Does milk do a body good, regardless of age? The old belief that milk is just for kids is wrong. In fact, it is an essential adult food. If you look at the typical American diet, it’s about the only way to get enough calcium (to maintain healthy bones).
Milk, with its minerals and added vitamin D to help absorption, is one of the best calcium sources: 300 milligrams in an 8-ounce glass, regardless of fat content. That’s also the count for a serving of yogurt or calcium-fortified orange juice. By comparison, a serving of tofu has 250 mg, and cooked broccoli has 50 mg. Supplements can help meet daily requirements, which now stand at 1,300 mg a day for youths ages 9 to 18, 1,000 mg for men and women up to age 50, and 1,200 mg after that.
But watch out for fatty milk. “The problem with milk is that it’s a great source of calcium but a major contributor to heart disease,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “People too often drink whole and 2-percent, and those are very high in saturated fat. Milk is the third-biggest source of saturated fat for adults.” Instead, she says, choose 1-percent or fat-free milk.
Even so, Wootan says, the typical American adult gets slightly less than a cup of milk daily, whether in a glass, on cereal or in a latte coffee.
The most common complaint Americans have about milk is lactose intolerance, an enzyme deficiency causing gas and bloating that affects up to 60 million adults, says Berning. Milk allergies, usually triggered by milk proteins, are less common. Jo Ann Hattner, a clinical nutritionist in Palo Alto, Calif., and also an ADA spokesperson, says people with lactose intolerance may be able to drink milk if taken in smaller amounts, and always with food.
Still, not everyone sees a milk mustache as a symbol of health. The Washington, D.C.-based Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization of 5,000 physicians that takes an advocacy role in public policy on health issues, contends that the benefits of cow’s milk are greatly overstated, especially calcium. In fact, the organization recommends that people of all ages cut down on animal products and get calcium from other foods.
“Milk raises the risk of many diseases and it’s a bad food,” says Dr. Thomas J. Barnard, a committee spokesman on nutritional issues who specializes in geriatrics and family medicine in Winsor, Ontario. He says studies link milk to an increased risk of arterial diease, ovarian cancer and cataracts. “If you look at the societies that eat the most dairy, they have the highest rates of osteoporosis,” he adds.
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