Does Milk Really do a Body Good?

Posted On Jul 10, 2014 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD


Do you really need three servings of dairy a day to get adequate calcium and Vitamin D for bone health? No. Bone health is incredibly complex and involves other essential nutrients, such as Vitamin K and phosphorus, as well as, being potentially affected by animal-protein intake, genetics, and physical activity levels. In other countries, where dairy is either not consumed or consumed in very small amounts, the incidence of osteoporosis is very low compared to the United States. As milk and dairy intake have increased in the U.S., rates of osteoporosis have actually increased too. Should you be concerned about getting adequate calcium? Sure, but after looking at all of the research, the pros far outweigh the cons for eliminating dairy from your diet, or at least cow's milk.

One question to contemplate: Do we as humans need to ingest something intended to help a newborn calf grow to 4x its size in 1 year?

Some of the potential benefits of reducing or eliminating dairy:

  • Decreased inflammation
  • Clearer skin
  • Improved asthmatic conditions (for some people)
  • Reducing exposure to antibiotics or hormones given to cows to increase milk production

If you choose to keep eating dairy:

  • Buy organic
  • Consider cutting out milk and cheese, but keep yogurt and kefir for their pre and probiotics
  • Buy locally produced dairy products, if possible

If you choose to reduce or eliminate cow's milk and/or dairy from your diet, there are many non-dairy alternatives. Eating other foods high in calcium, such as bok choy, tofu, kale, collard greens, chia seeds, and white beans, combined with strength training can also keep your bones strong.

Just like flavored cow's milk has more calories and sugar, so to does the other types of sweetened and flavored milks, including chocolate soymilk or vanilla almond milk. Unsweetened milk– no matter what the source– is the optimal choice. Part of deciding which milk is best for you is based on personal taste preference. From a nutritional standpoint, always look for those fortified with calcium and vitamin D. The chart below gives a comparison of some of the most popular dairy milk alternatives.

Milk Comparison Chart (based on 8oz serving)

Type Calories Protein Fat Notes
Almond 30 1g 3g Despite being the lowest calorie option, almond milk is creamy and has 50% of the RDA for Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
*Erin's personal favorite!
Coconut 45 0g 5g Use as canned coconut milk alternative in recipes; substitute in place of water when making whole grains for a light coconut flavor.
Cow (skim) 90 8g 0g Higher in potassium, which is a key nutrient in heart health.
Hemp 70 3g 5g Contains 10 essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
Soy 80 7g 4g Highest protein content of non-dairy milks; complete protein with all amino acids.
Rice 70 0g 2.5g Usually fortified with vitamin B12; good for people with nut allergies.