Dairy: The Good and the Bad

Is milk the health benefit we always thought it to be?

Posted: 09/06/2011 07:33 AM EDT

For reliable dietary advice, most nutritionists agree, look to the food pyramid. But when it comes to advice about milk and dairy, the question is: Which pyramid?

The official food pyramid comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It incorporates the recommendations of top ranking nutrition scientists from around the country. But other groups, disagreeing with some aspects of the USDA’s recommendations, have constructed alternative pyramids. One of the most influential is the food pyramid created by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. And one of the big differences between its advice and the USDA’s relates to milk and dairy products.

In 2005, the USDA’s dietary guidelines increased the recommended servings of milk from two to three cups a day. The latest guidelines, released in 2010, repeat that advice. They specifically urge Americans to get more fat-free or low-fat milk and related dairy products.

According to Harvard’s food pyramid, on the other hand, milk isn’t an essential part of a healthy diet -- and may pose risks.

Dairy: The Good

The USDA’s recommendations are based on the fact that milk is a prime source for three important nutrients: calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (which is added to fortified milk.)

“Milk contains a big package of nutrients that are especially important to bone health,” says Connie M. Weaver, PhD, who directs the nutrition department at Purdue University. “People who don’t drink milk tend to be deficient in them. So it makes good sense to encourage people to consume dairy products.”

For more on the USDA and dairy, visit BlackDoctor.org.

(Photo: Stephen Chernin/GettyImages)

From Our Partners