Go ahead and pour yourself a glass of milk. Wait a minute – isn’t milk full of saturated fat increasing your risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease? Not so fast. This favorite beverage of childhood appears to have the power to prevent chronic conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, stroke, cancer, obesity, and yes even heart disease.

This news is becoming more prevalent as study after study is showing milk’s might as an effective and simple strategy for keeping us healthy.  When you consider that according to the CDC, half of all Americans are living with at least one chronic disease, we need as many simple solutions as possible. Having daily a cold glass of milk or two is just one such solution.

Here is the scientific evidence to back up this claim:

  • Drinking milk appears linked to lower risk of heart disease and premature death

According to new research in The Lancet, researchers did a comparison of individuals who drank milk and those who were milk skippers.  Of the 136,000 participants from 21 countries, the milk drinkers who drank more than one glass of milk a day were 18% less likely to develop heart disease and also had a lower risk of premature death, than those who did not drink milk. Even better news was that fans of whole milk also had the same benefits as those who chose low-fat to non-fat milk.

  • Drinking milk may lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity

Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at data from a variety of previous studies, including more than 29,000 participants and found that for each additional 6.7 ounces of milk (just under one cup) adults drank per day, decreased their risk of metabolic syndrome by 13%, and their risk of abdominal obesity by 12%.

  • Drinking milk at breakfast may help lower blood sugar levels through lunch

Breakfast with milk could prevent high blood sugar levels later on in the day, according to a new study in the Journal of Dairy Science. This study looked at a group of healthy adults who ate cereal with milk or cereal with a water control, and found those who included milk in both their breakfast and lunch, had lower blood sugar levels. Higher-protein milk and milk with a modified protein ratio had even greater effects than the classic variety.

Takeaway from these studies

Other studies have found that milk seems to have the same effect on children and that drinking whole milk is a viable choice. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children ages 1-6 years old that drank whole milk had higher vitamin D levels and lower BMI (body mass index) than those who drank low-fat milk. Findings in adults have also shown that of more than 8,000 women ages 45 and older, those who consumed more high-fat dairy products gained fewer pounds over the next three years compared to those choosing low-fat dairy.

Why would drinking milk and even whole milk have these results? We’ve always been told to choose low-fat or fat-free milk and to avoid full-fat or whole milk’s saturated fat content that could increase heart disease.  For starters, dairy contains other fats besides saturated including some that may have health benefits like medium-chain triglycerides (MCT, the same kind found in coconut oil) and unsaturated fats too.

It’s also possible that the beneficial nutrients in dairy – such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium – might blunt negative effects of saturated fat, plus vitamin D is easier for the body to absorb when fat is present. Finally, whole milk is more filling and satisfying.  The feeling of satisfaction after consuming meals and snacks that include full-fat dairy could help prevent overeating.

The advice from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans remains that everyone over the age of two should choose low-fat or fat-free instead of whole to limit calories from saturated fat. Also keep in mind that all varieties of milk, whether whole or fat-free, have the same amounts of nine essential nutrients including protein, calcium and potassium, vitamin D, and B vitamins.

Also ignore rumors that low-fat milk is full of sugar or is highly processed. Yes, sugar is listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel in all varieties of milk because milk naturally contains a sugar called lactose.  There is no additional sugar added to fat-free or low-fat milk.

As far as processing, unless you are drinking raw milk, milk has gone through processing called pasteurization. Milk is pasteurized (briefly heated at a high temperature) to kill potentially harmful bacteria.  It is also homogenized (pushed through a strainer) to keep it from separating. To achieve different varieties of milk, the fat is removed by centrifugation (spinning at a high speed).  Then fat is added back in depending on the kind of milk being made: more fat is added to make whole milk, less to make low-fat and none to make fat-free.

Bottom line

If you like milk, keep drinking it.  One cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium. Dairy foods, like milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese are by far the best sources of calcium, an important mineral many adults are lacking.  Calcium requirement for adults are the following:

Ages 19 – 30 years                     1,000 milligrams daily

Ages 31 – 50 years                     1,000 milligrams daily

Ages 51 – 70 years                      1,000 milligrams daily

Ages 51 – 70 year old females   1,200 milligrams daily

Ages 71+ years                           1,200 milligrams daily

So, each day, drink your milk, eat some cheese, have a container of Greek yogurt and feel good about feeding your body and bones nutrient-rich foods it needs over the course of your lifetime.

For more information on milk and dairy foods along with recipes, visit milklife.com.

Categories: Health

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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