Providing calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, and an entire alphabet soup of vitamins, milk is one of the most complete foods available. From bone strength to heart health and even weight management, the health benefits of dairy are undeniable. But before you decide to quadruple your dairy intake, take a look at the dangers it can also pose.
First, dairy provides protein that can significantly improve bone mineral density, an especially important factor for the 10 million Americans at risk of osteoporosis. The combination of protein and calcium in milk is even more effective at battling osteoporosis. Not only that, but calcium can also help in maintaining a healthy weight; one study demonstrated that young, average-weight women who ate at least three servings of dairy a day gained less fat over a year and a half than did those who ate fewer than three servings a day.
For active people, milk also provides protein necessary for rebuilding muscles. Resistance exercise (like weight training) increases muscle size, but that’s only possible if you also have enough high-quality protein. Dairy products provide protein that’s 80% casein and 20% whey, and provides amino acids that are absolutely essential to building new muscle. A study in which young men participated in a weight lifting program, and then drank two cups of milk afterward gained more muscle mass and lost more body fat than those who drank a soy protein or other beverage.
However, dairy products generally have a fairly high fat content, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. And just removing the fat doesn’t solve the problem either. If a woman consumes too much of the milk sugar lactose, it can overwhelm her enzymes’ capacity to break it down completely, and lead to severe health problems. In fact, women with low levels of the required enzymes may triple their risk of ovarian cancer just by regularly consuming dairy products.
This same milk sugar is also the culprit behind the gastrointestinal problem known as lactose intolerance. Millions of people lack the enzymes needed to digest lactose properly, which results in stomach pain and other undesirable side effects.
Like all things, dairy products are best in moderation. Their health benefits are undeniable, but in excess, they can also cause harm. Make your dairy decisions based on your own body—pay attention to what makes you feel better and what doesn’t. If you listen to your body, you’ll be sure to strike an appropriate balance between gleaning all the wonderful nutrients from dairy products without overwhelming your body’s ability to process them.