For reliable dietary advice, most nutritionists agree, look to the food pyramid. But when it comes to advice about milk and dairy, the question is: Which pyramid?
The official food pyramid comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It incorporates the recommendations of top ranking nutrition scientists from around the country. But other groups, disagreeing with some aspects of the USDA’s recommendations, have constructed alternative pyramids. One of the most influential is the food pyramid created by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. And one of the big differences between its advice and the USDA’s relates to milk and dairy products.
In 2005, the USDA’s dietary guidelines increased the recommended servings of milk from two to three cups a day. The latest guidelines, released in 2010, repeat that advice. They specifically urge Americans to get more fat-free or low-fat milk and related dairy products.
According to Harvard’s food pyramid, on the other hand, milk isn’t an essential part of a healthy diet -- and may pose risks
Indeed, countries in which almost no milk is consumed, such as many Asian countries, have low rates of fractures, he points out.
It’s true, he acknowledged, that milk is a good source of potassium. But the levels used for the USDA recommendations are much higher than they need to be to prevent hypertension, according to Willett. “We’re much better off advising people to consume less salt,” he says.
As beverages go, milk is relatively high in calories. One cup of 2% milk has 138 calories, for instance. Drinking three cups a day adds 366 calories to the diet -- a lot for anyone watching their weight.
But Willett’s chief worry is that drinking too much milk may pose dangers. “By now there’s quite a body of data showing a higher risk of fatal prostate cancer associated with milk,” he tells WebMD. “And though the evidence is somewhat mixed, we’ve still seen a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer associated with drinking three or more servings of milk.”
What do you think? Is milk good for you? Do you think the food pyramid is correct?