science of us

I Can’t Remember Why I Don’t Eat Dairy

Photo: Daniel Hurst Photography/Getty Images

In case anyone else who avoids dairy periodically forgets their rationale for doing so (I’m sure I had at least three good reasons beyond the bad one I don’t like to reveal*), nutritionist Monica Reinagel takes a measured and sane-seeming stance in her recent column/podcast installment about dairy and milk consumption, linked earlier this week on Scientific American.

She responds to an upset reader who’s written in claiming that drinking milk is “unnatural” and unhealthy (for humans), and cruel (to cows).

She addresses each of these three threads, although I especially liked her response to whether or not milk is “unnatural.” Maybe, she says, but so is much of what we do, and “Nature” seems fine with it, in the way that Nature is also fine with raccoons stealing bird eggs to feed baby raccoons: “Some of Nature’s greatest hits are the result of random errors and unintended consequences.”

Moreover, there’s this gentlest and most affecting of burns (she’s burning me, too, and I like it):

If you are willing to switch on a light after the sun goes down, use an alarm clock to wake you up, get in a jet plane and catapult yourself across three or four time zones in a few hours, run long distances without anything chasing you, or take a vitamin pill, then you’re doing quite a few things that are arguably a lot less natural than drinking milk.

Everything is natural; nothing is natural. Also, milk and dairy products are likely fine in moderation, she writes, and it’s all really up to personal preference (although she makes a point of saying dairy isn’t required for good nutrition). Some studies emphasize dairy’s benefits while others highlight its drawbacks. For instance, “Eliminating milk from your diet may clear up your acne,” she writes, “but reduce your chances of getting pregnant.”

Ultimately, she recommends making an effort to buy meat and other animal byproducts from “producers who treat their livestock well.”

*A fear of smelling sour.

I Can’t Remember Why I Don’t Eat Dairy