Wait a sec, is consuming dairy good or bad for you? Do you cut it out when you want to get healthy, or add more in? Does it make your face break out? Does it help with bone density?
Everyone has an opinion. We all have that overly energized runner friend who insists that chocolate milk is the scientifically perfect ratio of sustenance post-workout. (But judging from her level of spunk we’re starting to think that maybe she means cocaine.) You’re just reaching for some dip to place atop your chip at a party and before you know it, you’re involved in a whole discussion about whether another mammal’s milk should even enter our digestive systems. Can't a girl enjoy some spinach artichoke dip in peace?
Fortunately, we can navigate these murky, curdled waters together and try to debunk some common mooo-related myths.
Dairy advocates will tell you about bone health, muscle development, healthy skin. Some will say that dairy decreases your risk for cancer.
Still, others will claim that it increases your risk for cancer. That it will clog your pores. That consuming anything even remotely similar to milk-related products is not only unnatural, your body doesn't know how to digest it.
Then there are the folks claiming milk is good only in the raw. Pasteurization kills off bacteria, sure, but it also kills off all of the active enzymes that make it worth drinking in the first place.
Attempting to digest these “facts” is proving unpalatable enough as it is. And may be causing an ice cream headache. (Last joke, I promise. They’re just too easy in this context.)
We haven’t even gotten to the households with a row of cartons in every fat percentage available, and already it's exhausting. (And oh, by the way, full-fat dairy is supposed to help with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.)
Okay, let’s head to the lab for a minute. Milk has lactose. Lactose requires the enzyme lactase in order to properly break it down. Infant mammals have plenty of lactase, but it tapers off as we age, because weaning should be over at some point. (No, we’re not going to talk about breastfeeding controversies here. Cow consumables are plenty of cud for one article... Ugh, just too tempting. Not even a little bit sorry I broke that promise.)
Modern dairy cows are either kept on sex hormones or stay pregnant for their entire lives for year-round lactation, aka dairy farm production. So when you’re drinking milk from that cow, you’re also taking in the extra estrogen and progesterone — unless you’re going rogue with some unpasteurized milk from a local hippie farmer, in which case you might be fine.
But before you burn down every carton in sight, other foods tamper with your hormones too. Soybeans especially. Just keep it balanced, friends.
So what can we conclude? It seems that dairy is not essential to the human diet. The nutrition it provides can be found elsewhere, if you look hard enough. If you’re a naysayer, find foods high in calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, potassium and phosphorous.
But we shouldn’t necessarily actively avoid dairy either. The most helpful information to remember: moderation, food diversity and quality of ingredients matter most in all health and nutrition practices, not just dairy consumption. And the more real (and less processed) your food, the better.
The dairy choice also depends on your personal context. Naturally, I have horrible skin and consta-clogged sinuses, so I’ve cut out most dairy in order to reduce these issues.
Others may find it helpful and even beneficial for increasing calcium or potassium levels.
And then there are the people who just desperately need something to soak their Cocoa Puffs in. The good news is that there’s room for all of us on this planet. If you’re still with me after all of that, these considerations should get even the most adversarial acquaintances off of your back. Keyword: should.