Naturopathic Myth Busters: Is Milk Healthy?

This food is a polarizing topic and many people have strong opinions for or against it. Here’s our take on this popular food.

A primary goal here at Lewis Family Natural Health is to provide reasonable, well thought out, and sensible advice about health.  This is especially necessary in the world of nutrition where everyone seems to have an opinion, yet those opinions often vary greatly.  At the end of the day, our hope is that we have provided good advice based on our understanding of the science of nutrition and the experience of real people living in the real world, rooted in the philosophy of naturopathic medicine.

Milk is a great place to start this discussion because there are many opinions about what, if any, role it should play in our diet.  Before we get into the details of milk itself, it may be important to clarify several key factors of what we consider to be a healthy diet.

The key to a good diet: Fresh, Whole, Real Foods

As long as the majority of your diet consists of fresh, whole, real foods you are well on your way to a healthy lifestyle.  Foods from the Earth, food you can grow on a farm (or in a river, lake, or ocean next to this farm) should be your staple fare.  Balance, seasonality, moderation… these are also key concepts to keep in mind.

In other words, stay away from processed or artificial foods as much as you are able, and your health will benefit.

We have 3 other standards by which we determine if a food is a good choice.

Is the food:

  •     Healthy?
  •     Tasty?
  •     Practical?

These are all key concepts.  Naturally, we want to fill our diets with as many health promoting foods as possible.  Having food that tastes good is almost as important for the simple fact that if it doesn’t satisfy our taste buds, then we won’t likely choose to eat that food again.  Practicality is also supremely important.  Accessibility to healthy, tasty, affordable food that all of the members of your family will eat is a challenge in today’s world.

So how does Milk measure up?

Happy CowsThe USDA says dairy is good for you.  Harvard School of Public Health says it’s not.  Some doctors say drink a lot of milk every day; others say avoid all dairy products.  This food is a polarizing topic and many people have strong opinions for or against it.

Certainly the issue of allergy and intolerance pertain to milk.  We have worked with a number of patients- infant, child, and adult- who were allergic or intolerant of milk.  A number of these individuals were able to improve their health and subsequently include more dairy in their diet (yay, naturopathic medicine!).  However, despite the best of naturopathic health care, some individuals just do not tolerate dairy in their diet.  Fortunately, there are good alternatives for those who cannot tolerate milk, including choosing from the thousands of delicious and nutritious non-dairy foods (or dairy substitutes).

Additionally, there are many individuals who choose to avoid dairy for religious, spiritual, or other value beliefs.  Some people just don’t like the taste.  For whatever reason someone chooses not to consume dairy products, we absolutely honor each and all of these decisions.  Note, there is no one food that contains a specific nutrient we can’t get from another source!

I heard milk is bad for me?  Is this true?

However, for those of you who DO like to consume dairy products and who tolerate it well, milk and dairy can be a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet.

The taste and practicality of milk make it quite popular.  It can be enjoyed by itself, or mixed into a hundred different recipes.  It’s a food that parents and kids alike can enjoy, and it’s fairly reasonably priced.  These are all good things… but what about it’s effect on our health?

Even though different opinions about the overall health effect of milk may lead to different conclusions, no one can deny that milk contains an abundance of vitamins and nutrients.  When you think about it, milk is one of the few foods on Earth that contain fat, protein, and carbohydrate all in one.  Calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, D, E, and K are also in abundance.  Choosing milk from Grass Fed cows comes with additional benefits, including a fatty acid called CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and omega 3 fatty acids.

While no one, single food on Earth possesses a nutrient that we cannot get from another food (and is thus absolutely critical to our diet), milk is a nutritional powerhouse.  Some of the fatty acids found in milk and other dairy foods are quite hard to come by from other sources.  For example, Butyrate or Butyric Acid is a short chain fatty acid beneficial to digestive and immune system health found in abundance in butter.  Bone and vascular health promoting Vitamin K2 is found in hard cheeses and butter (Egg yolks are another good source for K2).

Additionally, there is an important aspect of what is not in milk in excess- polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  Polyunsaturated fat is a key component of many of today’s processed foods.  By a number of estimations, one of the highest increases in consumption per category in America in the last 50-100 years is PUFAs.  PUFAs are very unstable fats that easily oxidize.  This oxidation can have detrimental effects on our health such as immunosuppression, diminished thyroid and metabolic function, imbalances in hormones, and an increase in inflammation.  Eating foods that have an abundance of nutrients, including fats that aren’t polyunsaturated is a significant key to our health.

For those of you who do choose to include milk in your diets, ultimately we feel as though it can be a healthy, tasty, and practical addition to a well rounded, balanced diet.  Be sure to choose Organic and Grass-Fed sources of dairy whenever you can!

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