For years people have consumed dairy products, assuming that doing so is a smart option for health.
Recently however, dairy consumption has come under fire due to claims that its consumption is not only unnatural but damaging our bodies and health.
In this article, I’ll touch on some of the main arguments against dairy consumption and provide insight into each, allowing you to make your own, informed decisions.
Dairy is a catchall term for products derived from animal milk, commonly from cows and goats. It includes foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream.
What was once considered to be an essential staple in everyone’s diet has recently come under the spotlight due to many people considering it to be unhealthy and unnatural.
But what’s the truth?
Arguments Against Dairy
Some of the main arguments against dairy include the fact that many people are lactose intolerant, so drinking milk must naturally not be good for us.
Additionally, many anti-dairy followers claim that drinking milk can lead to bones leaking calcium, eventually leading to bone damage or loss, similar to that of osteoporosis.
Anti-dairy advocates have also made arguments against dairy consumption due to it promoting growth via activating growth factors in the body, which could be associated with cancer.
Lastly, one of the primary arguments against dairy is simply that we’re the only species to consume the milk of another animal.
Without knowledge of the science behind dairy, it would seem that many of these arguments might actually hold up. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the skeptic, the science simply doesn’t stand up to these claims.
In fact it seems quite the opposite. Below we briefly expand on each, indicating that the science mostly debunks these claims.
Argument: People Are Lactose Intolerant So It Can’t Be Good For Us
While some reports indicate that up to 65% of the population is lactose intolerant, that doesn’t necessarily mean that humans aren’t meant to consume dairy or even that it’s bad for us (1).
A person who has lactose intolerance lacks the appropriate enzymes to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy products. When these individuals lacking the enzyme consume dairy, it can lead to major gastric distress.
However, it must be noted that many people, upwards of 30-40% of the population, do in fact continue to have this enzyme which is fully capable of digesting dairy. For these people, consuming dairy doesn’t necessarily pose an issue.
Using the fact that many people are lactose intolerant as an argument against consuming dairy, and concluding from it that it is therefore “bad for us”, is fairly weak as it is only based on conjecture.
This argument is similar to the blanket statement that, since some people are unable to digest gluten, therefore products containing gluten must also be bad for us. It simply doesn’t stand up to the fact that many people are perfectly capable of consuming gluten, or even dairy in this case.
Argument: Drinking Dairy Leads To Bone Loss
One of the main arguments against consuming dairy is the thought that dairy will produce an acidic environment, leading to bones leeching calcium in order to offset this increase in acidity.
As a result, bones become brittle.
Unfortunately, this is simply a fallacy with little evidence to back up the claims. In fact, research indicates that quite the opposite occurs with regular consumption of dairy.
One study indicated that when young girls consumed calcium primarily from dairy, they displayed greater bone mineralization than when calcium was provided via another source (2).
Additionally, another study revealed that milk consumption during childhood and adolescence was “a decisive marker for achieving maximum or optimal bone mass” – convincing to say the least (3).
Lastly, unfortunately for this theory, the acid/base environment in our blood is tightly regulated (4).
As I recently debunked in my article about the Alkaline diet, blood pH and thus, acidity, which is the keystone of this theory, simply is not changed significantly through one’s diet.
In essence, the potential for dairy to increase blood acidity and thus lead to bone calcium loss, simply isn’t present.
Argument: Dairy Promotes Growth Factors That Can Lead To Cancer Growth
It is quite likely that certain cancers are affected by nutritional factors.
However, it’s also likely that cancer is a result of thousands of different potential factors, such as our lifestyle, environment, exercise regime and DNA. This makes the exact cause of cancer very difficult to pinpoint, unless it’s an overly overt type of cancer such as lung cancer resulting from being a chronic smoker.
The truth is that many different types of foods also increase growth factors that potentially could lead to cancers developing.
In fact, most proteins (that we know are healthy) also do this. Not to mention, if you’re trying to increase muscle mass, chances are you are activating these growth factors multiple times, every single day… (5)
The argument that milk promotes growth factors and thus must be a cause of cancer is a difficult argument to make definitively and likely doesn’t hold up or follow simple logic.
Argument: We Are The Only Species To Drink Milk Of Another Species.
While this statement is basically true, the fact of the matter is that the rationale of this argument is simply not strong enough to definitively say that we shouldn’t consume dairy because of it.
In fact, we are the only species on the planet that does lots of things, but that doesn’t mean they are all unhealthy. In theory, humans became the dominant race for this very reason.
Despite the fact that many people are lactose intolerant, milk is easily one of the highest quality protein sources around if you can consume it without issue (6).
