News & Resources

Dairy Defined: Milk – A Great Addition to Your Science-Based Diet

October 15, 2019

ARLINGTON, Va. – Call it old-fashioned, but dairy believes in science. For example, it takes climate change seriously – that’s why North America’s dairy sector, which is dominated by U.S. production, is the only one worldwide whose total greenhouse gas emissions have declined from 2005 levels, according to a UN study.

Dairy also closely examines research on hot-button topics like plant-based versus dairy beverages – where studies consistently show consumer confusion over nutrition and support for clearer labels. And the sector understands that “industry-funded research” will not be seen as quite the same as “independent” studies. Fine – even though industry transparency standards are high, critics will believe what they believe.

But if you don’t want to believe what dairy tells you – will you believe Consumer Reports?

In its November issue, Consumer Reports’ food-testing team evaluated 35 plant-based beverages, including almond, coconut, oat and soy varieties, for nutrition and taste, also comparing them with milk. The result? “Few of the drinks we tested match cow’s milk for nutrition,” the authors wrote. Experts also noted that consumers “are confused about plant milks’ nutritional profile” and that in terms of calcium intake especially, “you may be missing out” with plant-based beverages.

The study found that, along with often relying on added sugars for flavor, industrially produced plant-based beverages also include concerning additives linked to higher risks of kidney disease, heart disease, bone loss, and inflammation. That’s not exactly the story a vegan lobbyist might want you to read, but facts are facts. And by the way — they’re the same facts the Food and Drug Administration is examining as it considers enforcing already existing standards on what milk is, and what it isn’t. (We at NMPF have sent them a road map with some suggestions.)

That’s not the only interesting study of recent note. CNN recently picked up on research from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland showing that when it comes to hydration, milk outperforms even water, due to its unique blend of nutrients.  The lactose in milk, for example, helps slow the emptying of fluid from the stomach, maintaining hydration longer. Beverages with higher concentrations of sugars, such as juices and sodas, use up the water that’s needed to dilute them.

These are only two studies. There are more. Did you see the one from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the American Heart Association? It recommended that children under 5 drink only milk and water, specifically warning against replacing milk with plant-based beverages. And how about last year’s University of Wisconsin study showing that, once you factor in packaging and transportation, soy and almond beverages have a larger carbon footprint than milk, with almonds exponentially higher in water use?

The evidence keeps coming in: Milk is a highly nutritious, climate-compatible beverage that benefits consumers. And it’s not just dairy sources saying that – it’s respected scientists in reputable publications. (A few more studies of interest are listed below for ease of reference.) From the evidence, one might just conclude that milk is an excellent part of a science-based diet. But maybe it’s just old-fashioned, thinking a debate should be focused around facts instead of marketing.

A few links of interest for additional examination:

(Note: NMPF’s Dairy Defined each week explores today’s dairy farms and industry using high-quality data and podcast-style interviews to explain current dairy issues and dispel myths.)

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The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. NMPF’s member cooperatives produce more than two-thirds of U.S. milk, making NMPF dairy’s voice on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. For more, visit www.nmpf.org.