1. Raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk.
Raw milk comes from a cow (like traditional milk) but it has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Raw milk advocates believe that pasteurization destroys the beneficial bacteria, protein, and enzymes that promote healthy digestion. Raw milk is also believed to contain higher levels of nutrients. (source) The problem with raw milk is that it can also contain more harmful bacteria (like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria) which can cause foodborne illness. The Department of Health and Human Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do NOT recommend that the public consume raw milk or raw milk products, especially young children, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system. (source)
Bottom line: In my opinion, the benefits do not seem to outweigh the risks. Drink at your own risk.
2. Organic milk is healthier than conventional milk.
Nutritionally, organic milk and conventional milk provide the same essential nutrients (such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, etc.) and both are pasteurized. The difference between organic milk and conventional milk is really more about the process rather than the final product. Organic milk comes from cows that are fed organic grains, pesticide free grass, and are allowed to roam around freely. Growth hormones and antibiotics are not used to treat the cows. Organic milk has been shown to have higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared with traditional milk, however, a recent study found that organic and conventional milk do not differ in composition. (source) In my opinion, organic milk tastes more delicious, but it is also much more expensive.
3. The calcium from cow’s milk is better absorbed than from non-dairy milk.
Thankfully, this is not true! And there’s research to support it. (source) This recent research study shows that the bioavailability of calcium from fortified soy milk is equivalent to that of cow’s milk.
4. I don’t need to drink milk because I can get calcium from vegetables and nuts.
Yes, it is true that you can get calcium from foods like broccoli, kale, bok choy and greens, BUT you would need to eat an obscene amount of vegetables to meet your calcium needs from food alone. For example, women between 19-50 years old need 1,000 mg of calcium per day and 1/2 cup of cooked kale contains about 45 mg (source). A serving 8oz of cow’s milk or soy milk contains 300mg. Unless you are prepared to eat 10 cups of kale, you might want to consider supplementing with milk, cheese, yogurt, or fortified non-dairy products.
5. Milk is bad for cholesterol.
Fat-free or reduced fat cow’s milk can be good for you, but there are lots of other types of non-dairy milk that can be good for cholesterol as well. Check out this great article by Everyday Health to learn more about the many types of milk and which are best for cholesterol!
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a specific temperature for a period of time then cooling it immediately after in order to kill harmful bacteria and extend shelf life.
What is homogenization?
Homogenization is a high pressure process that breaks milk’s fat globules into smaller and more uniform particles. It also makes the fat globules resistant to rising and separation.
If I am breastfeeding and my baby has a milk protein allergy, does that mean I can’t have dairy?
Yes, you will want to eliminate the allergen (the milk proteins casein and whey) from your diet as well. That means switching from cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream to non-dairy alternatives like rice, almond, oat, coconut, hemp, etc. Make sure to eat lots of leafy greens and choose alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D since dairy is naturally a rich source of calcium and vitamin D. Keep in mind that many children who are allergic to cow’s milk protein are also allergic to goat’s, sheep’s and soy milk. (source)
What kinds of milk options can I choose from?
Glad you asked…below you will find 5 different types of milk: traditional cow’s, soy, rice, almond, and coconut. Hemp and oat milk are also other non-dairy milks that you can try.
Traditional Cow’s Milk
Cow’s milk is naturally an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins D and A. Cow’s milk comes in different varieties skim (fat-free), 1% (low-fat), 2% (reduced fat), and whole. All varieties provide the same essential nutrients, however, the big difference is in calories from fat. Whole milk provides 150 calories per 8oz while skim provides about 90 calories. Choose plain vs flavored milk (chocolate, strawberry, etc.) 16 oz of fat free strawberry milk has 20 grams of added sugar (that’s 5 TEASPOONS!)
Soy milk is an excellent non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk because it is nutritionally the most equivalent (just make sure to shake it up first). Soy milk is low in fat, saturated fat, and it is also cholesterol free! Soy milk is close to cow’s milk in terms of protein and it is usually fortified with the same (if not more) calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk. Soy milk is safe for people who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. Just like cow’s milk, it is best to choose plain, unflavored, unsweetened varieties so you don’t end up drinking a ton of sugar.
Rice milk is also a very tasty non-dairy alternative. Nutritionally it is very low in fat, no saturated fat, but also very low in protein. Rice milk is usually fortified with the same (if not more) calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk. Rice milk is the least allergenic of the non-dairy milks and is safe for people who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. Just like cow’s milk, it is best to choose plain, unflavored, unsweetened varieties so you don’t end up drinking a ton of sugar.
Almond milk is generally free of saturated fat, cholesterol but low in protein and calories (about 60 calories per 8 oz). Almond milk is usually fortified with the same (if not more) calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk and is a good alternative for people who cannot drink cow’s milk. Keep in mind, it is best to choose plain, unflavored, unsweetened varieties so you don’t end up drinking a ton of sugar.
Coconut milk is delicious! Coconut milk has more saturated fat than the other non-dairy options, but it is also soy and dairy free! Coconut milk is usually fortified with the same (if not more) calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk, but has little or no protein. Coconut milk is usually a good alternative for people who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. Don’t forget… it is best to choose plain, unflavored, unsweetened varieties so you don’t end up drinking a ton of sugar.