Is Milk Bad for You? What the Experts Say

Mark Bittman has caused a stir by claiming that milk is bad for you; others respond


"Drinking milk is as American as Mom and apple pie," began The New York Times' Mark Bittman, in his controversial column that claims milk isn't as good for you as you would think. Even though the USDA recommends three 8-ounce cups of milk per day, Bittman says his own "test" of giving up dairy products has relieved his chronic heartburn. So is milk really that bad for you? 

Bittman writes in his column that milk allergies and lactose intolerance are becoming the norm. And that doesn't even factor in the high amounts of saturated fat, and sugars (in skim milk), that can cause bigger health problems, like type 1 diabetes. Some say that humans have evolved past the need for milk from animals.

Others have come out in defense of milk, and say that milk is still one of the most nutritional drinks on the menu. In response to Bittman's claim that humans have evolved past the need for dairy milk, Will Fertman writes in Culture Magazine that there are plenty of foods that humans have not evolved to eat: olive oil, potatoes, tomatoes, bread, and animal proteins, for starters. Milk can help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, milk is still one of the most affordable, nutritious foods families can put on the table, say opponents. Writes the president of the Dairy Research Institute, Greg Miller, to The New York Times, "Eating three daily servings of dairy (milk, cheese, or yogurt) as recommended by leading health and nutrition organizations means that we’re getting a generous helping of nutrition at an affordable price — both per penny and per calorie."

Bittman still claims that his milk experiment has worked for about one-third of his friends with heartburn. Is milk a healthy part of your diet, or are you one of the millions with lactose intolerance?


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22 Comments

ergraf's picture

On the article about intolerance of dairy products, there is a possibility that the increase in reactions is because of the changes pasteurization causes in milk. Back when many people drank "fresh" milk no one complained about these problems. By the way, when did fresh milk come to be considered "raw"?

DWPTECH's picture

I agree with "TRUTH". My basic belief is simply this, if God made it, I can consume it, if it was made in a lab, stay away. Cholesterol is not our enemy as once thought. Cholesterol was discovered in heart attack patients 20 years ago and they said oh no this is bad, cholesterol is bad, we have to lower it! The real problem researchers have found out is that cholesterol was at the scene of the crime and was blamed. The fact is, inflamation was the cause of the lesions within the artery walls and the cholesterol went running to protect it. Its like saying that there are 10 houses on fire and there are firemen all up and down the street and someone says, well no wonder the houses are on fire, there are firemen all over the place. So, enter "Statins", yes they do lower cholesterol but why in the world would you want to do that? In 1984 they said cholesterol of 240 had to be reduced to 200, and now its been reduced to 180 or below. This has created huge physical problems for people on statins but mosterous money for the manufactures who come right out and say this product doesnt stop heart attacks! Well then why am I taking it?! Listen, we had the cure for cancer in 1933 from a scientist named Ramond Rife, (google his name and go onto the site) why are we still bombarding people with radiation and poison chemicals? Because it is highly profitable thats why! Anyway, yes, be careful of what "Studies" you read. Many are backed by the lobbiests who make the product! I know I got off subject but Im really mad at those who push the lies and put peoples health in danger for profit! If god made the food, eat it, there is a reason He created it! If the food is made in a lab, (ie junk food) yeah I know, Cheetos are good!, stay away. Milk is a good example, drink it in its raw form not after it has been altered. Any food that is processed, altered or created is not good for you and can cause your body to be in an acidic state instead of an alkaline state, Cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment!!!!!!!!

DTKen's picture

Thank you farmerjan and everyone else. Some great comments here. One fact to add is this: junior college chemistry taught me that when milk is homogenized that the calcium is bound inside the fat molecule and the bonding (covalent?) is such that it's nearly impossible for the human body to break these bonds. Thus, most of the calcium naturally occurring in milk goes right thru the digestive system without being utilized by the human body. I was raised on a farm and still prefer grass fed, raw milk when I choose to drink it. Wish I could find a good source where I live now so my children could have it when they drink milk.

