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The Truth About Milk

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Milk: Healthy and nutritious drink, or fattening, contaminant-filled menace?

You might expect an organization called the Dairy Education Board to promote milk as a good thing. But instead, this advocacy group claims that “Milk is a deadly poison.” Oops. And as Americans have grown more wary of saturated fat, and more concerned about hormones and other substances fed to—and injected into—dairy cows, milk consumption has fallen dramatically. In the post-war days of 1945, the average American was consuming 45 gallons of milk a year. By 2001, per capita consumption was down to just 23 gallons.

But here’s the thing: Plenty of new research says that we should be drinking moremilk, not less. In fact, swapping soda, juice, sweetened iced teas, and other beverages for milk might be one major reason why Americans are gaining weight at such a rapid pace. Milk not only helps boost protein intake and cut down on sugar, but consuming calcium through dairy foods such as milk may actually reduce the fat absorption from other foods. Who wouldn’t want that? (Hungry for more hard-hitting nutrition facts and findings every day? Follow me on Twitter orsubscribe to our daily Eat This, Not That! newsletter.)

Here are four milk myths you might have heard, and why you should consider answering the cowbell more often.

Claim #1: “Milk is a fat-burning food.”

The Truth: Maybe. In a 6-month study, University of Tennessee researchers found that overweight people who downed three servings a day of calcium-rich dairy lost more belly fat than those who followed a similar diet minus two or more of the dairy servings. In addition, the researchers discovered that calcium supplements didn’t work as well as milk. Why? They believe that while calcium may increase the rate at which your body burns fat, other active compounds in dairy (such as milk proteins) provide an additional fat-burning effect.

Bonus tip: For more surefire ways to eat healthier and slim down, check out our list of the 25 Best Nutrition Secrets!

Claim #2: “Drinking milk builds muscle.”

The Truth: Absolutely. In fact, milk is one of the best muscle foods on the planet. Milk is full of high-quality protein: about 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Whey is known as a “fast protein” because it’s quickly broken down intoamino acids and absorbed into the bloodstream—perfect for post-workout consumption. Casein, on the other hand, is digested more slowly—ideal for providing your body with a steady supply of smaller amounts of protein for a longer period of time, such as between meals or while you sleep.

Bonus Tip: Remember the old saying "Milk: not just for breakfast anymore." Well, here are 20 foods that shouldn't be for breakfast, period. Check out our shocking list of the Worst Breakfasts in America!

Milk ChugClaim #3: “Cows are given antibiotics. Doesn’t that make their milk unhealthy?”

The Truth: No one really knows. Some scientists argue that milk from cows given antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance in humans, making these types of drugs less effective when you take them for an infection. But this has never been proven.

It is true that hormones and antibiotics have never been part of a cow’s natural diet, and they have been shown to have adverse effects on the animals. Canadian researchers, for example, discovered that cows given hormones are more likely to contract an udder infection called mastitis. If you’re uneasy, you can purchase antibiotic-free (and typically hormone-free, as well) milk from producers like Horizon and Organic Valley at most major supermarkets. The cows will certainly thank you.

Bonus tip: While you're at the supermarket, add these foods to your list: the 125 best supermarket foods. Remember: You don't have to sacrifice flavor to eat healthier.

Claim #4: “Fat-free milk is much healthier than whole.”

The Truth: Nope. While you’ve probably always been told to drink reduced-fat milk, the majority of scientific studies show that drinking whole milk actually improves cholesterol levels—just not as much as drinking fat-free does. One recent exception: Danish researchers found that men who consumed a diet rich in whole milk experienced a slight increase in LDL cholesterol (six points). However, it’s worth noting that these men drank six 8-ounce glasses a day, an unusually high amount. Even so, their triglycerides—another marker of heart-disease risk—decreased by 22 percent. The bottom line: Drinking two to three glasses of milk a day, whether it’s fat-free, 2%, or whole, lowers the likelihood of both heart attackand stroke—a finding confirmed by British scientists.

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