The Got Milk? ad campaign from the 1990s is likely something most Americans born in that decade remember. The ad featured a rhetorical question in slim, white sans serif text, and sometimes showed a smiling child or adult with a white mustache coating their upper lip. Since then, milk has become even more ubiquitous, with a whole spectrum of milk varieties now available containing various amounts of fat, along with plant- and nut-based milk in various flavors. However, all that advertising may have backfired, as some people are now wary of dairy. So, is milk actually good for you?
Nutrition scientist Kimberly O’Brien at Cornell University says that cow’s milk is replete with essential nutrients like calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, protein, fat, and more that help our bodies run. While plant-based milks have some of these nutrients added to them, dairy milk is more of a total package. However, it’s important to note that milk isn’t for everyone. Someone might be lactose intolerant, which means their digestive tract can’t break down lactose, which is only present in dairy. Some cultural groups also don’t include dairy in their diets, so it’s not appropriate for everyone.
It’s clear that humans need water, oxygen, and sleep to live. While they require calcium, protein, fat, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, all of which cow’s milk is chock full, humans don’t necessarily need milk. Calcium famously helps build strong bones, which is why milk is seen as a staple for kids, as the first 20 years of life are critical for fortifying one’s skeleton. Genetics determines one’s bone density. If someone’s family has a history of osteoporosis, drinking milk regularly in childhood may help prevent their developing the disease. However, there are other sources of the crucial nutrients found in milk, such as almonds, leafy greens, and green soybeans.
Serum calcium, the element as it exists in our bloodstream, is crucial. It’s needed for healthy muscle contractions, as well as acting as a potent signaling agent for cells, instructing muscle cells to contract. When there isn’t enough serum calcium, the body pulls it from our bones, which are calcium reservoirs. If someone doesn’t get enough calcium, their body leaches it from their bones, which can lead to demineralization of one’s skeleton. This can impact quality of life and even mortality should someone suffer a hip fracture.
While milk is a single nutrient-dense food source, it’s possible to get those nutrients from other food groups. Plant-based milk can make up for any areas where there’s something left to be desired, and a varied diet consisting of many different grains, proteins, and vegetables ought to provide all the nutrients that one needs. A few other good sources of calcium include almonds, leafy greens, and green soybeans. So, while milk is a way to get essential nutrients, it’s not the only way.