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Jul 7, 2012 09:51 PM

Why do you drink milk?

Mark Bittman over at the NYT writes about why milk really isn't necessary in our diets.

Personally, I've never drank milk.

Hate the stuff.

I like yogurt and ice cream, but detest most cheeses, except in dessert applications and on pizza (occasionally).

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  1. Bittman does have this habit of elevating his personal experiences and preferences to a general principle. Since the Times gave him an Op-Ed slot, it's been one campaign after another. In the end, he's an excellent cookbook author.

    Dry corn flakes or Cheerios isn't very appetizing, is it? And adding just plain water doesn't help.

    Without milk or cream, coffee is undrinkable (for me anyway) and hot tea is unappealing. Iced tea is different. Hot chocolate? Just try it without milk, either in the mix or added to it.

    And then there's ice cream. And biscuits. And any number of other appetizing foods that can't be made without milk or cream. Dietary austerity may be OK for Bittman, but not for me.

    Obviously, people with milk allergies or lactose intolerance shouldn't drink milk. I'm happy for Bittman that he's finally found out he's allergic and done what he must. But that's hardly grounds for this tirade.

    By the way, soy milk isn't the answer - people have soy allergies too. According to Wikipedia, "The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates soy is among the nine most common food allergens for pediatric and adult food allergy patients."

    I used to drink milk regularly - low-fat or skim - until I stopped a few years ago, for no particular reason and without really thinking about it, and with no change in my health pro or con. But there's always a half-gallon of milk in the fridge - for that coffee, for cereal, for cooking and baking, for whatever. Wanna make something of it, Mark?

    12 Replies
    1. re: John Francis

      "Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews."

      That seems more than personal to me. In fact, I submit that pointing out bad recommendations or practices coming from our easily purchased authorities is probably one of the best uses of newspaper editorial space.

      I don't drink milk and, with the exception of cheese, could take or leave most dairy products. Nevertheless, I thought the piece was a valid contribution to the contemporary diet conversation.

      1. re: MGZ

        If something is bad for you, don't drink it. This hardly needs "pointing out," does it?

        It certainly doesn't substantiate the radical position Bittman has chosen to take - only after the personal experience he describes way down into the column. If that experience wasn't his reason for writing the column, why didn't he write it long before - or raise the issue in his cookbooks?

      2. re: John Francis

        I wonder about the real reason for the insurgence of intolerance and allergies. I can't drink milk from the store, it would bend me over in pain. So since I was a kid, I stayed away from milk, minus the eggnog round Christmas, just paid the price every year. Random thing happened a couple years back; my dad got a glass jar of organic eggnog, I thought it was silly for spending more, but interesting enough I didn't have any problem with it. I started testing and found organic milk gives me no problem. I have since gone over to raw milk again with no problems. I'm not an organic fanatic, but our food supply is getting messed with too much. The way I would look at the question is all dairy bad? No. Is all dairy good? Absolutely not. Whether we like to admit it or not the health of the cows, what their fed, and how milk is processed afterwards all has an effect on what we consume, it's nutritional content, and whether we can properly digest it or not. Sometimes in more drastic ways than we would ever guess.

        1. re: Darkshin

          My body can't tolerate most eggs. Organic ones and the local small-farmer ones are fine.

        2. re: John Francis

          >>Dry corn flakes or Cheerios isn't very appetizing, is it? And adding just plain water doesn't help.

          I eat all my cereals dry. And, yes, water goes great with cereal. As a chaser, not a together.

          >>Without milk or cream, coffee is undrinkable (for me anyway) and hot tea is unappealing. Iced tea is different. Hot chocolate? Just try it without milk, either in the mix or added to it.

          I take my coffee black. Hot tea and milk is pretty disgusting (iced tea with milk, e.g. boba, is different). No milk in my hot chocolate.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Awesome ipsedixit. My friend believes that all dairy is bad except for mother's milk for babies. , Dairy is processed and very dense to begin with.
            I am slowly coming around to my friend's way of thinking. I remember the commercial "milk it does a body good." Now I think "milk it does a body bad." But I'm not giving up all dairy quite yet. Cheese and ice cream are just too tempting.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Chacun a son gout. Despite what Bittman says.

            2. re: John Francis

              It's unfortunate Bittman used himself as a barometer to make a nutritional statement about milk, and got a handful of facts wrong in the article, including the main one related to his own malady.

              While whole milk can contribute to reflux or GERD because of the fat, low-fat milk reduces reflux.

