The Great Milk Debate: Is Dairy The Next Evil Food Group?

is milk bad for you

For decades, the National Dairy Council has invested millions of dollars in marketing each year–and effectively taught every mom in America to be a walking reminder of why you have to drink your milk. But in recent years, many nutritionists have begun to question whether dairy is really part of a healthy, balanced diet, and many of them say “no.” Their reasoning ranges from comparing milk to pus (sorry, I know that’s gross) to an uptick in food sensitivities and concerns over milk processing. But for many of us, the great milk debate has led to more confusion than clarity. So we want to know: Is dairy the next evil food group?

To get a primer on why so many of us are confused about milk, I spoke with Dr. Frank Lipman, an Integrative and Functional Medicine Physician and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, and asked him some of my most pressing questions.

Check out what he had to say:

Most of us grew up thinking that milk was a necessary food group, but now some are saying it’s evil. What’s your stance?

Though cow’s milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, it’s not necessarily great for adult human beings. Dairy is a pro-inflammatory for many people, and classic symptoms of dairy sensitivity are mucus production, respiratory problems, digestive symptoms (such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation), fatigue, joint pains, and skin problems that range from rashes to acne.

Many people don’t have these symptoms when they drink raw milk, so maybe the problems occur because of what is done to dairy. However, raw milk is not readily available in most states.

I’ve also heard that it’s the hormones in milk that make it bad. So does that mean that milk from grass-fed, organic, non-hormone treated cows is ok?

That’s true, there are over 60 hormones in an average glass of milk. If you’re going to drink milk, then it’s best to drink milk from grass-fed, organic, non-hormone treated cows. However, I recommend drinking almond milk, rice milk or hemp milk instead of cow’s milk.

Why are so many more people suddenly lactose-intolerant or sensitive to dairy?

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    • TheOtherEmily

      All I know is that my ancestors did not ingest much dairy (I’m half-Asian,) so the lactose intolerance does not surprise me. I also discovered only recently that it gives me acne- something I wish someone would have suggested to me 20 years ago. I wasted so much money on topical acne medications that did nothing to stop the cause. I can use regular face products now as long as I watch my diet. I’m not saying dairy is bad for everyone, just that some people may be sensitive to the hormones in it and not realize the extent to which it can affect your body.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Man…skin problems are so frustrating, and have so many causes. It’s crazy that dairy can cause acne, but you’re definitely not the only person I know who has this problem; I definitely think staying away from dairy is a good idea for my skin, too. I’m glad you figured this out!

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        I’ve also heard that dairy can cause some pretty major skin problems for folks. So glad you got this figured out!

    • John Paris

      One word: WHITEWASH

      (the book)

    • Colleen

      The “milk combining with other nutrients” question is a good one to address further.

      Specifically, if you have iron-deficiency anemia, they tell you to take your iron with Vitamin C but without calcium-containing foods (such as dairy products).

      I wonder if other supplements or medications have special instructions such as this.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Collen, thank you for posting this! I had no idea, and that’s really interesting. I’ll definitely look into it and see if I can write a post about it for our Milk Debate week!

    • Jules

      You have got to be kidding me about the hormones. Guess what? Plants have hormones too, including harmful phyto estorogens. This is just an attempt to villify people who see absolutely nothing wrong with the commercial dairy industry (of which, I have been employed) and the pasteurization of milk.

    • pete

      When ever I see articles which stretch and break the boundaries of credibility, I cannot help but think that there is more to the criticism of milk and the dairy industry then milk causing acne.It looks like trying to destroy the dairy industry in the past by exposing a few bad apples that abuse cows wasn’t working so now we will try by saying that you can clear up your face by not using dairy products,so to save your social life do not use dairy.Next time you make ridiculous observations like “I think the acne is better” Try doing some actual research.

