Lately, it seems like dairy has become a controversial food group. More and more restaurants and coffee shops are offering almond milk, while the refrigerated aisles seem to boast new types of "milk" weekly, from rice to cashew to oat. Some experts rave about the benefits of eating and drinking cow's milk, while others claim those are empty words. So, what's the real deal? Here are five things that happen to your body when you eat dairy, even if you're not lactose intolerant.
Often, I miss the blissful days of childhood – when I assumed massive glasses of two-percent milk were magically strengthening my bones as quickly as I sucked them down, cheese-covered broccoli was my vegetable of choice, and I'd never even heard of the word "gluten." I knew everything there was to know about nutrition: milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, and that weird "brown bread" were good for me; cupcakes and Oreos weren't. A couple more decades of life, a 30-pound weight gain and subsequent loss, and more than a few battles with stomach issues forced me to learn more about nutrition, and it turns out most foods (or food groups) simply aren't just good or bad.
That said, some members of the population do have to cut out this food group entirely or to a large extent. The Genetics Home Reference by the National Institutes of Health reports, "Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy." If you're in the minority with no issues digesting dairy, or extremely mild issues, these are some of the things that may still happen when you consume dairy.
1. You May Experience Bloating.
Even if you aren't diagnosed with lactose intolerance, you may experience bloating (and even gas) after consuming dairy products. A 2017 study published in the Nutrition Journal indicates that some people may have a negative reaction to a protein in certain dairy products, called A1 beta casein, rather than lactose.
Beta casein is a "major protein component of cow’s milk" and "the most frequent variants in dairy herds are A1 and A2," according to a study published in Nutrition Journal. If you're a dairy-lover and find that you're reacting negatively to the same brand of milk you've been drinking most of your life, you can give A2 Milk (an A1-free brand) a try.
Rick Miller, a dietician who spoke to Daily Mail, explained that if you're experiencing stomach discomfort after consuming dairy, "try introducing a very small amount of A2 milk such as a teaspoon in a cup of tea or coffee with the guidance of your doctor. If this doesn’t cause any symptoms, then gradually build up the amount."
2. Your Bones... Stay The Same?
For decades the dairy industry has repeatedly told us that drinking milk fortifies our bones. However, multiple studies, like this one from researchers at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, question that claim. "Currently, there’s no good evidence that consuming more than one serving of milk per day in addition to a reasonable diet (which typically provides about 300 milligrams of calcium per day from nondairy sources) will reduce fracture risk," their findings revealed.
3. Your Risk Of Cancer May Be Affected.
In a 2014 study published in The World Journal of Men's Health, researchers concluded that, "The milk protein, casein, promotes the proliferation of prostate cancer cells such as PC3 and LNCaP." This study came after a previous study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found that, compared with men consuming less or equal to 150 milligrams of calcium daily from dairy products, men consuming more than 600 milligrams of calcium daily had a 32 percent higher risk of prostate cancer.
Some argue that high-fat dairy can have negative effects for people diagnosed with breast cancer, as well. In a 2013 article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that "Intake of high-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy, was related to a higher risk of mortality after breast cancer diagnosis."
As with any study, it's important to review the data logically. As one Healthline article discussing the link between dairy and cancer points out, "Virtually all human studies on the connection between milk and cancer are observational in nature. They can not prove that dairy products cause a disease, only that consuming dairy is associated with it." Diet plays a large role in cancer risk, and dairy is only part of the puzzle.
4. You Get Many Essential Nutrients.
One cup of milk (244 grams) contains a whole host of nutrients that humans need for good health, including 28 percent of our recommended daily calcium, 24 percent of our vitamin D, 26 percent of our riboflavin, 18 percent of our B12, 10 percent of our potassium, and 22 percent of our phosphorous, breaks down Healthline,
Registered dietitian Jessica Isaacs tells Romper about some of milk's unique benefits: "Though these nutrients can be found in many other food items, when it comes to calcium, with a Recommended Dietary Allowance of 700-1,300 mg per day (ages 1 and up), it is difficult to meet these requirements without dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, milk, and fortified soy beverages." To put this into perspective, "It would take 22 cups of broccoli to meet the amount of calcium provided from three servings of dairy products," she explains.
5. Your Body Might Not Respond Well The Saturated Fats.
Sucking down milk and chowing down on dairy products could potentially have negative consequences for your overall health. "Many dairy products are high in saturated fats, and a high saturated fat intake is a risk factor for heart disease," Harvard researchers found. You can cut back on the saturated fats by choosing low-fat or non-fat options, though it should be noted that those products also lack healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins, Healthline cautioned.
6. You May Break Out.
I've repeatedly heard men and women swear up and down that cutting out dairy from their diet helped them clear up their skin, but is there a proven link between the two? Literature from the American Academy of Dermatology argues that "dairy does appear to be weakly associated with acne, with the strongest association being skim milk." While the specific cause hasn't been pinpointed, the lead researcher and dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, "suspects that hormones and growth factors in milk might play a role." Of course, if you're desperate to clear up your acne, you'll likely try just about anything!
If you suspect dairy is having an adverse effect on your health, and certainly if you've been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, you have other options. "For those that must cut dairy due to a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, there is an ever increasing variety of milk alternatives on the market. In terms of nutritional value, fortified soy milk is the best alternative, offering seven grams of protein, to cow milk’s eight grams, as well as providing a good source of calcium," Isaacs tells Romper.
At the end of the day, when it comes to making dietary choices and changes there are two sources you should listen to: your body and your doctor. By paying attention to how you feel, potentially tweaking the products you consume, and making informed dietary choices, you'll discover the diet that works (and feels!) best for you.