Source of Calcium, Vitamin D and Protein, but Also an Allergen
There are a lot of questions these days over whether or not milk really does do a body good. Some sources tout it as an efficient way to hit our daily recommended numbers for calcium, vitamin D and protein. Other sources vilify it as an allergen, inflammatory agent and source for saturated fat.
So, who should we believe? As humans, we are unique in our partiality to dairy from infants into adulthood. But we are also unique in how we, as humans, digest milk — and a lot of that has to do not only with how our bodies evolve but also how the food industry processes, packages, prepares and manufactures dairy. A lot of details on how healthy dairy is often depends on what kind you are looking at and how exactly it was processed.
And like all of the other food groups, there may be certain forms of milk and dairy that suit you better than others. It really all depends on your needs.
Dairy is extremely nutrient-dense. Milk contains more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and protein per calorie than any other food in a typical diet. Calcium supports bone health (especially in growing teenagers, aging women and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding), and magnesium and potassium are key minerals in helping to control blood pressure.
Dairy is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K — all fuel sources that keep our hearts, muscles and bones working properly. Milk is the highest non-meat source of B12, an energy-boosting vitamin that is extremely important for athletes and active individuals. B12 is also essential in maintaining healthy nerve cells, supporting proper brain function and assisting in making red blood cells and DNA.
To top it all off, most dairy is affordable and readily available, too.
Even with all of the benefits above, dairy doesn’t work for everyone. Many people (some 60% of us) struggle to digest cow’s milk with age. Why? As babies, our bodies produce plenty of lactase, which is needed to break down and digest lactose, the sugar found in human breast milk. This sugar is quite distinct from the sugars found in fruit, candy and chocolate.
Milk alternatives are endless in today’s market. Each week there seems to be a new plant-based milk popping up on the shelf. Most of these lack the protein and nutrient profile of regular milk, with less (if any) B12, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
If dairy is a definite don’t for you, be sure to read labels carefully and choose alternative varieties higher in calcium and protein with a minimal ingredient list. You should also be aware that milk alternatives are often highly processed with added sugars, preservatives and thickeners.