      • Jules


    • Lisa Noakes

      Wonderful cookies only they need to be boiled more like three minutes in order to set up properly. I have made several batches now. Even ran out of cocoa and used a pouch of hot chocolate which was a delicate tasting chocolate.yum yum!

    • Jackie Schmidts

      Consuming milk and dairy products is good. They are full of nutrients, not to mention they taste good.

      Many of you are subject to hysteria on these types of topics. Even more are delerious when it comes to what is really good for you and not. Whats the next “bad food”, apples, potatos, beans and lettus? Is not any natural food source good for you anymore?

      Got Milk? yes, I do. Chocolate is my favorite for me and the kids.

    • Mockingbird

      I am honestly very disappointed with Blisstree after reading this debate. I am a health conscious marathon runner, who thinks that the American diet has some fundamental flaws that need to be addressed. In other words, I am Blisstree’s target audience. This week of the so-called “milk debate” is a completely inaccurate and propagandic attacks under the guise of nutrition journalism. I am so disgusted that I have disliked your Facebook page.

      First of all, your authors seem to believe that milk’s calcium content is not as unique as advertised. However, they made this claim without any numbers to back it up. While it is true that many vegetables, like kale, have high volumes of calcium, their calcium content per serving is still a third of a serving of milk. Additionally, alternatives to milk, like soy, rice, or almond, lack calcium naturally so they need to be fortified with calcium salts. So if you are getting your calcium from these alternate sources, why not just take calcium supplements instead?

      The article “The Calcium Myth: Dairy’s Big White Lie” makes the point that the additives in cows are bad for you. Pesticide is also bad for you, which is why so many people eat organic vegetables. Organic, hormone free milk also exists, yet I did not find a reference to them.

      Obviously, if you lactose intolerant, lactose is the enemy. However, lactose does increase stomach acidity which aids in the absorption of calcium.

      Additionally, you contradict yourself on the facts. For example in the article “The Calcium Myth: Dairy’s Big White Lie” you mention that vitamin A causes decrease in bone density while in the article “Rethinking Skim Milk: Low Fat Doesn’t Necessarily Mean More Nutritious” you bemoan that vitamin A is removed from the milk in the process. Some consistency please.

      I’m also tired of people thinking that drinking milk is unnatural is actually relevant. You know what else is unnatural? The existence of soy in the western hemisphere. But no one seems to be complaining about that.

      There is a reason that the idea milk causes acne is controversial, because the facts aren’t there. While the argument that the androgen present in milk may cause acne is logical, the studies that seem to prove correlation don’t hold up. First of all, these studies are observational. No one has come up with a study that uses a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Secondly, almost all of these studies focus on teenagers. So these test subjects would be getting acne regardless of their diet. One study did keep track of the subjects who had not changed their dietary consumption as they aged. These majority of these people grew out of their acne, even though their milk consumption didn’t change. This seems to indicate that milk was not the variable that caused acne.

      In the article “Is Milk Turning Your Child Into Big Foot?”, your author tried to use that outdated argument that milk hormones are the causes behind the increase in early puberty. This argument was dismissed several years ago for the much more logical and statistically supported argument that increased rates of childhood obesity is the culprit. If a child’s body is fatter, then at a much earlier age it could support another child growing inside it.

      Finally, you tried to make the argument that goat’s milk was more environmentally sustainable. Goats are one of the most least environmentally sustainable herbivores on earth! While most grazers bite the grass, goats will pull the grass up by the roots, ensuring that it will not grow back. Therefore, while cows need more space, at least they aren’t turning the area they live into a barren desert. Goat-caused desertification is a major problem in Africa, where goats are becoming increasingly popular due to their cheap maintenance costs compared to cows.

