We've been told since we were kids that milk is an awesome, supergood food. Builds strong bones and teeth and all-round healthy stuff.
But there's a very active, noisy anti-milk-and-dairy lobby that claims otherwise. At the extreme end of the spectrum are the folks who blame dairy for a host of illnesses. It's pure poison, they say.
Then there are those who believe lactose intolerance - having trouble with the sugar in dairy - is far more common than is generally acknowledged.
So does milk do a body good or not?
Honestly, I don't care. I'm not giving up cheese. I'm eating it right now as I type this.
What the experts say
"Looking at large cohort studies, we saw a possible benefit of milk intake and hip fracture prevention among men. In women, the overall finding was not significant, but there was a small reduction. Importantly, we clearly did not see an increase for hip fracture risk with milk intake as we did for calcium supplements and, overall, a benefit could not be excluded for milk intake. Our data suggests that for hip fracture prevention, milk is a better source of calcium than calcium supplements. The broader recommendation needs to include vitamin D, as it increases calcium absorption. The recommendations for dairy intake are too high. Our data did not suggest that the more milk the better."
HEIKE BISCHOFF-FERRARI, director of the Centre on Aging Mobility, University of Zurich
"Milk is a great source of nutrients. Most countries around the world recommend two to three servings of dairy a day. The dietary guidelines committee recommends consuming low-fat milk. Milk is associated with bone growth in children and seems protective for colorectal cancer and osteoporosis. The verdict is still out on prostate cancer. I don't think there are studies on dairy and ovarian or breast cancer. In a study of five counties in China, one dairy-consuming county had higher bone density and lower incidence of fracture. The protein in milk increases urinary calcium excretion, but people leap to the mistaken conclusion that milk leaches calcium out of the bones."
CONNIE M. WEAVER, department of nutrition science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
"In a large research program focusing on protein and a certain kind of experimental cancer, I discovered that when dairy protein is fed in excess, it substantially increases cancer risk. The main protein in cow's milk, casein, is in my view the most important chemical carcinogen ever identified. This is a whole series of experiments conducted in a program over 27 years. It has also been shown that casein increases blood cholesterol levels quite dramatically and is connected to the initial stages of heart disease. Other studies show the higher the milk consumption, the higher is the risk for osteoporosis. It's been associated with acne in children and a range of other illnesses and diseases."
T. COLIN CAMPBELL, author, The China Study, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
"Some people are genuinely allergic. Many more people are lactose intolerant. Dairy products have a huge imbalance of calcium to magnesium. That can distress some people's digestive health. It means they need more magnesium. You need the right balance of magnesium for relaxation of the gut muscle. Many people can tolerate dairy very well, and it can be a useful source of protein. Milk and dairy fat contain a naturally occurring trans fat called Omega 7 that has health benefits. Some worry about growth hormone, but it's not allowed in Canada. I recommend organic dairy products because many pollutants are fat-soluble. Cheese is very concentrated fat, it's a very good carrier for many of the pollutants in our environment."
AILEEN BURFORD-MASON, immunologist, nutritionist, author, Eat Well, Age Better, Toronto
"Humans have been consuming dairy foods since the dawn of recorded history. Some people can handle them; some can't. They are neither essential in the diet nor a poison. They are just foods."
MARION NESTLE, Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, New York City