              As part of his reason for giving up milk, he cited the high percentage of calories (55%) that come from the lactose sugar in milk, saying milk is like soda pop. But that "fact" is inaccurate -- lactose is 40% of milk's total calories with a huge nutritional boost, whereas soda pop gets 100% of its calories from sugar with no nutritional benefit.

              I'm not jumping on the bandwagon that says drink more cow's milk, and I'm especially not saying that to those with some phenotypic variation for whom milk causes distress (among them my brothers).

              What I *am* saying is that the Bittman story about milk is inaccurate and poorly researched and could have gone a lot further to clarify misinformation related to milk allergy, lactose intolerance and his own malady instead of contributing to the misinformation that's out there.

              1. re: John Francis

                I go with almond milk. It's mostly to wet my cereal. About the only dairy I eat is cheese and butter. I don't care much for milk itself.

                1. re: Jackie007

                  I've switched to unsweetened almond milk (around 9 months ago)...more calcium (though I know it's added to it), -0- sugars, waaay less calories. I was borderline osteopenic last year so am trying to increase my calcium consumption with more leafy greens, etc., more Vit D3, and more weight bearing exercise. So we'll see if there's any improvement. Never had allergy issues with dairy milk so I do still eat Greek yogurt and some cheese (mostly goat cheese though)...and when I DO taste dairy milk now, I can really taste the sweetness in it!

                2. re: John Francis

                  Quote: Bittman does have this habit of elevating his personal experiences and preferences to a general principle.

                  no kidding, one of the reasons I can't stand him.

                  1. re: John Francis

                    Agreed. Also, milk is delicious and a staple ingredient in my culture's foods. Hell, my people have been dairy farming since BCE (according to some food history website). Am I supposed to cut milk cause Bittman says so?. If it makes you sick, don't drink it. Drink soy milk, a frankenfood that promotes estrogen production. Great for developing man-boobs if you're so inclined.

                  2. I don't drink milk, never have, not even as a kid. Don't like it in my coffee and don't eat cereal. However, I find it necessary for many of the things that I like to cook.

                    I have actually begun to wonder if I have developed a mild lactose intolerance. I got a stomach ache every time I've had ice cream the past couple of years.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: kengk

                      If you don't eat milk for awhile, you do develop lactose intolerance. From what I remember, it's because you shouldn't really be drinking it after the breast feeding phase, if you continue on a regular basis you can digest it with whatever enzymes your body produces, but after awhile of no dairy you loose them. Happened to my Mom a few years ago, she wanted to follow some wacky diet that eliminated a bunch of things, now her stomach gets very upset if she has more than a bite of cheese or ice cream. Has to use Lactaid.

                      That said, I eat lots of yogurt and cheese, and have a carton of half and half or cream on hand for cooking. But to just drink a glass of milk doesn't appeal to me on any level; my husband's family get annoyed when they are here for dinner and I serve cake....they are SHOCKED that I don't serve a glass of milk with it automatically. One time I bought some local milk as a treat for them, the kind with the cream on top, and my SIL poured it down the drain because she thought it went bad. For awhile I was using goats milk in my coffee, when I offered her that she acted like I was giving her poison, again down the drain. Now they get coffee with their dessert (of course I offer cream with it) and that's that. I secretly feel like it's sort of juvenile to just drink a glass of plain milk. There, I said it!

                      1. re: coll

                        Guess I'm a 55 yr. old juvenile then, 'cos I love the stuff--always have, always will.

                        Bottoms up!! :)

                        1. re: KSlink

                          Sorry if that sounded rude, I'm thinking about it and realize I have issues from childhood of HAVING to drink milk with everything. Still rebelling against it I guess.

                          1. re: KSlink

                            I'm with you, KSlink, been glugging moo for decades and don't plan to stop. While I don't necessarily agree that milk falls into the bad-for-you category (unless you are actually intolerant of it), it wouldn't necessarily stop me from enjoying it even if I was presented with irrefutable evidence. I eat and drink all sorts of things that aren't terrifically good for me -- fried food, alcohol, fatty things -- because they taste good. To me, milk tastes good.

                          2. re: coll

                            Don't they know that civilized people drink port with cake?

                            1. re: MGZ

                              I can get them to drink anisette, since that's their family tradition! Hmmm, wonder how anisette flavored milk would go over?

                              1. re: coll

                                Don't know if it would go over, but it might come back up.

                                1. re: coll

                                  I make a drink that only I seem to love, with high test Kahlua (Especial), Pastis (Anise liqueur) and milk. I use 1% milk and several ice cubes, with a 2:1 ratio of Kahlua to Pastis. It makes a very tall glass. Obviously, you have to like anise/black licorice, but I love this drink. It's pretty much the only way I drink milk.

