women hooked up to milking machines. Somehow I don't think the idea will catch on. Besides, I'm told human milk tastes terrible.
posted by Grod at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2004


There's nothing in milk you couldn't get from other sources or supplements. It's not like populations that habitually avoid milk after childhood all drop dead at forty.

On the other hand, it's not like milk from any of the common dairy animals is some sort of hideous poison either. Populations that habitually drink lots of milk also don't all drop dead at forty.

Either way, there's no special juju in milk. It's just a fluid with fats, proteins, dissolved minerals, and the like in it.

If you don't like drinking milk, then don't. Get your various nutrient needs through attention to your diet and/or through supplements. You won't find it difficult.

I believe the question does have a simple answer - or at least a simple responsive question: Why would your body be built to need something coming out of a cow's udder - designed expressly for that cow's infant cow?

Soyjoy, that's just plain bad reasoning. Why would your body be built to "need" something internal to a plant -- designed* expressly for its own benefit, not to meet your body's needs? For that matter, why would your body be built to "need" herbs -- often with components designed specifically as toxins to deter consumption?

Though it would be interesting to gene-tamper cows (or goats or sheep or whatnot) to give human milk. If we can get them to make spider silk in their milk, we ought to be able to do that.

*Nothing's milk (or anything else in nature) is _designed_ specifically for anything. It just evolved that way as something good enough. There's no intent or design there for human choices to run counter to, unless you want to argue that God or the gods decreed it to be so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:34 AM on March 8, 2004 [1 favorite]


I don't drink milk - I haven't liked it since I was 11, so I get my calcium from eating cheese and being outside. My husband, OTOH, easily goes through 3 gallons a week. I don't know why our tastes for milk are so different but I'd rather buy him that much milk than beer! ;)
posted by Lynsey at 11:35 AM on March 8, 2004


I like milk too. I'm 21, and drink about a gallon a week. This is mainly because I don't drink soda or other sugary/processed drinks, and Orange Juice and Milk are cheap & healthy alternatives. I don't see myself getting anything besides benefits from it. Side note: I tried soy milk, but I think it tastes like crap in a bottle.
posted by tomorama at 1:54 PM on March 8, 2004


Nothing's milk (or anything else in nature) is _designed_ specifically for anything

Sorry, ROU, but that statement is absolutely wrong. Plants are not "designed" to be food for any particular animal, but their components can be metabolized effectively by a lot of animals. Milk, though, is unlike any other food - it's very specifically created for, targeted to, the offspring of one specific, individual mammal, with the exact nutrient/hormone mix that is optimal for that baby or babies. This doesn't mean no one can get any nutrients from milk, only that it would be ludicrous for our bodies to have a need for any milk other than that of our own mothers when we're infants.
posted by soyjoy at 2:28 PM on March 8, 2004


Why would your body be built to need something coming out of a cow's udder - designed expressly for that cow's infant cow?

Because cows have been domesticated for the last 5000 to 8000 years?
posted by goethean at 3:03 PM on March 8, 2004


This adult human no longer consumes baby-cow food. Since I quit guzzling milk with every meal and snack, my chronic sinus congestion cleared up, I don't get all phlegmy with every little cold, and I no longer wake up every morning with crust in my eyes. Wish someone had clued me in a few decades ago.

There are many varieties of soy milk and rice milk that are perfect on cereal in the morning.
posted by Tubes at 3:18 PM on March 8, 2004


This doesn't mean no one can get any nutrients from milk, only that it would be ludicrous for our bodies to have a need for any milk other than that of our own mothers when we're infants.

Of course, just because our bodies don't need a certain food doesn't mean that we can't eat, and enjoy, that food. I sure as hell wouldn't want to be forced to survive on a minimal protein mush and vitamin pills for every meal. If I were to be told that I can't have cream in my coffee because it is "designed" (always a dangerous word in discussions of biology, by the way) for baby cows, I would cry.

There's also an argument that could be made...let me try and sketch it out: As people are living longer, they are being exposed to conditions that they were not evolutionarily selected for. One of these conditions is osteoporosis. I know that there are arguments against the mainstream point of view, but mainstream nutrition tells us that increasing dietary calcium is a good way to fight osteoporosis, and that milk is a good dietary delivery vehicle for calcium. Could this not be considered a "need"? This need is not "ludicrous", because it was not addressed by evolution: osteoporosis does not interfere with reproduction, because it affects only individuals past reproductive age. It is therefore not evolutionarily selected against, and human breast milk (which is also a product of evolution) could not be expected to address it. If bovine dairy products address the need, though... You see what I'm saying? There are human needs outside of pure biology, I think is my point.

