Milk has been enjoyed throughout the world for thousands of years.
By definition, it’s a nutrient-rich fluid that female mammals produce to feed their young.
The most commonly consumed types come from cows, sheep, and goats.
Western countries drink cow’s milk most frequently.
Milk consumption is a hotly debated topic in the nutrition world, so you might wonder if it’s healthy or harmful.
Below are 5 science-backed health benefits of milk so you can decide if it’s the right choice for you.
1. Milk is packed with nutrients
The nutritional profile of milk is impressive.
After all, it’s designed to fully nourish newborn animals.
Just one cup (244 grams) of whole cow’s milk contains:
- Calories: 146
- Protein: 8 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
- Calcium: 28% of your daily need
- Vitamin D: 24% of your daily need
- Riboflavin (B2): 26% of your daily need
- Vitamin B12: 18% of your daily need
- Potassium: 10% of your daily need
- Phosphorus: 22% of your daily need
- Selenium: 13% of your daily need
Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including “nutrients of concern,” which are under-consumed by many populations.
It provides potassium, B12, calcium, and vitamin D, which are lacking in many diets.
Milk is also a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, and thiamine (B1).
Additionally, it’s an excellent source of protein and contains hundreds of different fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3s.
Conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids are linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease.
The nutritional content of milk varies, depending on factors like its fat content and the diet and treatment of the cow it came from.
For example, milk from cows that eat mostly grass contains significantly higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, organic and grass-fed cow’s milk contains higher amounts of beneficial antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, which help reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress.
Summary: Milk contains a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Keep in mind that its nutritional content can vary depending on many factors.
2. Milk is a good source of quality protein
Milk is a rich source of protein, with just one cup containing 8 grams.
Protein is necessary for many vital functions in your body, including growth and development, cellular repair, and immune system regulation.
Milk is considered a “complete protein,” meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for your body to function at an optimal level.
There are two main types of protein found in milk — casein and whey protein. Both are considered high-quality proteins.
Casein makes up the majority of the protein found in cow’s milk, comprising 70–80% of the total protein content. Whey accounts for around 20%.
Whey protein contains the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all of which are linked to health benefits.
Branched-chain amino acids may be particularly helpful in building muscle, preventing muscle loss, and providing fuel during exercise.
Drinking milk is associated with a lower risk of age-related muscle loss in several studies.
Higher consumption of milk and milk products has been linked to greater whole-body muscle mass and better physical performance in older adults.
Milk has also been shown to boost muscle repair in athletes.
Several studies have demonstrated that drinking milk after a workout can decrease muscle damage, promote muscle repair, increase strength and even decrease muscle soreness.
Plus, it’s a natural alternative to highly processed protein drinks marketed toward post-workout recovery.
Summary: Milk is a rich source of quality protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. It may help reduce age-related muscle loss and promote muscle repair after exercise.
3. Milk benefits bone health
Drinking milk has long been associated with healthy bones.
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This is due to its powerful combination of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, protein, and (in grass-fed, full-fat dairy) vitamin K2.
All of these nutrients are essential for maintaining strong, healthy bones.
Approximately 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones and teeth.
Milk is an excellent source of the nutrients your body relies on to properly absorb calcium, including vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Adding milk and dairy products to your diet may prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis.
Studies have linked milk and dairy to a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially in older adults.
What’s more, milk is a good source of protein, a key nutrient for bone health.
Protein makes up about 50% of bone volume and around one-third of bone mass.
Evidence suggests that eating more protein may protect against bone loss, especially in women who do not consume enough dietary calcium.
Summary: Milk contains a variety of nutrients that benefit bone health, such as calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium. Studies suggest that consuming milk and dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures.
4. Milk prevents weight gain
Several studies have linked milk intake to a lower risk of obesity.
Interestingly, this benefit has only been associated with whole milk.
A study on 145 three-year-old Latino children found that higher milk-fat consumption was associated with a lower risk of childhood obesity.
Another study including over 18,000 middle-aged and elderly women showed that eating more high-fat dairy products was associated with less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity.
Milk contains a variety of components that may contribute to weight loss and prevent weight gain.
For example, its high-protein content helps you feel full for a longer period, which may prevent overeating.
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Furthermore, the conjugated linoleic acid in milk has been studied for its ability to boost weight loss by promoting fat breakdown and inhibiting fat production.
Additionally, many studies have associated diets rich in calcium with a lower risk of obesity.
Evidence suggests that people with a higher intake of dietary calcium have a lower risk of being overweight or obese.
Studies have shown that high levels of dietary calcium promote fat breakdown and inhibit fat absorption in the body.
Summary: Adding milk, especially whole milk, to your diet may prevent weight gain.
5. Milk is a versatile ingredient
Milk is a nutritious beverage that provides several health benefits.
Moreover, it’s a versatile ingredient that can be easily added to your diet.
Aside from drinking milk, try these ideas for incorporating it into your daily routine:
- Smoothies: It makes an excellent, high-protein base for healthy smoothies. Try combining it with greens and a small amount of fruit for a nutritious snack.
- Oatmeal: It provides a tasty, more nutritious alternative to water when making your morning oatmeal or hot cereal.
- Coffee: Adding it to your morning coffee or tea will give your beverage a boost of beneficial nutrients.
- Soups: Try adding it to your favorite soup recipe for added flavor and nutrition.
If you’re not a fan of milk, other dairy products have similar nutrient profiles.
For example, unsweetened yogurt made from milk contains the same amount of protein, calcium, and phosphorus.
Yogurt is a healthy and versatile alternative to processed dips and toppings.
Summary: Milk is a versatile ingredient that can be added to your diet in several ways. Try adding it to smoothies, coffee, or your morning oatmeal.
Milk is not for everyone
Although milk may be a good choice for some, others can’t digest it or choose not to consume it.
Many people can’t tolerate milk because they’re unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
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Interestingly, lactose intolerance affects around 65% of the world’s population.
Others choose not to consume milk or dairy products due to dietary restrictions, health concerns, or ethical reasons.
This has led to a wide variety of non-dairy milk alternatives, including:
- Almond milk: Made from almonds, this plant-based alternative is lower in calories and fat than cow’s milk.
- Coconut milk: This tropical drink made from coconut flesh and water has a creamy texture and mild flavor.
- Cashew milk: Cashews and water combine to make this subtly sweet and rich substitute.
- Soy milk: Contains a similar amount of protein as cow’s milk and has a mild flavor.
- Hemp milk: This alternative is made from hemp seeds and provides a good amount of high-quality, plant-based protein.
- Oat milk: This substitute is very mild in flavor with a thicker consistency, making it a great addition to coffee.
- Rice milk: A great option for those with sensitivities or allergies, as it’s the least allergenic of all non-dairy kinds of milk.
When choosing a non-dairy milk substitute, keep in mind that many of these products contain added ingredients like sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives, and thickeners.
Choosing a product with limited ingredients is a good choice when comparing brands. Read the labels to determine which best suits your needs.
If possible, stick to unsweetened varieties to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet.
Summary: There are many non-dairy milk alternatives available for those who can’t or choose not to drink milk.
Milk is a nutrient-rich beverage that may benefit your health in several ways.
It’s packed with important nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin D. Plus, it’s an excellent source of protein.
Drinking milk and dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
Many people are unable to digest milk or choose to avoid it for personal reasons.
For those able to tolerate it, consuming high-quality milk and dairy products have been proven to provide several health benefits.