Milk has been enjoyed throughout the world for thousands of years (1).
By definition, it’s a nutrient-rich fluid that female mammals produce to feed their young.
The most commonly consumed types come from cows, sheep and goats.
Western countries drink cow’s milk most frequently.
Milk consumption is a hotly debated topic in the nutrition world, so you might wonder if it’s healthy or harmful.
Below are 5 science-backed health benefits of milk so you can decide if it’s the right choice for you.
The nutritional profile of milk is impressive.
After all, it’s designed to fully nourish newborn animals.
Just one cup (244 grams) of whole cow’s milk contains (2):
- Calories: 146
- Protein: 8 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
- Calcium: 28% of the RDA
- Vitamin D: 24% of the RDA
- Riboflavin (B2): 26% of the RDA
- Vitamin B12: 18% of the RDA
- Potassium: 10% of the RDA
- Phosphorus: 22% of the RDA
- Selenium: 13% of the RDA
Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including “nutrients of concern,” which are under-consumed by many populations (3).
It provides potassium, B12, calcium and vitamin D, which are lacking in many diets (4).
Milk is also a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, zinc and thiamine (B1).
Additionally, it’s an excellent source of protein and contains hundreds of different fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3s (5).
The nutritional content of milk varies, depending on factors like its fat content and the diet and treatment of the cow it came from (10).
For example, milk from cows that eat mostly grass contains significantly higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids (11).
Also, organic and grass-fed cow’s milk contains higher amounts of beneficial antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, which help reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress (12).
Summary Milk contains a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats and antioxidants. Keep in mind that its nutritional content can vary depending on many factors.
Milk is a rich source of protein, with just one cup containing 8 grams.
Milk is considered a “complete protein,” meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for your body to function at an optimal level (14).
There are two main types of protein found in milk — casein and whey protein. Both are considered high-quality proteins.
Whey protein contains the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are linked to health benefits.
Drinking milk is associated with a lower risk of age-related muscle loss in several studies.
In fact, higher consumption of milk and milk products has been linked to greater whole-body muscle mass and better physical performance in older adults (18).
Milk has also been shown to boost muscle repair in athletes.
Plus, it’s a natural alternative to highly processed protein drinks marketed toward post-workout recovery.
Summary Milk is a rich source of quality protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. It may help reduce age-related muscle loss and promote muscle repair after exercise.
Drinking milk has long been associated with healthy bones.
This is due to its powerful combination of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and (in grass-fed, full-fat dairy) vitamin K2.
All of these nutrients are essential for maintaining strong, healthy bones.
Approximately 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones and teeth (22).
Milk is an excellent source of the nutrients your body relies on to properly absorb calcium, including vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus and magnesium.
Adding milk and dairy products to your diet may prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis.
What’s more, milk is a good source of protein, a key nutrient for bone health.
In fact, protein makes up about 50% of bone volume and around one-third of bone mass (26).
Evidence suggests that eating more protein may protect against bone loss, especially in women who do not consume enough dietary calcium (27).
Summary Milk contains a variety of nutrients that benefit bone health, such as calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus and magnesium. Studies suggest that consuming milk and dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures.
Several studies have linked milk intake to a lower risk of obesity.
Interestingly, this benefit has only been associated with whole milk.
A study in 145 three-year-old Latino children found that higher milk-fat consumption was associated with a lower risk of childhood obesity (28).
Another study including over 18,000 middle-aged and elderly women showed that eating more high-fat dairy products was associated with less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity (29).
Milk contains a variety of components that may contribute to weight loss and prevent weight gain.
Additionally, many studies have associated diets rich in calcium with a lower risk of obesity.
Evidence suggests that people with a higher intake of dietary calcium have a lower risk of being overweight or obese.
Summary Adding milk, especially whole milk, to your diet may prevent weight gain.
Milk is a nutritious beverage that provides a number of health benefits.
Moreover, it’s a versatile ingredient that can be easily added to your diet.
Aside from drinking milk, try these ideas for incorporating it into your daily routine:
- Smoothies: It makes an excellent, high-protein base for healthy smoothies. Try combining it with greens and a small amount of fruit for a nutritious snack.
- Oatmeal: It provides a tasty, more nutritious alternative to water when making your morning oatmeal or hot cereal.
- Coffee: Adding it to your morning coffee or tea will give your beverage a boost of beneficial nutrients.
- Soups: Try adding it to your favorite soup recipe for added flavor and nutrition.
If you’re not a fan of milk, there are other dairy products that have similar nutrient profiles.
For example, unsweetened yogurt made from milk contains the same amount of protein, calcium and phosphorus.
Yogurt is a healthy and versatile alternative to processed dips and toppings.
Summary Milk is a versatile ingredient that can be added to your diet in a number of ways. Try adding it to smoothies, coffee or your morning oatmeal.
Although milk may be a good choice for some, others can’t digest it or choose not to consume it.
Many people can’t tolerate milk because they’re unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
Others choose not to consume milk or dairy products due to dietary restrictions, health concerns or ethical reasons.
This has led to a wide variety of nondairy milk alternatives, including:
- Almond milk: Made from almonds, this plant-based alternative is lower in calories and fat than cow’s milk.
- Coconut milk: This tropical drink made from coconut flesh and water has a creamy texture and mild flavor.
- Cashew milk: Cashews and water combine to make this subtly sweet and rich substitute.
- Soy milk: Contains a similar amount of protein as cow’s milk and has a mild flavor.
- Hemp milk: This alternative is made from hemp seeds and provides a good amount of high quality, plant-based protein.
- Oat milk: This substitute is very mild in flavor with a thicker consistency, making it a great addition to coffee.
- Rice milk: A great option for those with sensitivities or allergies, as it’s the least allergenic of all nondairy milks.
When choosing a nondairy milk substitute, keep in mind that many of these products contain added ingredients like sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives and thickeners.
Choosing a product with limited ingredients is a good choice when comparing brands. Read the labels to determine which best suits your needs.
If possible, stick to unsweetened varieties to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet.
Summary There are many nondairy milk alternatives available for those who can’t or choose not to drink milk.
Milk is a nutrient-rich beverage that may benefit your health in several ways.
It’s packed with important nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin D. Plus, it’s an excellent source of protein.
Drinking milk and dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
Many people are unable to digest milk or choose to avoid it for personal reasons.
For those able to tolerate it, consuming high-quality milk and dairy products has been proven to provide a number of health benefits.