When's the last time you sit down with a glass of cow's milk? Dairy-though long-held as an essential part of a healthy diet-is hitting a downslide. New nondairy milk options are intriguing and numerous: Research from Mintel found that nondairy milk sales have grown 61 percent since 2012. You can now buy almond milk, coconut milk, peanut milk, and even pea milk, just to name a few. Meanwhile, traditional milk sales are dropping.
People are asking, now, more than ever: Is dairy actually healthy?
On the one hand, you hear that milk and good sources of calcium, so you should consume them. On the other, you're told that drinking milk is unnatural and that humans are the only mammals to drink milk from other mammals, plus it has hormones. To the unnatural point, we are the only species to build and drive cars, so the line of thinking that compares our behavior to that of other mammals is not that compelling. As for hormones, there is not adequate, credible research on support that hormones in milk are causing problems for people.
But there's a lot more to consider. Is dairy actually healthy, or is the plant-based movement worth the hype? Here, the facts.
The Pros of Dairy
High in calcium and vitamin D: Milk is a convenient and concentrated source of both nutrients, which are essential dietary components for bone health. The recommended daily amount of calcium for an adult under 50 years old is 1
Whey and casein: These are the two proteins found in dairy products. Whey is by far the most popular protein used in protein powders, and casein (a slow-digesting protein) has been gaining popularity over the years as well. Both offer unique benefits for amino acid profiles and digestion rates. Whey contains an abundance of branched-chain amino acids, which are key to supporting muscle growth. Between whey and casein, one 8-oz glass of milk packs about 8 grams of protein.
Convenience: Whether you choose sliced cheese, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt, dairy is an easy way to get a high-protein snack during the day when you're on the go-something. Plus, restrictive dieting (of any kind) can trigger overeating, unnecessary guilt, or nutrient deficiencies.
The Cons of Dairy
Lactose: This dairy sugar is actually two sugars bonded together. Lactase, an enzyme in your body, breaks that bond so the individual sugars can be digested. But for the 65 percent of the world's population that has a reduced ability to digest lactose (aka lactose intolerance), the dairy can disrupt the GI tract and provide fuel for bacteria in the gut, leading to bloating and gas. While the worldwide prevalence of lactose intolerance is rather high, it's actually significantly lower in the U.S., affecting about 10 to 15 percent of adults (an estimated 30 to 50 million people), according to the FDA. If you notice gas, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, or diarrhea about 30 minutes to two hours after consuming lactose, you may be lactose intolerant. (Related: Can Lactose Intolerance Be Cured?)
Lactose intolerance is tricky, as it's on a sliding scale. Because of varying levels of lactase production by different people, some can not go near milk but can enjoy cheese or yogurt (which have less lactose). Your personal lactose tolerance is very individualized and should be determined by removing dairy and then adding different types to your body. (And, when in doubt, see a doctor or dietitian for help.) You may discover you have no issue with lactose, or you may find that you can not handle the lactose in a glass of milk.
Whey and casein: Yes, whey and casein are both pros and cons for eating dairy. The downside of these proteins is that they are the most common food allergens in infants and young children. Brooke Kalanick, coauthor of Ultimate You disagrees. (Related: 10 New Smoothies You'll Love)
"I'm not sure anyone's ever explained the 'outgrowing' aspect to me in terms of good science; it seems like one of those things just gets passed down and taken as fact In my practice, I have low-grade digestive issues such as bloating or irregular bowel movement, but congestion is very common food. Then they come off dairy and are amazed. " Allergy is different from intolerance . Allergy involves your immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Acne: "Acne is another huge issue for adults with dairy issues," says Kalanick acne, although researchers are not sure why;
Calories: Milk is often touted in dietary recommendations as somewhat of an Elixir of life and something in your cup of tea with breakfast, lunch, lunch and dinner and dinner) that's an extra 360 calories, which could be 20 percent of your caloric intake for the day. This is why the Harvard School of Public Health's "Healthy Plate" ( their alternative to MyPlate) emphasizes drinking water, tea, or coffee (with little or no sweetener) and limiting milk to one or two glasses per day. [Related: The Worst Drinks for Your Body]
The Bottom Line: Is Dairy Healthy for You?
Drinking dairy is an individual choice.
As Kalanick points out, you may experience some low-grade symptoms of a dairy allergy or intolerance that you do not notice or connect with food. But you will not make the connection until you are symptom-free-so try cutting out dairy for two to three weeks and see how it impacts your body. (Related: What Happened When I Gave Up Dairy for a Year) However, there's no way to do it wrong, there's no need to demonize it.