6 Dairy Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Updated: Mar. 15, 2018

Is skim milk the healthiest choice? Will dairy make you congested? This might just change your mind.


Myth: Skim milk is the healthiest option

Truth: The health benefits of fat-free dairy may be overstated. Recent research has found that people who eat full-fat dairy aren’t any likelier to develop heart disease or diabetes than people who eat low-fat dairy. Other data has linked full-fat dairy to lower odds of obesity. The reason: Certain fatty acids in dairy may be linked to fullness; when you eat fat-free versions of milk, yogurt, and cheese, you may feel less satisfied (and eat more later). Low-fat milk helps your body absorb key nutrients from milk, such as vitamins A and D, as well as important fatty acids, says Katherine Tucker, PhD, nutritional epidemiology professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. (Don’t miss these 15 health myths that makes doctors cringe!)


Myth: Milk causes congestion

Truth: Dairy won’t make your cold any worse. Any uptick in congestion you feel after drinking dairy is probably in your head. Milk drinkers with the common cold didn’t experience more coughing or runnier noses than those who didn’t drink dairy, according to a Swiss report. The only people who reported increased respiratory problems after drinking milk were those who believed dairy produces more mucus, the report found. (Check out these 13 skin allergy myths that you need to stop believing.)

iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Myth: More milk means stronger bones

Truth: Study results are mixed when it comes to the skeleton-strengthening benefits of calcium. A BMJ study published in 2015 found that middle-aged adults who took calcium supplements or who got high levels of calcium from their diet were as likely to experience fractures as people who consumed less calcium. “Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures,” the study authors concluded. “Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.” More research is needed to determine the best ways for adults to maintain strong bone health—and prevent fractures—into old age. Weight-bearing exercise (walking, running, dancing), as well as exercise that emphasizes balance (yoga, tai chi), appears to be critical. (Here are eight aging myths that you always thought were true until now.)


Myth: Most people can’t digest lactose well

Truth: The body can adapt to tolerate more milk. Even people who have a hard time digesting lactose rarely show symptoms with a small serving, especially when the dairy is paired with a meal, says Dennis Savaino, PhD, a nutrition science professor at Purdue University who has been studying lactose digestion for more than 30 years. “Every poison—or food—has a dose,” Savaiano says. “With lactose or milk, there’s a dose that gives symptoms, and that’s usually more than a cup.” Drinking milk regularly can make your body more used to digesting lactose, even if you’ve shown signs of intolerance before, he says. If you’re a dairy lover with lactose intolerance, talk to your doctor about ways to safely dabble in dairy without causing stomach upset or other symptoms. (Make sure you know these 15 food myths that are making you gain weight.)


Myth: Milk is the best beverage source of calcium

Truth: Other drinks have comparable amounts. With 30 percent of your daily value of calcium in one cup, milk is by no means a shabby source of the mineral. But it’s not your only option for calcium, which helps bones, muscles, the heart and nerves. A cup of calcium-enriched orange juice has 35 percent of your daily need, and enriched soy milk can serve a whopping 45 percent. Check out this list of 13 food myths that are wildly untrue!


Myth: All dairy products have the same vitamins and minerals

Truth: Milk and yogurt are more nutrient-rich than cheese and cream, Tucker says. Cheese is a middle ground between cream and milk; it has more nutrients than cream, but is not fortified with vitamin D the way milk often is. “Cheese is still a good source of calcium and a reasonable source of protein,” she says, “but there’s not as much vitamin D or magnesium because it’s diluted by fat.” (If you’re diabetic, make sure you know these diabetes myths that could be sabotaging your health.)