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Not a very astute assessment, why does the author think they make Lactose Free MIlk in Whole, Reduced Fat, 1%, and Fat Free. I drink 32-40 oz each day and have been Lactose Intolerant for years. My wife has been the same way for over 50 years and she still drinks Lactose Free milk.
What's your point. It's much better than Lactose Free Whey Powder as far as bloating, provides greater nutrition, and is cheaper per nutritive unit.

maria bueno delgado's picture

Milk helps me sleep. Not much, just about 1/4 cup.

truth's picture

Interesting to see all the so called studies in regards to milk and responses to the studies. One thing that is always missing is "What kind of milk are we talking about." Yes cows milk but what kind of cow, how was it raised, what environment, what is it fed, how is the milk gathered and is the milk processed. These questions determine the end product that makes a huge difference in human response to milk. Most milk humans consume is from production cows, eating unnatural foods (like corn and grain -allergens), raised in pens, and the milk is pasturized and homogenized. To this I agree milk is not good. However, the cow that is not genetically raised, who is grass fed in a natural environment with no chemicals, where the milk is not pasturized or homogenized, the milk is great. Chemical wise the natural kind the human body can absorb the nutrients and does a body good. The production kind has been changed so humans cannot digest and absorb the nutrients properly. This is a huge difference. Taste wise there is a great difference. I'll take natural raw milk any day. The interesting thing is those with allergies or lactose intolerant usually don't have any negative reactions to pure whole natural raw milk. They only have problems with the store bought unnatural pasturized and homogenized milk (changes the chemical structure of milk). So before stating milk is bad for humans, you need to clarify what kind of milk. Few studies include all natural raw milk from cows raised in a natural chemical free environment, those that do agree natural raw milk is good. Production milk is nothing like natural milk in chemical structure, nutrition, and how it reacts to the human body.

milk lover's picture

I have always loved dairy products but, they don't love me! I am so dairy intolerant that it's a big problem for me. I would like to see more products for the dairy intolerant. Soy is even worse than dairy,also almond and coconut milk. Rice milk is great but, it's not low fat. And I love cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and cheese.

truth's picture

Try finding some good whole natural grass fed raw milk and give it a try. Most people do not have an intolerance problem to this kind of milk. I'll also mention that natural fat is good for you and do not make you fat. Low fat items like milk usually make tolerance problems worse because in order to make it low fat they take out the natural enzymes that help digestion and add unnatural fillers. Natural fats are full of nutrition and enzymes.

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Who ever made the comment about type 1 diabetes, Mark Bittman, or the composer of this article "Is milk bad for you?" you made a pretty serious typo in the second paragraph, there is no way that milk can cause type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics generally before the age of 30 years. You need to be more thourough and know what you are talking about if you are going to write about health issues!! Get it together. Also, it sounds as if your (Mark) own genetics aren't designed to handle milk, too bad for you, I've been drinking milk my entire life, my total cholesterol is below 120, I don't have acid reflux desease and the only bone I've seriously broken is my nose in a hockey game.

Uhura's picture

Actually this is correct. There are studies that show something in milk (whether the protein or IGF or whatever, I can't remember) does great harm to the pancreas if given to a child early in life--hence Type 1 diabetes. Neal Barnard and John McDougall both have videos (or Forks Over Knives Extended Interviews) explaining this. They also mention studies where milk is related to causing acne. My 14yo daughter suffers from acid reflux and seb derma/eczema and when I took away the dairy products, her symptoms were dramatically decreased. So I think it is YOU who needs to "get it together." The dairy industry has you wrapped around their little finger (or udder).

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Try Organic Almond Milk as a wonderful substitute. It is available in many different flavors as well as unsweetened. Organic Oat Milk is another option. Do further research on the subject of diary in the following: "The China Study" book, and documentaries such as "Eating", "Healing Cancer from Inside Out", and "Forks over Knives".

truth's picture

Many people follow "The China Study" however, there are flaws in this study, many researchers are questioning the science and collection methodology that this study is made from. The hype to the masses has made the author rich but the science is questionable. Humans are omnivores and need to eat meat (animal products) to remain healthy throughout a lifetime. The human body was made to eat meat, dairy, vegies, nuts, seeds, and fruit in season. Grains are a factor of most human disease, recent studies prove a ketogenic diet kills cancer cells while a grain fed diet feeds cancer cells. Overall one should question the China Study largely because it is based on faulty scientific methods.

Feathers's picture

Adele Davis, one of America's pioneer Nutritionists, basicly declared Cow's Milk "unfit for human consumption" nearly 40 years ago. Especially for babies and toddlers; it's right up there with eggs as far as allergic reactions go.

Not only did she challenge the Diary Industry, she also challenged the food pyramind and debunked the "wisdom" behind Vitamin/mineral MDRs as a one-size-fits-all-farce.

