Students’ Top 3 Milk Myths Debunked

By Anne Vanbeber, Ph.D., RDN, LD, FAND on 05/20/2019

Tags: Research, Lactose Intolerance, Diet, Kids Health

“Eggs are bad for you.”

“Celery has ‘negative’ calories.”

“Eating fat makes you fat.”

As a professor and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University, with over 30 years of nutrition education experience, I have heard it all. Food myths and misperceptions abound. They are perpetuated by the media and spread through social media, so much so that they are often regarded as truth.

Of course, milk and dairy foods have their own share of misperceptions, so I decided to explore the science and debunk some common myths about milk. Be ready to get dairy savvy!

1. Myth: Lactose intolerance means dairy avoidance.

Truth: Lactose intolerance does not have to mean dairy avoidance.

Lactose intolerance is a common condition, but not an allergy. While a milk allergy would mean that someone needs to completely avoid milk and dairy foods, lactose intolerance is a condition that can be managed with . Do you ever wonder why you can easily digest yogurt or a little bit of cheese, but too much of these foods or a large glass of milk has you sick? . Often, they can only tolerate small amounts of lactose at any given time. If you have lactose intolerance, with a few simple tips, you can learn to enjoy dairy foods again.

  • Drinking lactose-free milk
  • Enjoying yogurt (the live active cultures contain friendly bacteria that help digest lactose)
  • Choosing aged cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss, that are naturally low in lactose

2. Myth: Only full-fat milk is healthy.

Truth: Regardless of fat level, all varieties of cow’s milk – whether whole, reduced-fat (2%), low-fat (1%) or skim (fat-free) – provide the same nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and 8 grams of high-quality protein.

The only difference is the and, thus, the number of calories. Here’s a quick comparison of one 8-ounce serving:

Reduced-Fat Milk

Whole Milk

2% milkfat by weight

5g fat

120 calories

2.35% milkfat by weight

8g fat

150 calories


While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy foods, new and emerging research is beginning to shift the fat focus and shed light on the once shunned saturated fat.

Keep in mind that fat plays an important role in food and in health:

  • Improves taste and satisfaction
  • Promotes child growth and development
  • Plays a key role in nutrient absorption (mainly fat-soluble vitamins)
  • Supports cell growth
  • Protects nerves
  • Cushions organs
  • Provides energy

The American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that children consume whole milk until they are 2 years of age, unless a medical reason identifies a need to a switch to low-fat milk sooner.


3. Myth: Dairy foods cause inflammation.

Truth: Dairy foods may actually reduce inflammation in the body.

A growing body of research indicates that enjoying dairy foods as part of a nutrient-rich diet is not associated with inflammation.

  • A Canadian study investigated how dairy food consumption affects biomarkers of inflammation in healthy adults who have low-grade systemic inflammation. The study found that short-term consumption of low- and high-fat dairy foods as part of a healthy eating plan had no adverse effect on inflammation.
  • A newly published clinical study of healthy women showed that eating 1.5 servings of low-fat yogurt per day for nine weeks actually reduced biomarkers of chronic inflammation.

These studies add to the current indicating that both low-fat and high-fat dairy foods, as well as fermented dairy foods, either have no effect on inflammation or have been associated with improvements in inflammatory status. While more research is warranted to further confirm these findings, enjoying three servings of dairy daily may deliver more benefit than simply the nine essential nutrients dairy foods provide.

Perhaps you have heard other dairy myths from your students, patients or clients? Share the dairy truth with these “Dairy Myth vs. Dairy Truths” handouts on nutrition and farming.