DEAR DOCTOR K:
My parents made us drink milk every day, and I’ve continued that as an adult. A friend just told me that adults don’t need milk, and that it can even be bad for you. What’s the truth?
Like you, we always had milk when I was a kid. In fact, the coming of the milkman to deliver the milk at home (remember him?) was an important event each day. These days, I have milk on cereal, but I don’t drink it by the glass. As with most things, there are both benefits and risks.
The benefits: Milk is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D (in the United States, most milk is fortified with vitamin D). An 8-ounce serving of milk has approximately 8 to 9 grams of protein, 300 milligrams of calcium and 100 IU of vitamin D. Growing kids need it, for sure. And it’s one way for adults to meet the recommended daily requirements for protein, calcium and vitamin D.
However, there are also risks to making milk your favorite beverage, especially if it’s whole milk:
- Excess fat and calories. An 8-ounce serving of whole milk has 8 grams of fat (more than half of which are unhealthy saturated fat) and 150 calories.
- Dangerously high blood calcium levels. People who drink a lot of milk and also consume excessive amounts of calcium-containing antacids or high-calcium foods are at risk for high blood calcium levels. This can occasionally lead to kidney stones and other health problems.
- Milk allergies. These are much more common in children. However, recent studies found that up to 4 percent of adults report symptoms that could reflect milk allergy, ranging from stomach trouble to eczema. In most cases, though, milk allergy has not been confirmed by formal testing.
- Possible increased risk of certain diseases. There is some evidence that high dairy intake may be associated with prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
- Some people have a condition called lactase deficiency. When they drink milk or eat other dairy products, they get abdominal pains, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting and other unpleasant symptoms.
For me, the bottom line is “all things in moderation.” If you like milk, try using low-fat or nonfat varieties. Whole milk has about 3 percent fat. Moreover, much of that fat is “bad fat” — saturated fat. Skim milk has essentially no fat. Most stores carry both 2 percent and 1 percent fat milk, as well. So you have four choices.
Maybe you’ve tried skim milk and don’t like the taste. That was my experience. But when I tried 2 percent milk, I thought it tasted pretty good. So after using that for several months, I switched to 1 percent milk — and that tasted pretty good, too. That’s what I use now.
When I was a kid, I remember a television commercial that said, “You never outgrow your need for milk.” That’s not the case. On the other hand, I can’t imagine cereal without milk.