The Conventional Wisdom
Drink up! There’s a reason why Mom served it: It’s rich in protein and calcium, which are important for healthy muscles and bones.
Milk is a complex nutritional package designed by nature to promote growth after birth, so it’s full of naturally occurring hormones and other specialized ingredients. But are they helpful for adults? Experts are not so sure. In recent years, research has questioned dairy as a possible link to a host of ailments, from acne (as reported in a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology) to childhood obesity (according to a 2013 article in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood) to even prostate cancer (suggested in a 2012 Nutrition & Metabolism paper).
Finding a Balance
According to the National Academy of Sciences, you should aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. But at the same time, the Harvard School of Public Health advises that you need to limit dairy (milk, cheese, and yogurt combined) to one to two servings a day. Two servings of milk offer 600 milligrams of calcium. (As is the case with other forms of dairy, milk is among the most highly concentrated sources of calcium available, and it is easily absorbed by the body.) To make up for the rest of your calcium needs, add to your diet beans, certain types of tofu (look for calcium in the ingredient list), broccoli, and leafy greens. One and a half cups of cooked kale has almost as much calcium as eight ounces of milk. And though calcium from plant sources may be tougher for the body to absorb (some greens contain oxalates, compounds that interfere with the release of calcium), small amounts can add up.
But what if you crave more milk than the daily dairy allowance? Try soy, rice, oat, or nut milks, which, unlike cow’s milk, usually contain no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and no growth hormones.