Last updated on: 12/8/2022 | Author:

History of Milk Consumption

Milk is a “liquid secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals to nourish their young for a period beginning immediately after birth.” While cow milk is the most commonly consumed milk globally, sheep and goat milk are prevalent in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, camel milk is popular in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and water buffalo milk is typical in South Asia. Less common dairy animals include yaks, horses, reindeer, and donkeys.

Researchers are unsure exactly when humans began consuming dairy milk. The earliest evidence dates to ​​the seventh millennium (7000 to 6001 BCE) in what is now Turkey. Milk residue found in pottery points to milk consumption in eastern Europe as early as the sixth millennium (6000 to 5001 BCE) and in Britain as early as the fourth millennium (4000 to 3001 BCE). Read more history…

Pro & Con Arguments

Pro 1

Dairy milk is an important part of a healthy diet for everyone.

The current USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans states, “Healthy dietary patterns feature dairy, including fat-free and low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt, and cheese.” Because approximately 90% of the American population consumes less dairy than recommended, “most individuals would benefit by increasing intake of dairy in fat-free or low-fat forms, whether from milk (including lactose-free milk), yogurt, and cheese.” [12]

The guidelines also state that water, 100% juice, and milk are the primary beverages people should consume for the best consideration of calorie and nutrient intake. [12]

One serving (equal to one cup) of dairy milk contains significant amounts of 13 essential nutrients: 25% daily value (DV) for calcium, 16% DV for protein, 15% DV for vitamin D, 20% DV for phosphorus, 15% DV for vitamin A, 30% DV for riboflavin, 50% DV for vitamin B12, 20% DV for pantothenic acid, 15% DV for niacin, 10% DV for zinc, 10% DV for selenium, 60% DV for iodine, and 10% DV for potassium. [13] [14]

The USDA recommends 3 cups of dairy daily for everyone older than nine. Toddlers (12 to 23 months) should consume 1 ⅔ to 2 cups of milk daily; two- to three-year-olds, 2 to 2 ½ cups; and four- to eight-year olds, 2 ½ cups. [13] [14]

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Pro 2

Dairy milk is an easy, nutritional drink that is available almost everywhere.

“Milk and dairy foods tend to be affordable and accessible food choices for meeting some nutrients of public health concerns, meaning nutrients we tend to not get enough of—specifically calcium, vitamin D, and potassium,” explains Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. [15]

While calcium is found in a number of other foods, those products can be difficult to obtain and prepare, especially for people living in low-access areas or who are on budgets. For example, an article lists the following calcium-rich foods: “collards, kale, turnips, mustard greens, bok choy, chia seeds, tahini, almond butter, and edamame.” Just about every store that sells any food will have milk. But how many sell tahini, asks Brown? And how many rushed parents know what to do with chia seeds? How many kids (or adults) will eat turnips? [15]

Further, quite a few people do not have regular access to fresh produce, eliminating at least five of the nine options above. People living in Robertson County, Kentucky, were limited to buying food at a gas station, a convenience store, or a dollar store where fresh food options are severely limited. Dairy milk products are one of the most healthful foods those residents have regular access to. [16]

At least 40% of the world’s population (about three billion people) could not afford to eat healthfully before the COVID-19 pandemic, a percentage likely higher post-pandemic due to price spikes, supply-line disturbances, and other disruptions. Rallying against an easy, nutritious staple such as milk makes no sense. [17]

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Pro 3

Dairy milk protects against disease and other health problems in older adults.

While the health benefits of milk for the young are usually praised, milk is also important for aging adults.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institute on Aging state, “Consuming dairy helps older adults maintain strong bones and provides several vital nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. For your heart health, pick from the many low-fat or fat-free choices in the dairy group. These give you important vitamins and minerals, with less fat.” [18]

The USDA adds, “Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is particularly important . . . for women in the post-menopausal period when rapid bone remodeling occurs.” [12]

A 2018 study published in The Lancet found that 35- to 75-year-olds who consumed more than two servings of full-fat dairy daily had a lower risk of heart disease than those who consumed less than half a serving. [19]

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Con 1

Humans do not need to consume dairy milk to be healthy.

“The [USDA] recommended three cups per day of dairy milk is too high for most people. Humans do not need dairy milk in order to get all of the nutrients needed in a healthy diet,” according to Allison Childress, Chief Clinical Dietitian at the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Institute. [15]

Drinking dairy milk for the 13 essential nutrients it boasts is essentially a cheat method because Americans do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. People who eat more fruits and vegetables consume the same nutrients in more healthful and diverse foods. [15]

According to, Christopher Gardner, Professor and Nutrition Researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, “What are the unique nutrients that dairy has that nothing else has? Nothing…. It is true calcium is easier to get from milk than just about anything else. That is totally true. But you can get calcium from lots of other things.” [20]

Consuming dairy milk as an adult is also not a popular dietary choice. As Harvard University endocrinologist Walter Willett explains, “There are some nomadic [people] like Mongolian or Maasai that do drink milk, but most of the world’s population does not consume milk after infancy.” Moreover, a cow’s milk is meant for a baby cow, not humans. [20]

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Con 2

Dairy milk is bad for the environment.

Cows account for 30.6% of global human-made methane emissions. By comparison, fossil fuels make up 35.9% of global emissions, and these are generally thought of as climate change culprits. We should be just as concerned about these cow-based emissions. [21]

Methane, released by ruminant animals (among other sources), is considered the second most important greenhouse gas to control after carbon dioxide. [21]

Dairy-based products should also concern us. Cheese production ranks only behind lamb and beef in carbon dioxide emissions and is responsible for 13.5 kilos of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilo of product produced. A kilo of cheese (about 2.2 pounds) has approximately the same carbon footprint as driving 34 miles. Eating 30 grams of cheese three to five times a week for a year has the same carbon footprint as driving 514 miles or heating a home for 31 days. [22] [23] [24] [25]

Dairy milk also has a much larger overall environmental impact than plant-based dairy alternatives, like soy and oat milk. Per liter, dairy milk creates 10.65 kilograms (kg) of eutrophication, uses 628 liters of water, and requires 8.95 square miles. By comparison, the next highest in each category: rice milk creates 4.69kg of eutrophication, almond milk uses 371.46 liters of water, and oat milk requires 0.76 square miles. [26]

According to John Lynch, who researches climate effects of meat and dairy production at Oxford University, “There are big climate risks for all of us if we don’t get on top of food system emissions.” [21]

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Con 3

Dairy milk is bad for humans’ health.

Approximately 68% of people globally are lactose intolerant, which causes nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance (or malabsorption) means humans cannot properly digest dairy. When consuming dairy goes against basic food-tolerance patterns, it cannot be healthy. [27]

Americans eat and drink a significant amount of full-fat dairy, which is high in saturated fat and increases the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease. Cheese is also high in sodium (found in salt), which increases high blood pressure risks. Dairy products like ice cream and flavored milks can also be high in sugar, which can cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressures, liver disease, stroke, and inflammation. [15] [28]

Additionally, some research points to a correlation between milk consumed in childhood and adult bone fractures. Dairy milk causes bones to grow faster and longer in childhood, which in turn makes bones easier to break. [29]

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