If you re at all familiar with the nutritional value of what you eat, you probably know that milk is a nutrient-dense beverage. As Ruth Frenchman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, points out, the ubiquitous beverage contains calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals. In fact, of the four nutrients most commonly insufficient in our diets calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and fiber milk is a good source of the first three.
Nevertheless, activists from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit group devoted to promoting a vegan diet, are questioning the rationale for including dairy as a major food group. Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at PCRM, attributes the increased consumption of dairy products (mainly cheese and yogurt) to marketing, but doubts that nutritional studies actually substantiate the supposed health benefits.
Dairy products have been touted as absolutely essential to human health, says Levin. But there really hasn t been any scientific evidence to support that claim. Key to Levin s argument is that many people, especially those of African and Asian descent, are lactose intolerant. As she sees it, it s irresponsible for the USDA to make [milk] a mandatory food item served with school lunch. This is a beverage that could make, certainly minority kids, not feel good.
To which Dr. Ross responds, It s ridiculous that this agenda-driven group is using lactose intolerance as a gambit to promote their vegan lifestyle.
Milk and milk products are good nutrient-dense foods, Dr. Ross continues. While people should usually opt for the low-fat versions, given that some of the full-fat milk products pack a high caloric punch, it is contrary to public health to recommend completely cutting out dairy from one s diet unless, obviously, it is medically necessary.
Dr. Kava adds that, While there is no food that is essential after the age of about two years, the fact that milk is so nutrient-dense means that one who doesn t consume dairy must be careful to get those essential nutrients elsewhere.