Got dairy? Pouring a tall, cool glass of milk for healthy bones and better blood pressure has been the good nutrition rule for decades.
But given the new research that is emerging, its not something we can enthusiastically recommend anymore. As more scientific studies question cow milks long-famous benefits and expose potential problems that eating dairy products may trigger, we want to tell you what we think about the new findings: We believe the evidence is troubling, but not conclusive. So heres our advice on the smart way to get some dairy in your diet and how to get the bulk of nutrients it offers from other sources.
THE NEW CASE AGAINST MILK
Milk is packed with natural sugars. Even reduced-fat milk may add fuel to the childhood obesity epidemic. One cup of 2 percent milk has 3 teaspoons worth, more than the added sugars in a chocolate-covered peanut butter cup.
Essential for strong bones? Maybe not. You do need calcium, along with magnesium, potassium and vitamins D and K, to build and maintain strong bones and protect yourself from late-life fractures that lower quality of life and lead to premature death. Milks got all three minerals plus D, but its not the only source. And while theres evidence that it can bolster bone density, theres also some research that indicates milk might not protect against fractures. That could knock out one big reason you drink milk.
Theres a suggestion of raised cancer risk. Some studies associate high levels of lactose, the amount of milk sugar you consume from drinking three glasses a day, with a higher risk of ovarian cancer. And two preliminary studies have found that milk may increase levels of insulinlike growth factor, which can fuel the growth of cancer cells, and milk protein may increase cancer risk. However, these two studies findings have not been duplicated.
HOW TO DO DAIRY
No. 1: Skip whole milk and other high-fat dairy products. You dont need all that saturated fat. Instead, go with nonfat dairy. It can be rich and satisfying; just check out Greek yogurt! And limit your intake to two glasses of low or nonfat milk a day.
No. 2: Sidestep milk if youre lactose intolerant. If milk or other dairy foods leave you feeling crampy, gassy and bloated, and/or gives you diarrhea, you may lack the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk. Its a more common problem among people of Asian, African, Native American and Hispanic descent, the elderly and premature babies. Skip milk, or if for some reason you cant, take pills or drops that break down the lactose for you.
No. 3: Dont skimp on calcium. We recommend 1,200 mg a day. Its fine to get up to 600 mg from a supplement (choose one that also provides vitamin D and magnesium). Get the rest from food. That could be two servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or one and a half servings of high-calcium, fat-free plain yogurt.
But why not widen your calcium horizons? Cooked greens, dried beans, canned salmon, calcium-set tofu and almonds are all good sources. Easy calcium boost: Keep frozen spinach or collard greens on hand. One cooked cup of either delivers a whopping 291-357 mg of calcium, on par with a glass of milk.
No. 4: Round up the rest of the bone-building team. Calcium doesnt work alone. Be sure to get 1,000 mg of vitamin D-3 daily. Then eat plenty of produce to get your fill of magnesium, potassium and vitamin K.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.