Do We Need Dairy in Our Diets?

When it comes to dieting, many Americans follow MyPlate to have an idea of what they should intake to maintain their nutritional needs. For those who don’t know, MyPlate is a visual guide of a seconded plate with different colors that is divided into the recommended food groups needed in our daily meals. This visual reference focuses on serving size, and your intake of whole grains and veggies (Wansink and Kranz, 2013). Portion control and achieving dietary needs are key to a healthy diet. However, the argument with these diagrams is that some people choose not to follow those guidelines, especially on dairy intake. According to statisticbrain.com, about 40 million Americans are lactose intolerant (2017). If a fair percentage of the country is lactose intolerant, then why are milk and dairy products encouraged by many dieticians and nutritionists? Do we actually need dairy in our diets for proper bodily function and development?

Within the past 3 years, I made the commitment to no longer intake milk and dairy products. Although I outgrew being lactose intolerant, I felt that it was unnatural for humans to drink milk that comes from another animal. After a few months without dairy, my acne cleared up, I lost weight, and I felt less bloated. Overtime, I learned that as children and infants, we have digestive enzymes, called lactase, to help breakdown our milk consumption from our mothers; but as we grow older, we develop “Deficiencies in digestive enzymes, such as lactase,” causing us to become lactose intolerant (Byrd-Bredbenner, 142). Meaning, we no longer need milk from our mothers as we grow older because as we grow older, we begin to rely on eating food to sustain ourselves. Since we no longer need milk to get the nutrients that we need, then why are we consuming milk from another mammal? Human milk contains nutrients to help develop an infant the same way cow’s milk provides nutrients to help develop a calf. To me, it is strange to not need milk from our mothers, but to still consume milk from a cow after a human has matured.

People are beginning to realize the negative side effects of cow’s milk. Studies have shown that “Milk intake may influence comedogenesis because it contains androgens, 5α-reduced steroids…, and other nonsteroidal growth factors that affect the pilosebaceous unit” (Adebamowo, et al., 2008). In other words, milk intake can cause the clogging of pores, thus producing blackheads. Milk also contains all these other steroids and growth factors that affects skin development. Milk contains these steroids because it is what the farmers inject in the cows to grow and produce more milk. In addition, according to The Harvard School of Public Health, a high intake of milk can increase the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers, is high in saturated fat, can weaken the bones, and is not the best source of calcium out there (Harvard School of Public Health, n.d.). Because milk is not the best source of calcium, and does not strengthen bones, then many nutritionists and dieticians encourage milk intake for business purposes. The good news, we can obtain calcium through other sources that are healthier than milk. Healthy alternatives for calcium includes “…leafy green vegetables and broccoli, both of which are also great sources of vitamin K, another key nutrient for bone health. Beans and tofu can also supply calcium” (Harvard School of Public Health, n.d.). These non-dairy calcium sources can help with meet daily carbohydrate and vegetable intake.

Other studies have proven that milk provides many health benefits. According to Tanja Thorning, the main author of Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence, cow’s milk decreases the risk of childhood obesity, helps manage weight, and can reduce cardiovascular diseases as well as type one and two diabetes (Thorning, et al., 2016). Although milk does provide great health benefits, an excessive intake of anything healthy can defeat its purpose. People prefer milk and dairy products, as opposed to other calcium sources because it is more affordable and more advertised to contain calcium on food labels and commercials. In addition, milk and dairy products are commonly known for being, “… a nutrient-dense, inexpensive food that improves the overall nutritional quality of the diet” (Armas, Fyre, and Heaney, 2016). Meaning, dairy products are low in calories and provide a high nutrient content. Because of this, dairy products are more favored for a lower price than the non-dairy calcium sources.

A new perspective of this argument shows that nutritionists and dieticians are reevaluating the government’s MyPlate guidelines. According to the Harvard gazette, their new version of the MyPlate replaces dairy with water. “Limit milk and dairy (1–2 servings per day), and juice (1 small glass a day), and avoid sugary drinks” (HARVARD gazette, 2011). The reason is to encourage more water intake to keep Americans hydrated for proper digestion. They are also stating that the more than the daily recommendation of milk and dairy can cause problems in the future. According to Wardlaw’s Perspectives in Nutrition, Byrd-Bredbenner explains that, “Most of the galactose in our diets is found in combination with glucose…When combin[ed] with glucose, it forms a disaccharide called lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products” (157). In other words, galactose is a form of milk-sugar. Too much of sugar in general can be detrimental to our health. By Harvard’s school of public health creating their own version of dietary guidelines, they are promoting better guidelines to benefit people, not businesses.

Based on this research, both Harvard’s School of Public Health and Adebamowo’s work is most correct. They state the counterargument by discussing that people can have dairy and milk products in their diets, but people do not necessarily need it to support their proper health. The Harvard gazette enhances this view point by creating an alternative daily food guideline that explains that milk and other drinks are optional, but explains the daily recommendation when one chooses to intake drinks other than water.

Although Thorning’s research is correct, she is not the most correct when she concludes in her research that, “…scientific evidence supports that intake of milk and dairy products contribute to meet nutrient recommendations, and may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases, whereas very few adverse effects have been reported.” (Thorning, 2016). Overall, she mentions that milk and dairy intake is beneficial for human health because it protects from chronic related diseases, but also mentions that milk does contain few harmful effects; yet, she doesn’t explicitly state those harmful diseases and/or side effects. Thorning does not go in depth about what exactly those harmful effects are. Her conclusion is broad and lacks evidence. Dairy does have health benefits, but it is not natural for a grown human to drink milk from another animal.

Just because dairy is part of the government’s MyPlate recommendation, it does not mean we have to ingest it. Milk my not build strong bones, but it does help with a few other factors for disease prevention. Exceeding this recommendation of milk is dangerous, but for those that choose to not intake dairy as a whole have their own alternate version of MyPlate that people can follow. Milk can affect each and every individual differently as well because it could be based off of a person’s genetics. Humans have been able to live their lives without relying on another mammal to sustain their nutritional needs, but that should not discourage an individual from consuming milk and dairy products if it is their easy and most affordable access to calcium intake.

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