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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Duerr

The In’s and Out’s of Dairy Milk

Many people have an opinion on what kind of milk is the best tasting or most beneficial for their health. Meanwhile, with endless options, there are those who feel a bit clueless as to which milk is best.

Many people have an opinion on what kind of milk is the best tasting or most beneficial for their health. Meanwhile, with endless options, there are those who feel a bit clueless as to which milk is best.  Skim milk versus whole milk. Organic versus non-organic. Processed pasteurized versus raw. Even the dairy cow’s diet comes into play: grass-fed or grain fed? Not to mention the non-dairy alternative milks: soy, coconut, almond, cashew, hemp, hazelnut, rice, flax, and oat milks. Overwhelmed yet? If you are, or even if you just aren’t sure why you have always bought the same kind of milk, this post is for you!

Let’s break down the more common kinds of cow dairy milk in this post. The conventional milk, found in all grocery stores, is non-organic, pasteurized, and the cows are fed a diet of grains, corn, and soy. This milk is sold as whole fat, 2% fat, 1% fat, and skim or 0% fat. Some grocery stores offer organic milk, which can either be pasteurized or raw, grain-fed or grass-fed, and also comes in a variety of fat content. Raw milk sounds the most pure, but it might be organic or it might not be. It might be from grass-fed cows, but it might be from grain fed cows. here are still states where raw-milk sales, for human consumption is illegal. An updated list can be found here.  Most of this information can be found on the label or by asking the farmer, but what does it all mean?

The pros and cons of the different qualities that make up dairy milk:

Health Implications

Bone Health - Milk and other dairy products have been known to be beneficial for bone health due to the high amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and vitamin D, which are essential for bone health. At the same time, milk has high levels of retinol, or vitamin A, which can weaken bones.

Dairy is not the best or only source of calcium. Dark leafy greens, such as collards, boy choy, fortified soy milk, baked beans, and supplements with both calcium and vitamin D are also good choices.

Vitamin D - Processed dairy in the US is fortified with 100 IU vitamin D per glass. This follows the USDA recommendation of 3 glasses of fortified milk provides 300 IU of the recommended 800 IU+ per day. With that being said, processed US milk is fortified with vitamin D2, a form that the body does not utilize as well as D3. Regardless, dairy alone is not enough to meet daily vitamin D requirements. A 3.5 oz serving of Wild salmon contains 360 IU vitamin D. Canned tuna and sardines are also good food sources.  Sun exposure and supplements are great sources, as well.

Chronic Disease - Dairy is high in protein and is therefore very satiating, which may help those trying to control their appetite for weight loss. Lactose, the sugar found in milk, is broken down slowly and does not promote high spikes in blood sugar, which may make it a suitable option for diabetics.  Fermented dairy, such as yogurt and kefir are excellent sources of “good” bacteria that have been shown to promote a healthy gut.

With the good comes the bad. Consuming animal protein and dairy may promote prostate and ovarian cancer. Studies have shown that reducing animal products can reverse other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

The enzyme lactase is needed in the body to break down lactose for proper milk digestion.  30 to 50 million American adults, are lactose intolerant. Ninety five percent of Asians, up to 80% of African Americans, Hispanics, and Ashkenazi Jews, and nearly 100% of American Indians are lactose intolerant. Continued consumption of lactose in those who are intolerant and have symptoms of diarrhea or loose stools may suffer vitamin and mineral deficiencies or other long-term health implications.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, when I take a look at the different types of nut milks and how they compare to cow dairy milk.


Resources: – Inside The Pyramid – How much food from the milk group is needed daily? February 3, 2011. Available at:

FAQ – Dairy. The Weston A. Price Foundation. Available at:

The New Four Food Groups. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Available at:

Release No. 0059.10. United States Department of Agriculture. February 10, 2010. Available at:

Vitamin D and Chronic Disease – Your Nutrition Questions Answered. The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health. Available at:

Mitigating the Greenhouse Gas Balance of Ruminant Production Systems Through Carbon Sequestration in Grasslands. Food and Agriculture Organization. Vol 11-2010; p 121. Available at:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector: A Life Cycle Assessment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2010. Available at:

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