The official drink of your childhood is suddenly
controversial. Here’s how to know if you will need to
Milk is the drink your parents pushed on you, and
for good reason: It’s a fantastic source of protein.
It’s full of calcium and vitamin D, which help keep
your bones and teeth strong. Plus, it has choline, a
protein important for the brain, and potassium,
which helps protect the heart. What’s not to love?
Well, a few things. In recent years, some nutrition
scientists have voiced concerns that milk may not
deserve its sterling reputation, because people who
drink milk aren’t always healthier than people who
don’t. “The evidence and data for all of milk’s
benefits just are not there,” Worse, some new
research — all of it preliminary, none of it definitive
— suggests that drinking too much milk could
pose health risks.
Cow’s milk is full of hormones that help calves
grow — one study estimates that 60 to 80 percent
of the female hormones we get from our food
comes from cow’s milk. That includes the
hormone IGF-1, which induces cells to multiply —
potentially a bad thing considering that excessive
cell multiplication is a hallmark of cancer, says director of the division of
Women who drink more than two glasses of milk a
day are twice as likely to be diagnosed with
ovarian cancer than women who rarely drink it,
according to study. And research
recently found that women who drink three or more
glasses of milk per day are nearly twice as likely
than non-milk-drinkers to die over the course of
20 years from any cause.
But don’t hyperventilate just yet, milk fanatics.
Research notes that what you get from milk “is a small effect” and may not make a huge
difference to your overall cancer risk. There are
studies that tie milk to a lower risk of cancer too
— for instance, one found that older women who
drink a lot of milk have a reduced risk for breast
cancer. And because milk drinkers may do other
things that put them at an increased risk for
cancer, it’s impossible to say milk causes the
issues that have been linked to its consumption.
The problem is that no one knows exactly how
many of the hormones from milk actually get into
your body, because digestion breaks some of them
down. And it’s unclear whether concerns raised
about milk apply to other dairy products too. Until
we know more about the potential health risks,
research recommends drinking no more than one to
two glasses of milk a day (don’t forget to count
your latte) and sticking to skim, as it contains
fewer hormones than whole. Kids can have a bit
more because they have different nutritional
requirements for growth, including calcium.
Don’t feel like you have to pay up for organic,
which doesn’t have lower levels of sex hormones
than the conventional kind. Instead, check the label
for milk produced without growth hormones,
whose use in farming may contribute to the crisis
of antibiotic resistance, or swap in some of the
non-cow’s-milk options below.
“Milk is very
nutritious, yes,” “but that doesn’t
mean the more we drink, the better. You can have
too much of a good thing.”
(30 calories, 2.5 grams fat*)
It’s low in fat and calories and high in calcium,
vitamin E … and sugar.
Try it: Rich and creamy, use it in smoothies and
*All counts are per cup.
(110 calories, 4.5 grams fat)
This trendy option delivers 10 times more iron and
three times more vitamin C than its bovine
Try it: Use this sweet milk for sauces and batters.
(100 calories, 3.5 grams fat)
Soy is thought to help halt heart disease, but some
studies say too much may adversely affect fertility.
Try it: Thicken soup by stirring in the plain kind.
(120 calories, 2.5 grams fat)
Got allergies? This has no lactose, nuts, or soy.
Try it: Like a light, super-thin version of cow’s
milk, use in oatmeal or cereal.