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Why You Should Not Go Karen on a Barista Over the Milk in Your Coffee

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Milk does not matter in coffee for weight loss.

A new review of current studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals some surprising findings about milk and our health that could negate our reasons for why we choose what milk type we put in our coffee.


Earlier, I discussed about bad behavior by the “Karens” of the world who vent their frustrations at the slightest perceived slight, often on the underappreciated and overworked coffee shop barista. Human nature being what it is, something as simple as adding the wrong milk into a coffee order can bring on the wrath of Karen.

Even Coffee Comes With a Patron Saint and a Prayer

To some who take their coffee order seriously…maybe even too seriously…our reasons for choosing a milk preference may not be as justifiable as we have been led to believe. In fact, a new review of multiple studies reveals some surprising findings about just how much it really matters, whether we drink whole, 2% or skim milk.

In the review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers are questioning the recommended three 8-oz (237 ml) servings per day for adults and children 9 years of age or older of regarding milk and other dairy products combined. A recommendation that appears to be largely based on that it should lower the risk of fractures in adults and enhance growth in children.

It is well-accepted as a truth that drinking milk is correlated with accelerated growth in children, resulting in greater adult height. However, as it turns out, while tall stature is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, it also raises the risks of many cancers, hip fractures, and developing pulmonary emboli when children mature into adults. Furthermore, the reviewers find that low dairy consumption is clearly compatible with low rates of hip fracture after looking at the data from other countries regarding milk consumption and hip fractures.

The authors of the review concluded that the data they analyzed shows that “…among men, milk intake during adolescence was linearly associated with a 9% greater risk of hip fracture later in life for every additional glass consumed per day. No association with the risk of hip fracture was seen among women. Thus, existing data do not support high intakes of milk during adolescence for prevention of fractures later in life and suggest that such intakes may contribute to the high incidence of fractures in countries with the greatest milk consumption.”

The point of the inclusion of this seemingly non-coffee and milk-related information, is that it is important to understand that a lot of preconceived notions—even those science-based—can actually be wrong, or at least require some caveats.

The point made, let us skip the other findings in the review and focus on the one that most likely has the greatest bearing on which milk choice we make in our coffee order: fighting weight gain.

Body Weight and Obesity

Traditionally for years, the recommended dietary advice has clearly focused on choosing low-fat, low calorie dairy products over richer and higher calorie products. Therefore, we can understand why the weight-conscious coffee drinker may go for a skim, almond or coconut milk choice for their café latte or similar drink…and, may become upset if they are handed a drink that is made with 2% or whole milk.

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However, the review does not support these traditional views:

“Although milk has been widely promoted as beneficial for weight control, in a meta-analysis of 29 randomized trials, no overall effects of milk or other dairy foods on body weight were seen. Among men and women in three large cohorts, changes in consumption of whole milk, low-fat milk, and cheese had no clear associations with weight change

Wow! Heresy. Right?!

Furthermore, the authors of the review report that with children, the recommendation that low-fat is best at a young age to avoid adult onset obesity, they found practically the opposite to be true.

“Among 12,829 adolescents followed for 3 years, intake of low-fat milk was positively associated with gain in body-mass index (BMI, the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters), but intakes of full-fat milk and dairy fat were not; the weight gain associated with low-fat milk was accounted for by higher energy intake. Similarly, in three cohorts of young children, consumption of full-fat or 2%-fat milk was associated with lower BMI or lower risk of obesity than was consumption of low-fat or skim milk. In one study, no overall association between milk and percent body fat was observed.”

The authors concluded from their review that, “Overall, the findings of prospective cohort studies and randomized trials do not show clear effects of milk intake on body weight in children or adults. Contrary to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advice to choose reduced-fat dairy, low-fat milk does not appear to have advantages over whole milk for weight control—and in children, available evidence suggests greater long-term weight gain with reduced-fat milk than with full-fat milk.”

One positive note at least, was their finding that regular consumption of yogurt may result in less weight gain. They recommend further study in appropriately controlled trials to minimize confounding and determine whether yogurt may be the better focus when it comes to dairy products and weight control.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of what is really going on with milk, getting upset and going Karen on a barista is inexcusable. However, it is a good example and reminder that sometimes what we see as justifiable anger is sometimes wrong on its own merit and should make one more mindful when ordering their next cup of coffee. Repeat after me: “Science says whole milk is ok—Yay!” And enjoy your all fat, no guilt, BMI-in-your-face, cafe latte.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between coffee and healthy living. For continual updates about the benefits of coffee on your health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay

Reference: Milk and Health” by Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H. and David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D. February 13, 2020, New England Journal of Medicine 2020; 382:644-654.