Because of this, studies have indicated that dairy consumption is strongly correlated with increases in muscle mass while simultaneously promoting loss of weight and body fat.
Either way you spin it, science shows that dairy can positively benefit your body and your health. Ultimately, you can choose if you want to follow scientific evidence showing it’s healthy, or a spurious theory that we shouldn’t drink milk simply because we are the only species to drink another animal’s milk (7).
Remember, just because we’re the only species to do this, doesn’t inherently mean it’s bad.
Consider that we are the only species to have modern medicine, or have unlimited knowledge and communication in the palm of our hands or further that we are the only species to fly through the air in metal tubes at over 500 miles an hour.
Just because we are the only species to consume the milk of another animal isn’t a strong enough argument that we aren’t supposed to do it; in fact, it’s really an ignorant argument people use to support their own personal beliefs.
The Amazing Benefits Of Dairy
As you can see, most of the health issues or negative effects are just myths without evidence.
With that being said, there are some research proven benefits that you absolutely should understand when trying to decide whether or not to include dairy.
- Improved Weight Loss: Studies indicate that the regular consumption of dairy may lead to increased weight loss when combined with calorie restriction. Even more, these studies indicate much of that weight loss comes from the waist and belly region (7).
- Increased Muscle Growth: Studies show that when consumed in conjunction with an exercise program, consuming dairy regularly can significantly enhance muscle growth (8, 9).
- Improved Control Of Food Intake: Dairy products are often very high in protein. Due to protein’s complex structure, this can lead to improvements in satiety (10).
- Increased HDL Cholesterol: Studies have shown that regular consumption of dairy may improve the amount of “good” HDL cholesterol (11).
- Improved Bone Density In Pre/Post Menopausal Women: Studies indicate that dairy, despite contrary claims, actually improves bone mineral density in women around menopausal age (12, 13).
The Dairy Myth: Is Dairy Good Or Bad?
Despite the fact that dairy has been a staple in our diets for decades, dairy consumption has recently come under fire due to different arguments about it being a safe and effective food source.
Fortunately, many of the arguments against dairy simply don’t stack up to the evidence.
Just because some of the population can’t digest it, or because we’re the only species to consume it, doesn’t make it inherently bad for us.
Additionally, research even indicates that it will increase muscle mass, decrease fat mass and improve bone mineral density (3, 6, 7).
As it stands, dairy is one of the best protein sources available and there really isn’t any reason for concern.
- Swagerty Jr, D. L., Walling, A. D., & Klein, R. M. (2002). Lactose intolerance. American family physician, 65(9), 1845-1850.
- Chan, G. M., Hoffman, K., & McMurry, M. (1995). Effects of dairy products on bone and body composition in pubertal girls. The Journal of pediatrics, 126(4), 551-556.
- Renner, E. (1994). Dairy Calcium, Bone Metabolism, and Prevention of Osteoporosis1. Journal of dairy science, 77(12), 3498-3505.
- Bonjour, J. P. (2013). Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. British Journal of Nutrition, 110(07), 1168-1177.
- Alessi, D. R., Andjelkovic, M., Caudwell, B., Cron, P., Morrice, N., Cohen, P., & Hemmings, B. A. (1996). Mechanism of activation of protein kinase B by insulin and IGF-1. The EMBO journal, 15(23), 6541.
- Phillips, S. M., Tang, J. E., & Moore, D. R. (2009). The role of milk-and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(4), 343-354.
- Zemel, M. B., Thompson, W., Milstead, A., Morris, K., & Campbell, P. (2004). Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obesity, 12(4), 582-590.
- Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(12), 2073-2081.
- Hayes, A., & Cribb, P. J. (2008). Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 11(1), 40-44.
- Veldhorst, M., Smeets, A. J. P. G., Soenen, S., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Hursel, R., Diepvens, K., … & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiology & behavior, 94(2), 300-307.
- Kiessling, G., Schneider, J., & Jahreis, G. (2002). Long-term consumption of fermented dairy products over 6 months increases HDL cholesterol. European journal of clinical nutrition, 56(9), 843.
- Prince, R., Devine, A., Dick, I., Criddle, A., Kerr, D., Kent, N., … & Price, R. (1995). The effects of calcium supplementation (milk powder or tablets) and exercise on bone density in postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 10(7), 1068-1075.
- Chee, W. S. S., Suriah, A. R., Chan, S. P., Zaitun, Y., & Chan, Y. M. (2003). The effect of milk supplementation on bone mineral density in postmenopausal Chinese women in Malaysia. Osteoporosis international, 14(10), 828-834.