Mark Tulk's picture

This article has "fine print" which is a strong "tell-tale" of the bias in this article: just to the right of the headline, we read: "sponsored by 'got milk?' "
Editor Marcy Franklin did a very poor job, in this, her own article - "Is Milk Bad - What the Experts Say". We don't get any information from legitimate "Experts", everybody quoted has some "vested interest". We read vague references to "leading health and nutrition experts", and the USDA (which EXISTS to promote dairy, meat, etc.). Citing Greg Miller, President of the Dairy Research Institute, an obvious bias, would have gotten me a failing-grade in a High School paper.
"Mother Nature" gives us indication about milk: it is "DESIGNED" for infants, and small children. Children NEED milk, and plenty of it, to grow, and get the calcium needed for bone strength, rapid growth.
In nature, adults of no other species consume milk. Humans have the intelligence to domesticate animals, which yield milk, thus a food-source. For some nomadic people, from the desert to the Arctic, milk, or other dairy foods (cheeses, yogurt, etc.), are necessary for survival.
This article is entitled "Milk", though, so let us focus on regular, liquid milk.
A major fact is that adults MUST produce the enzyme LACTASE to break-down the LACTOSE (milk-sugar) in milk. The naturally-cultured dairy foods (again, cheese, yogurt, etc.) are already "partially-digested" by bacteria, or enzymes, during production. They have different chemistry.
The "Merck Manual" (medical textbook), states, (re: Lactose Intolerance ) that "...LACTASE DEFICIENCY occurs NORMALLY in about 75% of adults in all ethnic groups, except...N.W. European ...the majority of non-whites of North America gradually lose the ability to produce LACTASE [digest lactose] between age 10 and 20 yrs. It affects 90% of orientals, 75% of American blacks and Indians, with a high incidence among peoples from the Mediterranean area..." [capitals added].
We should let Mother Nature be our guide: Milk is for babies, small children. It is high in saturated fats, cholesterol, "milk-sugar" (lactose).
We don't need to be fanatic about it, wise people through history have advised us to "moderation".
By observation, milk is "not natural" as a food for adults. If consumed at all, it should be in small amounts. I take a dash of milk in tea, or coffee, occasional bowl of cereal.
Get your calcium from dark-green vegetables, or supplements.
Calcium carbonate: CaC03 (chalk, limestone) is readily absorbed, high "bio-availability", digested by stomach acids.
This article made absurd assumptions, very biased, bad advice.
- Mark Tulk, E. Lansing, Michigan

datacomm's picture

Milk does have sugars and fats as well as a host of other things not contained in distilled water or purified air. Most of them are needed by your body. Sometimes I think that mild is kinda like a food.

I have never, however, thought of Mark Bittman as a scientist worth bothering with or a scientist at all, for that matter. How would his finding out that 1/3 of his friends with heartburn having it go away, temporarly anyway, have anything to do anything else at all? I'm happy for his friends, however.

If I were to do a study where I gave a gallon of milk to starving people in some far off country, and they all stopped starving and got better, could I proclaim milk as a wonder food and that everyone should have at least a gallon a day to keep from starving to death. Milk could cause your chances of dying from old age to increase, however. It could also cause an increase in people dying from car accidents also. Very dangerous stuff in that case.

You should probably only drink milk if you are looking for something with food value. If you're allergic to milk, or food for that matter, you should avoid milk and food at all costs. Silly!

Moo Moo's picture

Although I suffer some lactose intolerance, I LOVE milk and have since I was a child. I never drink skim, only whole or 2% milk. That, yogurt and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are what I believe keep me from having any problems with high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure, despite being African-American, almost 50 and overweight. I know because I get regular check-ups. I am not on ANY medication whatsoever.

I've just begun an exercise regimen (in earnest) because I know I could be even healthier. I may also have the benefit of 'good genes' because my mother is 79 and exercises regularly and my grandmoher lived to see 100.

I drink very little alcohol and even then it's beer or wine (rarely strong liquor). I was never a heavy smoker, but quit for good, cold turkey in 1994.

tdm-35-icon.png

Moo Moo, you do not suffer from lactose intolerance. You suffer from not being able to digest cow's milk just like the rest of us. Cow's milk was only ever intended to feed baby cows, not humans. Cows only produce milk when they are pregnant, not for their entire life cycle as most people believe. And it certainly was not meant as a replacement for human milk when feeding newborn babies. The composition of cow's milk and human milk are entirely different. Cow's milk does not do a human body good.

tdm-35-icon.png

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in milk. In fact, lactose is found in human milk as well. Babies are not lactose intolerant. Many adults are. The condition becomes evident some time in mid to late childhood. It is normal for adults to be lactose intolerant, but a significant number are not for some reason.

