Do Adults Need To Drink Milk?

I had a friend ask me today if I thought that adults needed to drink milk. Rather than give him a straight answer, I told him I would blog about it and so here we are.

Milk is often associated with strong bones and growth in children and adolescents, but what about adults?

Strictly speaking, the food guide says that adult men and women between the ages of 19-51 should consume two servings of milk or milk alternatives on a daily basis. 

Two servings of milk or milk alternatives could be:

1) Two glasses of milk or an alternative such as soy milk

2) 1.5 cups of yogurt or kefir

3) 3 oz of cheese 

4) Any combination of two of the above in half the amount I listed.

Now, do all adults need to drink milk just because the food guide says so?  In order to better understand the answer to this question, let’s take a closer look at the advantages of drinking milk.

The advantages of drinking milk 

There are specific advantages to drinking milk, particularly because it is an inexpensive source of four nutrients that some Canadian’s may not get enough of.

Milk contains a variety of nutrients including:

1) Calcium – naturally ( or through fortification if soy/almond milk)

2) Vitamin D – through fortification

3) Vitamin A – through fortification

4) Potassium – naturally 

According to Health Canada data, these four nutrients are of potential concern in the Canadian population. So, from a population perspective, it makes absolute sense that the food guide tells Canadian adults to drink milk. 

That still doesn’t really answer my friends initial question though, does he need to drink milk?

In my opinion, that depends on how well he eats 

Milk provides several nutrients, but the most important are the four I listed above. If you do not eat in a way that allows you to be adequate in those four nutrients, drinking milk ( or alternative) is probably a good idea. 

Here is how you know:

1) Vitamin D- There are very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. If you do not consume fish and eggs (especially fish) regularly, you may need the help of milk or supplementation.

2) Vitamin A/Potassium – If you eat a wide variety of vegetables on a regular basis  you should be fine in this category without milk. Keep in mind that many Canadian’s do not even come close to eating enough vegetables. 

3) Calcium  – This is a tough one. Milk and milk alternatives are, by some margin, the richest sources of dietary calcium. Your calcium intake can be adequate without milk, but it will not be easy to achieve. If you are a regular and high volume consumer of leafy greens, nuts, seeds and legumes ( beans) you will probably be able to reach your calcium requirements without milk or alternatives. If, however, you do not consume these foods on a regular basis it will be difficult for you to get enough calcium without milk or milk alternatives.

To finally answer my friends question:

Do adults need to drink milk? – Most adults would probably benefit from consuming milk or alternatives at the level the food guide recommends but if you are eating an exceptionally well balanced diet, you do not need milk to be nutritionally adequate. Do keep in mind that there are functional benefits to milk & milk alternatives that you may miss out on. Although you don’t NEED these to be healthy certainly yogurt ( probiotics) and soy milk ( soy protein, phytoestrogens) have their benefits.

There you have it, my objective assessment of whether or not adults need to drink milk. 

I hope it helps!


Andy De Santis RD MPH