For more than a century, American and English parents have prodded their kids to drink three daily glasses of milk, but now the tide may be turning against this once seemingly essential beverage. A commentary published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics questions the value of three servings of milk daily and whether the harm outweighs the benefits when people drink reduced-fat milk instead of whole milk.
Dr David Ludwig and Dr Walter Willet, two well respected nutrition researchers based at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health respectively, say that these recommendations are the result of industry pressure rather than good evidence.
Adults with nutritious diets who get calcium from non-dairy sources such as sardines, kale, calcium-fortified orange juice, and white beans might not benefit much from milk, according to Ludwig. In fact, in countries where people consume no dairy products, osteoporosis rates don’t appear to be higher than in the United States, possibly because residents get bone-building calcium and vitamin D from plant sources and, for vitamin D, adequate sunlight.
Children with poor diets, on the other hand, might need as much as three 8-ounce glasses a day to ensure that they develop strong bones, Ludwig and Willett wrote.
“We can satisfy all our calcium and other nutrient requirements from a high-quality diet, including green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and perhaps fish,” says Ludwig.
Whether that should be in the form of whole milk or reduced-fat milk has become a matter of debate because recent research suggests that drinking fat-free or 1 percent milk doesn’t protect against obesity in kids.
Ludwig and Willett argued in their paper that children who don’t feel satiated from a glass of skim milk—which contains 83 calories and no fat—may be inclined to eat an extra cookie or two as compared to when they drink whole milk, with its 8 grams of fat and 150 calories.
The authors state:
“We just don’t see any benefit for focusing on reducing fat,” Ludwig said. “We think it’s a holdover from a paradigm that evolved in the late 20th century based on the relatively simplistic idea that fat has the most calories per gram and that eliminating fat will reduce weight gain.”
Ludwig’s paper even suggests that the consumption of any kind of milk may be unnecessary.
“From the dawn of our species until the evolutionarily recent domestication of large animals, humans consumed absolutely no dairy milk”.
“Even today, a majority of the world’s population drinks little to no animal milk. However, milk and related products can be part of a nutritious diet. But the recommendation for virtually everyone to drink three cups a day is excessive and not evidence based.” He recommends broadening the guidelines to zero to three cups daily, based on people’s individual diets.