I grew up a true Albertan omnivore. This didn’t mean I was a mindless eating machine (though, in my teens that wasn’t far from the truth) but, basically if it was food I would eat it. In other words, I had a healthy acceptance of all things edible - anything farmed, fished, gathered, hunted or bought at the store was fair game. Of course I was aware that some people avoided certain foods for cultural, religious or ethical reasons, but it wasn’t until I had moved from the country and into the “big city” that I encountered people with a real visceral feeling about specific foods.
For whatever reason, milk is “one of those foods” (even though it’s a beverage) that is the focus of many myths, stirs the emotion and causes people to “take sides.” So, is there merit to these perceptions of milk, good or bad? The table below goes into some of the common perceptions about milk.
Milk - What’s In It for Me?
As with any food, we have to think about it in the context of our food system. Buying milk in Canada means you are buying Canadian milk from Canadian farmers and in virtually all cases, that is farmed in the province you live in.
|The claim||The reality|
|Milk is full of hormones||While some states in the US permit growth hormones such as rBST and rBGH to stimulate milk production, these growth hormones are not approved for sale or permitted for use in Canada.|
|Milk is full of antibiotics||Just like humans, cows sometimes get sick and need medications like antibiotics. If this happens, the cow is identified and milked separately until she is healthy again. Her milk is properly disposed of for a mandatory length of time, to allow for the medication to get out of her system.|
|Pasteurization destroys vitamins and minerals in milk||Pasteurization has no significant impact on the nutrients in milk. Pasteurization is a quick heat treatment that destroys potentially harmful bacteria. This is an important process that helps to make milk safe for Canadians to drink.|
|Milk is a super food!||No food is a “super food.”
Like any food that fits into a Food Group in Canada’s Food Guide, milk contributes to a balanced diet.
Milk provides many nutrients, including protein, vitamins (including vitamin D and A) and minerals (including calcium, phosphorous and magnesium). Milk offers more benefits than bone building. As the Dietitians of Canada website points out, “as part of a healthy diet, milk might help protect against high blood pressure and colon cancer. Canada’s Food Guide recommends you enjoy two cups (500 mL) of lower-fat milk every day for good health.”
|Cows’ milk is only good for baby cows, not humans.||Milk is one of the richest natural food sources of calcium in the human diet and in Canada, an excellent source of vitamin D.
While cows naturally produce milk for their calves, cultures around the world have bred and cared for cows in order to produce milk for humans since around 6000-8000 BC1. Cow’s milk, like other healthy foods is minimally processed and nourishing.
Adapted from Dietitians of Canada, Nutrition Month (2012)
So where does that leave us with milk and its role in our diet? Like any food choice, it’s up to you. For me, it’s easy - I like milk, I enjoy milk and I am confident in the way that milk is produced in Canada. Whether I am working with the public as a dietitian or feeding my niece and nephews, milk is at the top of my list for healthy choices, especially considering it‘s the most under consumed food group in Canada. Whether you choose milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified unsweetened soy beverage, all Milk and Alternatives play an important role in a healthy diet.
Have questions about milk, milk alternatives or any other food or nutrition topics? Dial 8-1-1 to speak to a registered dietitian at Dietitian Services or email your question.
- Want to see a dairy farm in action? Book a farm tour
- From Farm to Family: the process of making milk
- University of Guelph; Food Safety Network page on raw milk
- Health Canada’s tip sheet on raw milk
- Real Raw Milk Facts
1 Professor Douglas Goff, Dairy Science and Technology Education, University of Guelph, Canada, www.foodsci.uoguelph.ca/dairyedu/home.html.
2 Canadian Community Health Survey - Nutrition, Statistics Canada, 2006