Tubes: You seem to have a dairy allergy; it's good that you avoid dairy. That doesn't mean that everyone else should do the same.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:03 PM on March 8, 2004


Sorry, ROU, but that statement is absolutely wrong

It is fundamentally impossible for there to be design without conscious intent. No conscious intent was involved in the evolution of different types of milk, or in the evolution of different compounds within plants.

Ergo, there cannot possibly be any design inherent in milk, or in whatever compounds make oregano taste like it does, or in capsaicin.

You seem to be saying that for an adult human to drink milk violates nature's design, but nature simply has no design to violate.

What you're saying makes little sense at a second level, too. Beans are just as "designed" and "targeted" as milk, to be the "exact nutrient/hormone mix that is optimal for" the growth of embryos of that particular species. That is to say, it is perverse for you to eat something that is "designed" to help baby soybeans grow, since you're not a soybean.

Again, though:

There's nothing in milk that you can't get from other places, benjh. If you don't like it, don't drink it. There's absolutely no need to go out of your way to drink it. Pay some attention to your diet and top up as needed with supplements if the stuff you'll actually eat doesn't include enough calcium or whatnot. Hell, if all you do is not go out of your way to eat a particularly fucked-up diet, odds are you'll be fine unless a physician tells you otherwise at a checkup.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:24 PM on March 8, 2004


Besides, I'm told human milk tastes terrible.

Well, there's no accounting for taste, but I beg to differ. I tasted my own milk when I was lactating, and it was fine. Watery compared to cow's milk, and more mild though.

I also tried putting some on breakfast cereal, but that was a big mistake. I'm not sure exactly why, but it just tasted... wrong.

I also attempted to make chocolate pudding out of some extra milk, but it refused to gel for some reason. Could be because it wasn't pasteurized, and the lipase (fat-metabolizing enzyme) breaks down the lipids into a smeary grease which is unappetizing and may inhibit the making of pudding.

If I ever lactate again, I plan to try to make human cheese.
posted by beth at 6:26 PM on March 8, 2004 [2 favorites]


There really are some things I'd rather not know about people.

Their human-milk cheese-making habits is one of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2004


beth, I wonder if collecting a few sessions of the rich fatty hind milk would produce better results.
posted by Feisty at 7:04 PM on March 8, 2004


If I ever lactate again, I plan to try to make human cheese.

Leichester? Double Glouchester? Mammental? Beth Robefort?
posted by Danelope at 7:57 PM on March 8, 2004


ROU, I see where you're coming from on "design," but I think that aspect of the argument is more semantic than anything else. Of course "design" literally implies a "designer," but I'm perfectly happy to use whatever verb you'd fill in here: "The male and female genitalia are ________ to work together to facilitate reproduction." I'd go with "designed" there even if I don't believe in any conscious intent behind it. Unless you believe our bodies are built this way by chance, just use whatever verb you would in that case, and that's my point.

But this beans analogy is, um, full of beans. First of all, I didn't say it was "perverse" to drink cow's milk, only that it's silly to act as though we need it (attempting to answer benjh's last question up top). And beans having "the exact nutrient/hormone mix that is optimal for the growth of embryos of that particular species" is not the "particular" I'm talking about. Mammals supply a food that is exactly made for one individual animal or one individual set of animals, at one point in their lives - the beginning! That completely different level of specificity makes milk unique in that regard. Doesn't mean it's "perverse" for another animal to drink that milk - but it is nonsensical for that other animal to say "my body needs this."

So to sum up, if you want milk in your coffee or wherever because you enjoy the taste, just say that - but don't cloak it in any nutritional imperative. You do need calcium, which, aside from fortified foods like soymilk and OJ, is naturally abundant in foods like kale, collards, broccoli, spinach, mustard greens and some varieties of - yes - beans.

BTW, mr_roboto, the correlation between dairy and increased congestion/mucus production is well known. It's unlikely that Tubes had a dairy allergy, which is a much more severe condition.
posted by soyjoy at 8:34 PM on March 8, 2004


Well, I still think there's a whole host of falsity in there, but we're not going to be helpful question-answerers going back and forth about it, so I'm going to shut up and leave that last word to you.

(not trying to be snotty. trying to be good ask-mefi user.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 PM on March 8, 2004


"Lots of it is pretty disgusting"

Yes, but I can picture a whole new ad campaign, since the Got Milk? is getting a bit old.

Utah! Our milk has less pus than 44 other states!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:58 PM on March 8, 2004


Beth: Thank you. I like your way of thinking.
posted by Goofyy at 2:12 AM on March 9, 2004


BTW, mr_roboto, the correlation between dairy and increased congestion/mucus production is well known. It's unlikely that Tubes had a dairy allergy, which is a much more severe condition.

Thanks, soyjoy, I was going to come back and point that out. I'll add that I've talked a couple of friends into trying a milk-free lifestyle and they experienced the same thing. They weren't miserable before, but felt better after.
posted by Tubes at 4:15 PM on March 10, 2004


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