The Great Milk Debate: 9 Common Questions

Is it important to drink organic milk?

As far as nutrition and safety are concerned, studies have consistently found no difference between organic and conventional milk. A study in the .Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2008 concluded that the differences are few and minor Batches of milk tested may vary--organic milk may have higher (or lower) levels of nutrients, compared to conventional. The composition of milk varies according to the diets of the cows and other factors, and from season to season. Organic milk often costs twice as much. If you feel you are voting for better agricultural practices, and you can afford the high price, that's a reason to buy it. Whatever you do, always buy pasteurized dairy products, since raw milk is dangerous.

Does milk increase mucus production when you have a cold?

Studies have found no connection between milk and mucus formation. This idea persists because whole milk tends to coat the mouth briefly. If you don't like this quality of whole milk, that's yet another reason to switch to low-fat or nonfat milk. If you find milk unpleasant when you have a cold or cough, stop drinking it until you feel better.

What about people who are lactose-intolerant?

People who have difficulty digesting lactose (the sugar in dairy products) can consume lactose-reduced products or else take pills containing lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) beforehand. Yogurt tends to be less of a problem, since the bacteria in it break down some of the lactose. Still, if you don't like dairy products, or they don't like you, you need not eat them. All it takes is a little planning.

If you won't drink your milk...

By Dr. John Swartzberg

People have always had strong feelings and beliefs about food. Take tomatoes. A major world crop that nearly everybody eats (and many of us grow), tomato plants were introduced from South America to Europe in the 1600s, perhaps by the Spanish. The Italians named the tomato pomodoro, or golden apple (the first ones were yellow), and thought they had aphrodisiac powers. Others deemed them poisonous, and for many years they were only grown ornamentally. In this country, their bad reputation persisted long after Europeans had learned to eat them, but Thomas Jefferson (a devoted gardener) grew them for food and recommended them. Since they are part of the nightshade family, some people continue to regard them with suspicion.

Milk, too, has long had its detractors. Before pasteurization and refrigeration, dairy could truly be dangerous. Lately, cow's milk has been blamed for everything from excess mucus production to heart disease. One of the most curious current myths about milk is that there is something inherently unnatural about drinking the milk of another species and that therefore it causes disease. But all foods from animals come from species other than ourselves. Indeed, plants are also "other species." What else would we eat?

For most people, dairy is an easy way to get calcium and other important minerals. But you can get the nutrients you need from many other sources.

In particular, if your diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, plus small portions of protein, you don't need dairy, as long as you get adequate calcium and vitamin D from other sources. Some green vegetables (such as collards and broccoli), canned salmon and sardines (with the bones), and soybeans are fair-to-good sources of calcium. Calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice and soy milk, are good options. If you don't get at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day from food, you can take calcium supplements. Dairy is also rich in potassium and magnesium, which help prevent hypertension. But, again, you can get these minerals from other foods.

Milk is the leading dietary source of vitamin D (it is fortified with 100 IU per cup). But even if you drink milk, it may be hard to consume enough D without a supplement. The government advises 400 IU a day for people age 50 to 69, and 600 IU for those over 70. We recommend 800 to 1,000 IU a day for most people.

Reprinted, courtesy of University of California Berkeley. For more articles and information, visit

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