"Got Milk?" is a question fewer and fewer Americans are asking these days. Despite the decline in milk consumption over the past few decades — and the growing debate about whether milk is even good for you — health experts still agree that it's the healthiest drink you can reach for.
Milk is "a whole package of nutrients that you can't find in any other beverages," says Ashley Rosales, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council of California. Other drinks just don't stack up in nutritinoal content, says Dr. Keith Ayoob, an associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City who still operates a clinical practice today. "Milk is one of the most efficient foods," he says, "because not much else can deliver the most nutrition per calorie."
And what exactly are the nutrients in this complete package? The most familiar nutrients in milk may be vitamin D and calcium, two essential components for bone health. But there's much more than that: there's potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, plus plenty of protein and carbohydrates that make up milk's nutrient-rich profile. Miller points out that magnesium and phosphorous are also critical to bone health, and the potassium helps keep the heart healthy and blood pressure down. The potassium and protein levels also makes milk an ideal post-workout drink (hey, even the Olympians are doing it!), says Ayoob. "The potassium replaces fluids, and the proteins builds muscle — and people keep going for protein powder or whey powders after their workouts," Ayoob says. "Where do you think whey comes from? Milk."
It's all of the nutrients together that make it the complete package — and other milks fall in comparison. While other drinks may be fortified with nutrients, like vitamin D and calcium, you may not be getting the full benefits of milk. "We're uncovering that nutrients work with other nutrients," Rosales says. "While we've figured out that vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand, there's a whole matrix of other nutrients that are needed for bone health."
And as milk consumption is on the decline, kids and adults alike aren't getting the nutrients they need. Ayoob says about seven out of 10 kids don't get enough calcium, and the same for nine out of 10 teenage girls. While flavored milks in schools have gotten a beating before, Ayoob says he fully supports them, because any milk consumption is better than none at all. Even though flavored milks may have more sugars, "it's a judicious amount of sugar," Ayoob says. And if kids don't start drinking milk soon, "they'll graduate with degrees and lousy bones," he says.