                                  1. re: 1sweetpea

                                    Anything with Kahlua is A-OK with me!

                              2. re: coll

                                Um no. I was vegan for a few years and went back to an omnivore diet I hadn't become lactose intolerant.

                                1. re: rasputina

                                  So maybe it's different for different people then? It happened to my brother and mother after that diet, definitely; but I had lactose intolerance for no reason like that when I was younger. Old age seems to have taken it away however, hallelujah! Must run in the family.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    I've heard lactose intolerance described by a food chemist and microbiologist as being like a bad radio -- it can fade in and out. Not that this is true for everyone, but for some sufferers. Apparently, the enzyme for digestion can become dormant and then re-activate. What this means is that you can be lactose intolerant at one point in your life, and then not at another point in your life.

                                    Also, threshold becomes important. A little bit of lactose might be OK -- usually what is described as anywhere between 2 and 5% in a food -- whereas more than that might trigger distress. Unfortunately, the threshold for everyone is different.

                                    Also of note -- there are many non-dairy foods with lactose.

                                    Finally, ice cream. I've done some digging and noticed the amount of lactose varies widely by brand. Some have none; others have a bit.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      From what I understand about it, LACTASE is an enzyme which enables or enhances the absorbtion of lactose.

                                      However lactase being an enzyme is destroyed during pasteruization.
                                      So people who feel they are lactose intolerant often do quite well with unpasteurized milk because the lactase is still viable. i.e not destroyed by heat.

                                      1. re: Sparklebright

                                        Lactase is an enzyme located in the intestines. It breaks down lactose into its two component sugars -- glucose and galactose -- so that they can be digested.

                                        Lactase is not in unpasteurized milk, though there are many claims to that effect
                                        on raw milk websites.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        Interesting--goes along with what an MD friend told me during pregnancy--that my tolerance might increase. I do remember drinking milk at that point, something that doesn't normally appeal that much to me.

                                        But it's not the issue for me that it is for some of my friends

                              3. I pretty much live on water, skim milk and seltzer. I drink milk because my doctor recommends it as one of the foods to ward off osteoporosis and because I love it! My mother serves skim milk at every dinner and unless it soean't go well with what I am eating (think Asian food) I still drink milk. I always have a half gallon in the fridge and it takes me about 6 days to drink it. Usually I am out by shoppIng day. there are just two of us here and he barely ever uses milk.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: melpy

                                  Melpy dairy causes osteoporosis. Your body has to release calcium in order to neutralize the milk.

                                  1. re: givemecarbs

                                    Why do you think that? I can't find a source that includes recent studies and isn't promoting a particular diet agenda. The most I can find is that diet doesn't seem to have a big effect on bone density--one way or the other. Other things--exercise and Vitamin D--matter far more in adults. In other words, yes, Swedes and Brits have higher levels of osteoporosis than Pacific Islands *and* they drink more dairy, but they also see a lot less sunshine and do less weight-bearing exercise, which are the critical factors.

                                    1. re: urbavore

                                      It is true urbavore that the information about how bad dairy is for you is found from sources promoting a healthier diet. If you feel these sources have an axe to grind I can understand where you are coming from. Dairy is dense and highly processed. Many people are saying that processed food is not good for us.
                                      I hang out once in awhile in a raw vegan cafe in a nearby town. The people who go there and especially those that work there mostly appear to be in their late twenties. Most of them are in their mid fourties. And they all have a ridiculous amount of energy, so much so that they are kind of annoying. :)

                                      1. re: givemecarbs

                                        I believe--as should be clear from my posts--in looking at multiple sources. I own multiple vegetarian cookbooks--including a raw one. The theories on which the raw diet are based are, well, half-baked.

                                        Not sure what you mean by "highly processed". Yes, milk is heated and blended--but I don't see a list of 20 ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup. I've made butter and I've made yogurt--there are stages in each, but they're pretty straightforward.

                                        Because I like to experiment with food, I've done both vegan and raw diets. You can, I've found, find an unhealthy diet in any regime. I didn't feel any stronger or youthful during my veggie/raw regimes--though I found raw, in particular, antisocial. It demands a lot of accommodation. By the time you've sprouted and dehydrated your way to a mediocre-tasting "bread" it's pretty clear that your food is no longer "alive" in any meaningful way.

                                        While I am an omnivore, I already eat a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables--my husband's a serious gardener, we also do farmer's markets and even occasionally forage. And, yes, I'm healthy and, yes, I look young for my age--though it's mostly that I've never liked the sun, don't smoke and have never been overweight.

