Milk may not be as important as we once thought. In an editorial in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, Dr. David Ludwig questions the scientific rationale for 3 servings a day of reduced-fat milk for most age groups.
“This recommendation to drink three cups a day of milk – it’s perhaps the most prevailing advice given to the American public about diet in the last half century,” says David Ludwig, who wrote the editorial published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Ludwig is the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “As a result, Americans are consuming billions of gallons of milk a year, presumably under the assumption that their bones would crumble without them.”
Ludwig also questions the value of three servings of milk daily and whether the harm outweighs the benefits when people drink reduced-fat milk instead of whole milk.
“There’s never been such a strong evidence base for these recommendations,” said Dr. David Ludwig, who co-authored the commentary with Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. “We’re not arguing that milk should be eliminated from the diet, but that a broader range of recommendations might be more appropriate.”
Adults with nutritious diets who get calcium from non-dairy sources such as kale, calcium-fortified orange juice, and white beans might not benefit much from milk, according to Ludwig. In fact, in countries where people consume no dairy products, osteoporosis rates don’t appear to be any higher than in the United States, because they get calcium and vitamin D from plant sources.
“The point is, we can get plenty of calcium from a whole range of foods,” says Ludwig. “On a gram for gram basis, cooked kale has more calcium than milk. Sardines, nuts seeds beans, green leafy vegetables are all sources of calcium.”
The current recommended intake of calcium for adults is 1,000 milligrams per day for people ages 19 to 50; for those older than 50, it’s 1,200 milligrams a day. A cup of cooked kale has about 100 milligrams of calcium; a cup of two percent milk, on the other hand, has about 300 milligrams of calcium.
Children with poor diets might need as much as three 8-ounce glasses a day to ensure that they develop strong bones, Ludwig and Willett wrote.
Whether that should be in the form of whole milk or reduced-fat milk has become a debate because recent research suggests that drinking fat-free or 1 percent milk doesn’t protect against obesity in kids.
“We just don’t see any benefit for focusing on reducing fat,” Ludwig said. “We think it’s a holdover from a paradigm that evolved in the late 20th century based on the relatively simplistic idea that fat has the most calories per gram and that eliminating fat will reduce weight gain.”
Is Milk Good For You?
An honest look at the benefits or problems with drinking milk.