Americans have long been taught that milk is the healthiest beverage option available. Soda? Nix it! Juice-questionable. Milk? Go for it! At least that’s what we’re told. Especially for children, milk is the optimal beverage for its wholesomeness, calcium content, and protein. While calcium and protein are both virtuous attributes of milk and dairy products, the addition of milk in our diets often becomes superfluous, contributing far too many calories in our obesity riddled environment.
So what exactly is the problem with getting our protein and calcium from milk? After all, if we need calcium and protein in our diets, why not consume it through milk, rather than another source? Is kicking moo juice to the curb really a good idea?
Milk is a potent and unnecessary source of liquid calories
One of the biggest problems with milk is the readiness and frequency with which we consume it. Milk is what dieticians, doctors, and other health professionals refer to as “liquid calories”. While the concept of liquid calories is relatively simple – liquids that supply calories to our diets – the impact of liquid calories on our health is very powerful. When we ingest calories from food, we’re required to chew, breaking the food into bits before it is carried into our digestive tract.
The fiber and bulk of these foods then slows the digestion and absorption into our bloodstream, keeping us fuller, longer. With liquid calories, even if protein is present (as is the case with milk), the lack of bulk, volume, and fiber increases the rate at which the calories are digested, meaning that we aren’t satiated by the calories we’ve just consumed. As such, we’re hungry again soon, despite having consumed a high number of calories.
A single 8 oz glass of fat-free/skim milk contains 90 Calories and 0 grams of fat. If you were to consume 1 glass of milk per day and even half of those calories weren’t needed in your diet, you could gain more than 4 lbs a year- and that’s just for fat free milk! The statistics get even worse from there- for 1% milk (clocking in at 105 Calories, 2.4 grams fat and 1.5 grams of saturated fat per 8 oz serving), 2% milk (120 Calories, 4.8 grams fat, 3.1 grams saturated fat per 8 oz serving), and whole milk (150 Calories, 8 grams fat, 4.6 grams saturated fat per 8 oz serving), that weight gain could amount to 5 lbs, 5.76 lbs, and 7.2 lbs, respectively.
Currently, 69% of American adults are overweight, along with 48% of children- consuming extra calories from any beverage – milk included – is doing nothing to prevent or reduce rising obesity rates. If anything, our dependence on liquid calories is exacerbating our weight issues by adding to our caloric surplus. Whenever you’re thirsty, drink water: very few people truly need any other beverage in their diets, unless a doctor advises otherwise.
Much of the milk given to our children is flavored
When you think of a school lunch, you probably think of the ubiquitous milk box. Milk has been readily provided to children through school-sponsored lunch programs for decades. Unfortunately, much of the milk provided to children today is flavored – containing added sugar and artificial flavors, such as chocolate or strawberry. This discourages children from drinking water in favor of sugary, sweet, calorie-containing beverages, which can prime them for future obesity as they grow into young adults and no longer need the calories provided by milk.
It is always better for children to learn to consume their calories from whole foods at an early age, when habits are more easily adopted, as it is very difficult to regulate weight on a diet heavy in caloric beverages. If your child is in the habit of consuming large quantities of milk, speak to your child’s pediatrician or family doctor regarding the role of milk in your child’s diet – many children consume far too much milk, with a ‘sippy’ cup of milk becoming more of a “security blanket” than an actual dietary necessity.
Considering reducing or eliminating dairy from your diet?
First, try replacing any milk you’re consuming alongside meals or snacks with water. For recipes or dishes that require milk (say, cereal, or sauce recipes), try substituting soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or hemp milk. Always make sure that the alternative milk you’re choosing to substitute has no added sugar, and note that the nutritional profile of each alternative milk source varies- soy milk generally has the most protein, while coconut milk has the least.
The flavor profiles, textures, and thickness of these milks also vary – try experimenting with different brands and types of alternative milks until you find the dairy substitute that best fits your dietary needs and personal preferences.