Is Milk Good for You?

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Whether you’re age 2 or 92, there are many reasons to drink milk. There’s the taste, of course. And research continues to uncover benefits. Want to boost your protein intake? What about your brain health?

You might be most familiar with milk's bone-building reputation. But did you know that's the case for children and for adults? While milk's skeleton-building specs might be long-established, today's science continues to tell us just how it can help.

For example, a 2023 meta-analysis found that when children consume dairy foods, it can possitively affect their bone mineral mass. And a 2022 meta-analysis found that milk supplementation was associated with small but significant improvements in spine and hip bone mineral density in adults.

Milk Nutrients

There's more. To begin with, milk contains 13 essential nutrients including high-quality proteincalcium, and vitamin D. Milk's nutrients help our bodies function properly. For example:

  • Milk's high-quality protein means it contains all nine essential amino acids. And its whey protein helps us recover and build muscle after exercise while its casein protein helps us feel full and supports weight management.
  • Protein, zinc, selenium and vitamins A and D help support a healthy immune system.

Milk also contains the following B vitamins, which can help your body convert food into fuel:

  • Vitamin B-12
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Niacin (B3)

More recent research indicates further gains from drinking milk, like:

  • Hydration: Move over sports drinks and water, milk’s combination of water, natural electrolytes and macronutrients help us rehydrate and improve our net fluid balance. A 2020 study found that milk-based drinks had higher beverage hydration index scores than water and traditional sports drinks. 
  • Cognitive Benefits: Drinking milk may help protect the brain from the effects of aging. A 2022 study found that older adults who drank three cups of milk a day had higher levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that can promote brain health as we age.

Types of Milk

You may be acquainted with the primary types of dairy milks you can purchase at the store: whole milk, reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%) and fat-free milk (skim).

Fat level aside, all dairy milk (including chocolate milk) contains the same 13 essential nutrients – the only difference is the amount of butterfat they contain. How is this done? Before milk is bottled, all of the fat is removed. It’s then re-added to the milk in the various percentages. None of these milks are watered down.

Note that while whole milk is higher in saturated fat, growing research shows it still offers cardiometabolic benefits, likely due to its unique dairy food matrix (a term describing the composition of nutrients, bioactive constituents, and other compounds in dairy, as well as how they are packaged).

A 2023 study of nearly 245,000 adults from 80 countries found that following a healthy dietary pattern, which included whole-fat dairy, was associated with heart health and longevity. 

What is lactose-free milk?

There's also lactose-free milk, which is just like regular milk—but without the lactose (for those who have trouble digesting this particular sugar). This milk contains all the same essential nutrients as the regular stuff, and you can find out more here

child drinks glass of milk with a pitcher and another kid in the background

Milk Facts

Now that milk's on your mind, you may have other questions, like:

Does milk have added sugar?

White milk does not; the sugar in milk comes from the naturally occurring lactose. An 8-ounce serving of regular milk contains 12 grams of natural sugar – the same amount in a small banana. Chocolate milk and other flavored milks may have some added sugar.

What is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a seaweed extract that can be used to thicken foods, such as chocolate milk, yogurt and ice cream.

What do milk fat percentages mean?

Milk fat percentages (specifically 1% and 2%) refer to the amount of fat in the milk by weight. Whole milk, which is the closest to what it would be coming from a cow, is about 3.5% fat; fat-free or skim milk contains very little fat (less than 0.2%!).

What is ultra-high temperature milk?

UHT milk is real milk that has been ultra-pasteurized (that is, heated at or above 280 degrees for at least 2 seconds) and packaged in a way that it can last for several months on the shelf unrefrigerated.

Why is vitamin D added to milk?

It all goes back to 1922, thanks to a discovery that found adding vitamin D to calcium-rich milk could help build and maintain children’s bones.

Explore our FAQs for answers to common questions and dive deeper into the world of milk.