Here comes a question that will probably split people pretty good: Should humans drink milk? We’ve been told since we could comprehend words that milk was and still is one of the essential pieces of a balanced diet. It provides calcium and makes our bones strong. Without it, we would be weak and brittle, and we would miss out on so many vitamins and minerals that we’d pretty much shrivel up and turn to dust. But how much of this is true and how much is just aggressive marketing? Let’s look at some of the truth and then we’ll get to the question. Should humans drink milk?

When we say milk, we generally mean cow milk. Right now the dairy industry uses cows almost exclusively, to the point that there’s no reason bringing any other animals into this. We’re looking at cows and humans, and that’s it. On the simplest level, the dairy industry wants the world to believe that milk is not only natural, but is essential, lest we find ourselves in a bind with malnutrition.

There is some truth to the whole “milk is good for you” marketing campaign. Kids are able to easily digest milk and make full use of the calcium contained within. It’s a very simple way to get them basic nutrition when they’re too busy playing to sit down for more than a few seconds, and it helps to encourage other foods such as healthy cereals and fruits like blueberries or strawberries.

Adults, however, do not have the same intestinal tracts that children do. We’re missing a core bacteria that effectively breaks down the materials in milk and allows us to effectively absorb the calcium, so therefore the calcium benefits argument does not hold up for adults, unfortunately. Worse still, milk is a very high caloric food and as such can be a big problem if consumed in larger quantities.

This all applies to cow milk though. Human breast milk is unbelievably nutritional for children, even older children. It’s not encouraged in society, but science does say that breast milk can be very beneficial for kids of every age. However, I’m not advocating for or dissuading the consumption of breast milk! I’m just saying that there is a type of milk that is both natural and unanimously healthy.

Back to dairy as we know it, things get more complicated when we look at the amount of hormones cows are typically injected with to produce more milk much faster. Growth hormones are becoming pretty common in the dairy industry, and it definitely has an effect on the quality of the milk and the nutritional value therein. Beyond just those hormones, all milk goes through pasteurization and another handful of cleansing and chemical steps before getting to the grocery store.

The core of the issue seems to be that milk is not inherently a magical cure or the one perfect food that can give you everything you need. Milk seems to be a step above soda in that it does contain some benefits, but its usefulness is more for pleasure than for purpose. It adds flavor and is comforting, and shouldn’t that be enough?

Now, of course the vegan diet has shown that we certainly don’t need dairy to survive or even have a good life. In fact, anyone hesitant about milk in general should really look up some vegan substitutes or recipes to see just how diverse and enjoyable a meal can be sans dairy. Plus, if drinking a glass of milk is just not something you want to give up, try a glass of soy or almond milk and see if it changes your mind. I’m partial to vanilla almond milk myself.

So then, the question is now opened up to everyone else. Do you feel that it’s natural for humans to drink milk from cows or any other animal, or is it something we should actively avoid for health or ethical reasons? Do you still find milk to be an essential part of a meal, or is it like drinking a soda now and then? What’s your opinion on drinking milk?