Drinking cow's milk is controversial but what about milk alternatives?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Is drinking milk dangerous to your health?

There is much controversy about whether or not you should drink milk. Is drinking milk dangerous?

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Milk is a common grocery household item but for many people drinking cow’s milk can be dangerous. Are milk alternatives also dangerous for your health?

Benefits of cow milk

There’s no question that cow milk is a good source of protein and calcium. Most studies have shown that we need dairy for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium is also important for the heart and it is fortified with vitamin D.

Milk also contains potassium that helps keep our blood pressure and check and can help prevent stroke and heart disease.

There’s also an antioxidant in milk called glutathione that is important for a healthy brain as we age.

There’s also evidence that milk will help us build muscles which is important again especially as we get older.

Studies also support the notion that drinking milk can help with weight loss because it is a good source of protein and it can help us feel fuller; longer.

What’s dangerous about cow milk?

Some people are allergic to dairy. That means for some people, drinking milk could mean a trip to the hospital as a worst case scenario.

A mild allergy or intolerance could hurt immune function and for some, milk could cause unknown vague symptoms.

Wheezing diarrhea or vomiting and even severe allergies that can make it difficult to breathe known as anaphylaxis are signs of more intense allergy to cow's milk that is different than being lactose intolerant.

There is also some preliminary evidence that drinking milk can be dangerous for a man’s risk for getting prostate cancer.

One study showed women who drank four or more servings of dairy products a day were twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer, but studies are just suggestive and inconclusive.

Full fat milk can also raise your cholesterol leading to heart disease which is another potential danger from drinking cow's milk. Current healthy recommendations is to drink fat-free milk and other dairy products.

Milk alternatives

There are cow (or other animal milk alternatives) available, but are these types of milk also dangerous?

  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut
  • Hemp milk
  • Rice milk

With so many milk choices, how do you decide which one is right for you?

Soy milk

Look for products that are labeled GMO free. You'll get your daily requirement of calcium, plenty of protein, won't have to worry about lactose intolerance.

On the flip side of supporting soy milk, there are claims that soy is not a food and that you might suffer ill health from malabsorption of minerals from drinking the product because of chemicals called phytins.
Of course phytins are present in many foods, making such a claim weak at best.

The Weston Price Foundation has nothing good to say about soy products. Price is a dentist who focuses on nutrition and writes that soy milk is dangerous because of the way it is processed to form carcinogens.

He also shares soy products have high levels of aluminum, increases the body's need for vitamin D and subscribes to the unproven theory the phytoestrogens in soy can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

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See: Soy and breast cancer: What every woman should know.

Almond Milk

Honestly, almond milk is pricey, it doesn't taste that good and you're not getting much in the way of almonds by the time the ground nuts are diluted with filtered water.

You will miss out on the protein contained in cow milk.

It is however an alternative for cutting calories and is generally considered a healthy replacement for cow's milk. Many people enjoy the nutty taste

Almond milk has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and an ingredient that might cause cancer, but only if it contains carrageenan. There are brands that do not contain the ingredient.

Coconut milk

Another milk that might be dangerous for your cholesterol and therefore your heart health, your risk for obesity is coconut milk.

On the other hand, saturated fat is increasingly being questioned as a cause of heart disease.

However, studies are mixed about the effect of the milk on health. The trend toward coconut milk has taken on some steam, but it's popularity is based on limited evidence.

Anyone following a low FODMAP diet for IBD or IBS should avoid coconut milk. Those with a predisposition to the conditions (and you may not know ahead of time) should avoid consuming coconut milk because it is somewhat difficult to digest.

Hemp milk

Two possible dangers from hemp milk is if it contains carrageenan or if you are taking a blood thinner.
Hemp has been found to interfere with blood clotting and can increase your risk of bleeding, according to a 2007 study.

It might also be good medication if you are trying to lower your risk of stroke or heart attack from blood clot. If you have a medical condition, speak with your doctor about whether drinking hemp milk is safe for you.

Otherwise, know that you'll be getting vitamins, minerals and beneficial fatty acids if you make the switch from cow to hemp milk.

Rice milk

The danger of rice milk is it is a carbohydrate that should not be consumed by diabetics or those with prediabetes.

It is also low in protein and nutritionally lacking.

The bottom line is if you want to drink cow’s milk you should continue. Cow, almond, soy, hemp, rice and coconut milk all have their own hidden and not so hidden dangers. What type of milk you drink depends on your personal taste, preference, nutritional needs and individual health goals.

References:


,Weston Price Foundation

J Nutr Metab. 2013; 2013: 481068.
Published online 2013 Oct 24. doi: 10.1155/2013/481068

‘Milk, milk products and lactose intake and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies.” I href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16052536#">nt J Cancer. 2006 Jan 15;118(2):431-41.

Updated 4/24/17

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Comments

milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer, the second-most common cancer in men. In some ways, it makes sense, since even organic milk is naturally full of hormones, which help both calves and tumors get bigger. I drink about 4 liters of wate per day plus lots of weak tea- maybe 10-12 cups.Don’t each much dairy, ,don’t drink milk,eat a cake( brownie type) maybe one ,like spicy food – a curry/chili twice per month occasional egg(fried),very little alchohol but still had troubles with my prostate, I used to to pee twice/three times a night but usually a good stream, my doctor prescribed me a supplement named alpharise for it and after 5 months taking it I can say it works really well!