Calcium and Milk: The pros and cons

There is some debate in the nutrition world over the benefits of dairy products. Many nutritionists believe that consuming milk and dairy products will help prevent osteoporosis. On the other hand, some believe that eating a lot of dairy will do little to prevent bone loss and fractures and may actually contribute to other health problems.

One thing, however, is certain: milk and other dairy products contain a lot of calcium in a highly absorbable form. Dairy products are a quick and easy way to get calcium in your diet, one you may already be enjoying on a regular basis. But you should also be aware of the potential downsides.

  • Dairy products are often high in saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. To limit your saturated fat intake, choose low-fat or non-fat versions of your favorite dairy foods. Switch out your 2% milk for 1%, and once you adjust to that, try skim milk. You can also find many reduced-fat cheeses, low-fat ice cream and frozen yogurt, and healthy butter substitutes. Some taste better than others, so shop around.
  • Most milk contains high levels of estrogen. Some studies show a possible link between the natural estrogens found in milk and breast, prostate, and testicular cancer, which rely on sex hormones to grow. Part of the problem is modern dairy practices, where the cows are continuously pregnant and milked over 300 days per year. The more pregnant the cow, the higher the hormones in the milk. Despite being labeled “hormone-free” organic milk can still be high in natural hormones. To reduce your exposure, stick to skim milk. Because the hormones are found in the milk fat, skim milk has a much lower level.
  • Many people are lactose intolerant, meaning they are unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Beyond the discomfort it causes, lactose intolerance can also interfere with calcium absorption from dairy. Certain groups are much more likely to have lactose intolerance: 90 percent of Asians, 70 percent of blacks and Native Americans, and 50 percent of Hispanics are lactose intolerant, compared to about 15 percent of Caucasians.


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