                                        And while I don't have any raw vegan buddies, I do have an overweight vegan friend--healthy, but nothing that stands out in terms of age or energy. I know vegetarians who are thin and fit and ones who never have been. Potato chips are vegan--but they're still not good for you.

                                        Milk and cheese should, IMO, be consumed in moderation in that they're high-fat foods. But, then, I don't feel the *need* to eat large amounts of them. (So, yes, I think the USDA recommendation overdoes it for many adults.)

                                        I believe in moderation, not in miracle diets. Though I am going to try raw milk and see if I notice much of a difference in taste and digestibility.

                                        1. re: urbavore

                                          Raw milk is the bomb! Let us know how it works out for you. So creamy and tasty.
                                          Yeah twinkie vegans make me /facepalm. I have half and half in my fridge right now from TJ's. I figure the more fat the better as it acts as a buffer and doesn't shock the system quite as much.
                                          Have you ever tried green smoothies urbavore? The raw cafe was offering one 16 ounce green smoothie a day for the whole month of november last year. I decided to go for it and was surprised that I went down a size and had a ridiculous amount of energy just from that one change in my diet. I was expecting nothing.

                                          1. re: givemecarbs

                                            I've not had a green smoothie--I seem to be a taster, possibly a supertaster and cruciferous veggies taste bitter to me. I eat them, but I have to be careful about their preparation. I do notice, though, that I feel better and more energetic when the garden veggies are in and I'm picking dinner from the garden. I've noticed that I pine for vegetables if I'm not getting enough of them. In that sense, I'm a fan of vegetables--and, actually, a lot of raw vegetables. I just don't like demonizing foods--though HFCS is an exception. But, then, I'm not convinced that it's a food. It's a caloric substance of dubious merit.

                                            But, anyway, I could see an infusion of leafy greens in November would be a real energy boost.

                                            There's Italian fresh mozarella in the fridge, basil and tomatoes in the garden--off to assemble caprese.

                                            1. re: urbavore

                                              I am so glad to hear that someone else is sensitive to cruciferous veggies. I heard a report on NPR years ago about this and was so relieved. I have always thought brussels sprouts, etc were gross. Some say I am making excuses for not liking some vegetables.

                                              1. re: randyjl

                                                I actually took a test for it back in a middle-school science class--blech. Then, when I came across a list of cruciferous vegetables--it was like looking at a list of all the vegetables I disliked. The only one I liked was cauliflower, though I can taste the stuff there, too. It's just mild. Lemon helps. Vinegar helps. Salt helps. Parmesan helps. Caramelization helps. Bacon helps--though that gets in the way of the whole good-for-your-health part.

                                                1. re: urbavore

                                                  After 15 years of marriage I'm finally getting resolved to my wife's sensitivity to "bitter" as it applies to vegetables. Her: "this tastes bitter" Me: "WTF!, it's not in the least bitter".

                                                  1. re: kengk

                                                    Yep, the taster/supertaster thing is a lot more common in women. I wonder if it's a bit Darwinian--i.e. a male who can eat everything can take in more calories, whereas a women sensitive to bitter tastes may be more likely to avoid foods that are bad for a fetus. (Shrug.) There are all sorts of weird things that register a bit differently for me--I can never drink black coffee. I love sweets, but many sweets are too sweet for me and wine always tastes bitter. That one makes me feel bad--I'd like to be able to enjoy wine more.

                                                    1. re: urbavore

                                                      Here's a link on sensitivity to tastes and bitterness that you may find interesting:


                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        Thanks Maria, so my terminology's pop and out-of-date. As I said above, I did taste that blooming taste strip and it was awful. On the other hand, cilantro never tastes soapy to me, so I'm okay on that genetic front. What you write about bitterness as being one note in the whole kind of fits my own experience-I like spicy food, but I do notice the components. As I said, I eat cruciferous veggies, but I'm careful about how I prepare them. On the other hand, I've never thought I had a super-acute sense of smell. It's good enough, but I had a friend who was a med student who could used her sense of smell to help certain diagnoses.

                                2. I love milk, even skim, and will often have a glass as my dessert. When I feel like livin' large, I go for 1 or 2 percent, and for super- special occasions, or if I'm feeling sentimental, I spring for whole, which tastes like cream if you're accustomed to skim! My dear, departed grandmother always had a half-gallon of whole milk on hand. Makes the BEST chocolate pudding for sure!

                                  1. Bittman is right, and there are many things that are not "necessary" in our lives as a whole. However, if there is no ice cold milk available (I likes 1%) I will not eat cakes, pies,cookies, doughnuts, brownies, fudge, pbj, pancakes, french toast, waffles, pastries of any kind or most puddings, so there!