As you know, vitamin D supplementation is one of my top recommendations. (Not least of all because it’s one of your best defenses against coronavirus.) But, today, I want to focus on a long-standing myth about this essential nutrient. Which is that drinking a glass of milk is the best way to boost your levels.
Of course, that’s not the only myth about the supposed health benefits of milk.
In fact, ads have been telling Americans that milk “does a body good” for decades now. We’re all led to believe that it’s rich in calcium and protein—and that it will help kids grow strong bones and help adults maintain them.
The message is ingrained in our nutritional culture at this point… so much so that the current U.S. dietary guidelines recommend three full servings of dairy per day. But as you may have guessed, the science behind these recommendations is pretty thin. (Maybe because they let the lobbyists dictate those guidelines.)
So let’s take a closer look…
Too much of a good thing
Let’s start with the idea that we need milk in order to meet daily calcium requirements—which is a bunch of hogwash. Do you know where they even got this info? From a mere few studies that followed some 150 people for two to three weeks. (Not the ironclad, gold-standard studies you expected, huh?)
Not only that, but in adults who are done growing, calcium balance should be net zero anyway. (That means that people should be excreting the same amount as they take in.) And the human body is more than capable of adapting to this balance—which means that the less you take in, the more you’re able to absorb to meet your needs.
It’s also worth noting that countries that eat the most dairy also have higher fracture rates. Why? Because excessive dairy in childhood lengthens bones—and longer bones break easier. (This risk seems to be highest in men who were big milk drinkers as kids.)
In fact, let’s take a look at kids, because this is probably the group least likely to ditch dairy. They’re growing, so naturally they’ll need more dietary calcium. But is milk really the source they should be getting it from?
There’s good evidence that kids who drink cow’s milk grow taller than those who don’t. I already mentioned one reason why that may not be a good thing. But here’s another reason not enough people consider: Most dairy cows are pregnant, which boosts the content of hormones like estrogen and progesterone in their milk.
Plus, selective breeding has resulted in cows that produce higher levels of insulin-like growth factor to boost milk production. And, as the name would suggest, this hormone also promotes growth in the people who drink the milk.
Does any of that sound healthy to you? Because it sure doesn’t to me.
Choose cheese over milk
Here’s the bottom line: There isn’t a single study out there that shows kids need milk.
In fact, the U.S. recommendation for calcium in children is twice that of the U.K.—and kids across the pond are doing just fine. (Not to mention the fact that you can get calcium from plenty of other food sources such as kale, broccoli, and nuts.)
Adults certainly don’t need milk, either. And this message may be starting to get through, because statistics show that we’re drinking a lot less of it. But as it stands, Americans still consume nearly 10 percent more dairy than they did back in 1975.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In general, I have no real problems with dairy itself. And in most instances, I don’t really advise against it. Though in my own life, I have certainly taken to limiting my intake.
Milk and yogurt have always been off the table for me. (They’re both loaded with sugar, whether they’re fat free or whole milk or anything in between.)
On the bright side, if you do opt for full-fat, organic, and grass-fed varieties, cheese absolutely can be a bona fide health food.
But it isn’t a substitute for a daily vitamin D supplement at any age. Which is why I generally recommend at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day for adults (and this recommendation can safely go up to 10,000 IU daily—which is what I take—as long as you’re getting your blood levels checked regularly), and 2,000 IU per day for kids.
P.S. Even though I’ve never been a fan of cow’s milk, that doesn’t mean I’m a supporter of the dozens of milk alternatives lining dairy cases these days. Because when all is said and done, some of these alternatives are actually worse for you. To learn more, take a look at the June 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives (“BUYER BEWARE: Food manufacturers ‘milking’ the dairy-free trend”). Not yet a subscriber? Now’s the perfect time to become one!
“Rethinking Milk: Science Takes On the Dairy Dilemma.” WebMD, 02/14/2020. (webmd.com/diet/news/20200214/rethinking-mik-science-takes-on-the-dairy-dilemma)