      I will say, at least you made me check the facts for myself. That’s pretty much the only positive that I can manage after the disaster that was this week. You can be assured that I will no longer be the avid reader I once was.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hi Mockingbird,

        I’m very sorry to hear that you disliked our Facebook page and were so upset by our content this week. I do wish that you’d posted these comments earlier in the week so that we could have addressed them as part of the Debate, rather than listing them out at the end… We always do our best to address our readers’ concerns, and when you leave comments requesting more information about a certain topic, or requesting other perspectives, we try to respond. Case in point was the acne and milk post; that was something we pulled together in response to many of the comments here, criticizing Dr. Lipman for his claim that milk causes acne in patients.

        You’re not the only person who’s complained about the one-sidedness of our Milk Debate, so I do think we owe it to you and others to find some doctors and nutritionists who still think you should drink milk.

        But in our defense: The Dairy Council has billions of dollars in advertising money and research funding to get you information about why you should drink milk and eat dairy. Many, many nutritionists and doctors are starting to speak out against that, and we wanted to explain why that is, because a lot of people are at a point where they’ve heard that dairy might be bad, but they don’t really understand why or whether they should actually listen to those rumors. Clarifying these reasons from doctors and nutritionists was our goal.

        Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to decide what to do with our bodies after reading various websites, magazines and books. As the editor of Blisstree, I can guarantee you that for every health claim out there, there’s someone saying it’s wrong and saying that they have research to back it up (for example, several of the arguments you made above also have plenty of science and research to refute them).

        Our sense is that a growing number of legitimate doctors and nutritionists have become skeptical of dairy–we understand that this is a complicated and controversial topic to cover, but that’s exactly why we think we should cover it. Our coverage may not be perfect or 100% consistent, but neither is the science and research. I think that by exposing that, and getting people to think critically about their own nutrition choices, we did a good thing.

        I hope that you do come back to Blisstree and continue reading our content, and please do continue to let us know when you disagree or want something explained. The sooner you let us know about your problems with our content, the sooner we can try to address them.

        Briana Rognlin

    • Heike Doerr

      Two weeks late in the game…but I just wanted to add my two cents. For years, I have been drinking nothing but raw milk. I know this is frowned upon by many. During those times where I can’t have it, say due to travel, and find a good source for pasteurized organic milk instead, I get all sorts of GI symptoms. The same applies to my family, btw.

      It’s not a matter of what I believe, but a matter of evidence, and common sense tells us that heat denatures proteins, destroys enzymes, and for better or for worse, bacteria, the good, bad, and the ugly. In the end, conventionally farmed, pasteurized milk is nothing but a lifeless white liquid without any substantial nutritional value anymore. So it gets enriched with vitamins, proteins and other unnamed ingredients that do not have to appear on the box. It’s a processed “food” now. Perhaps this is where the culprit lies.

      I very much like the idea of studies done with processed versus unprocessed milk, but I know that this won’t be feasible. Raw milk is not a health hazard if the milk is harvested properly, and the cows are healthy. The reason for pasteurization is that these standards became neglected, and also to speed up the milking process. It’s cheaper and easier to milk “dirty”, knowing that your product will disappear in the pool, where in the end the consequences of negligence are prevented by heat.

      Will there ever be an absolute truth in this debate? I doubt it. Milk drinkers will grow to be 90, much like vegans, and milk drinkers will develop CV disease and cancer, and so will vegans. There is so much more that determines our disposition than the ingestion of milk.

      Just saying…

    • Dietmar H. Arff

      Reading some of the published comments I have come to the following conclusions:
      1. The dairy industry is doing a pretty good job in making people write on their behalf.
      2. There are a lot of folks out there who are not interested in doing their own thinking but rather swallow what advertising agencies tell them about food.
      3. Being naive can hurt you down the road.
      Growing up I picked up raw milk fresh from a farm with no problems after consuming it. To stabilize milk for longer transports and shelf life in the fridge it has become totally denatured. Today I cannot even have a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt – with 4 capsules of Lactase Enzymes – without bloating and getting stomach cramps. Let the researchers paid by the dairy industry come up with all their requested results, I still believe what my body tells me. To the pro milk authors I can only say: Follow the money!