Before you diagnose someone else, don't you think you should have some idea what you are talking about?

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Since I have been involved in the dairy industry, as well as having my own dairy cows, and I drink RAW MILK, not processed, for over 40 years, I think I have a few credentials. First off, your comment that " cows only produce milk when they are pregnant, not for their entire life cycle...." is way off the mark. Any mammal produces milk ONCE IT HAS COMPLETED IT'S PREGNANCY AND GIVEN BIRTH. They do not produce milk until after birth unless they are stimulated to do so artificially. Therefore, they start lactating after the pregnancy has reached term. They will continue to produce for quite a long time. Normally a cow is bred back around 90 days so that she will calve at 12 month intervals. So pregnant approx. 9 months, open approx 3 months. This is ideal for optimal production by a domestic dairy cow. It doesn't always work like that but that is the goal. Many dairy cows today will produce milk for 1 to 2 years if milked daily. The quantity decreases the longer their lactation. If the cycle follows a natural course, the cow will calve in the spring, to take advantage of the flush of grass growth. She will come into heat, "cycle", and get bred back in early summer, 60-120 days after calving. She will continue to milk, quantities decreasing, until she is dried off (no longer milked) approx. 60-90 days before her next calving due date. This enables her system to put all its' energy into the developing fetus, as the greatest growth is in the last couple of months. She will then start to "udder up" not long before she calves again so that she will have the colostrum (with the antibodies) for the calf when it is born; and will go on to go through the whole cycle again. We have developed dairy cattle to produce alot more milk than their calf needs so that we can milk them. In beef cattle, the calf will nurse for 2-10 minutes many times a day, and the cows system will respond to that stimulation and produce all that the calf can use. They can nurse for nearly 2 years if the cow doesn't make them stop. Normally a cow will kick and butt the calf to "wean" it. It is not unheard of a yearling calf nursing even after she has had a new calf. But I am getting away from the subject. RAW milk is much better tolerated than any that is processed due the heat that changes the composition of the milk. You kill the "bad bugs" and you kill the good ones too with pateurization. Actually, homogenization is worse as it breaks down the fat globules into minute particles, and they are suspended in the milk; instead of the old "creamline" milk when the cream rose to the top; and the fat can pass through the walls of the intestines into the blood stream. NON-HOMOGENIZED milk, will pass through the intestines with the fat particles too large to pass through the intestine walls. The body draws out the healthy benefits just like it does from any food, and it is excreted just like all other waste products. It actually is better for you as it is balanced so that you get both the lactose and the enzymes necessary to stimulate the lactase that breaks down the milk. Same as eggs. The whites conteract the yolks so that you get a balanced nutrition. Eating only part of either is unbalanced. Countless cultures have fermented dairy for thousands of years so that they could consume it. Partly due to lack of refridgeration. Yes there are several types (races) of people who lose their tolerance to many milk products due to reduced production of lactase. But, it is still a very dense form of nutrition that can be beneficial in one of its many forms. Just a note, most zoos use a form of bovine colostrum for their baby animals as it is well tolerated by most all mammals.

Victor777's picture

vafiii

Cow's milk is designed to help the animal double its weight in six weeks whereas a child's body requires six to seven months to double its weight. Cow's milk builds up the body structure of the calf to attain a weight of one thousand to two thousand pounds at maturity. Cow's milk is vastly coarser than mother's milk and contains 300% more casein than human milk. To add insult to injury, Cow's milk is pasteurized for human consumption.

BadBob202's picture

I think all the Milk Pros are hiding a very serious factor about our good
ol tasting milk that we should have three glasses of a day. Check the side
of the milk carton and be amazed " 11 (eleven) grams of sugar per serving". That's 33 grams of sugar a day for just drinking 3 glasses of good
ol milk. And NO milk doesn't help you if you have type 2 diabetes as I
did and now am type 1 taking insulin and was a loyal milk drinker until I found out too late. Mothers when you load your kids up with a bowl of
cereal in the morning, please add up the sugar on the cereal box and
ADD at least 11 grams for the milk! Give your kids and their teachers a
break!

jcottle's picture

First of all, type I diabetes is juvenile diabetes and the result of failure by the pancreas to produce insulin. Type II diabetes is adult-onset and the result of insulin resistance by the cells. Your statement that you had type II but are now type I is glaring evidence that you haven't a clue what you are talking about, with respect to the consumption of milk or otherwise.

Learn your facts before attempting to stand on one side or the other.

J Cottle, MD (ret.)

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