Milk: Overconsumed “Healthy Food”

For decades, milk has been promoted as an essential daily food for good bone health, and the USDA’s dietary guidelines suggest 3 cups a day for an adult. I was shocked to see people drink it like drinking water when I first came to the states. Is that too much? More and more scientific studies suggest yes to this question. Milk may have some benefits for certain people but its effects are certainly exaggerated for other purpose than bone health. Little evidence shows the linkage between milk consumption and reduced risk of fractures, which is the main argument of  USDA’s recommendation. In contrast, more and more researches indicate the opposite effect to one’s health, e.g. too much milk consumption associated higher risk of certain cancers (fatal prostate, ovarian cancers etc.), a higher risk of fracture esp. in women, and even an increased risk of death in some study.

The three important nutrients that milk contains are calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (which is fortified into milk). All can be obtained via alternative ways in a healthy diet. Many vegetables and fruits are rich in potassium. Sources of calcium including leafy green vegetables such as collards, spinach and bok choy, beans, soy milk, sesame seeds, seaweed, dry small shrimp and so much more. As far as vitamin D, 15 minute sun-shine without sunscreens is enough for your body’s need. If you are afraid of sun-burn or skin cancer, choose a time period in the earlier morning or late afternoon to be outside. Longer exposure to sun during warmer season also make up the deficiency during cold season. The key point is to eat more vegetables and beans in broad variety including sea vegetables, and be outside under the sun directly and enjoying the nature’s best gift.

The traditional Chinese diet are calcium and potassium rich. In fact, there is low rates of fractions in many Asian countries, whose daily diet has no or little milk. Unfortunately more and more Asian people choose to follow western diet standard and discard their traditional diet. We should believe in our ancestors wisdom, and stick to the healthy diet we have had for centuries.

Useful References:

New York Times articles about milk consumption.

Pros and Cons of milk and dairy from WebMD.

Food pyramid by Harvard School of Public Health

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