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You've heard it countless times, and can probably still picture those '90s TV commercials – tie dye, skateboards, happy kids: milk does a body good.

But a new study that questions reduced-fat milk's nutritional value, and milk as a whole in the human diet, is sure to cause a stir.

Harvard professor David Ludwig's latest paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics questions the role of milk in human nutrition, and ponders why there is a lack of evidence-based proof that reduced-fat milk trumps whole milk, in terms of obesity, saturated fats, and overall health.

Milk that has zero, one or two per cent milk fat is no better for us than the real fatty deal, he claims – and then goes on to question the role of animal milk on a broader scale of human nutrition.

"Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk," he writes. "Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against [bone] fracture in adults."

No whey, right?

He ponders whether fattier, whole milk would actually improve children's diets, because it would increase the feeling of fullness: a kid who drinks non-fat milk with his cookie might have another cookie, Ludwig states, whereas a whole milk beverage would make him feel fuller.

He points out that milk – even unsweetened milk – is high in sugar. But it's a mistake to link it to poor health, says the Globe's dietitian, Leslie Beck.

While she agrees with Dr. Ludwig on the calcium front – we don't need milk to get our daily dose of calcium – she cautions about getting too concerned with fat content when it comes to kids and milk. "What kid is going to eat cooked collard greens to get calcium?"

"Dairy provides calcium and protein, and most kids will drink it," she says. "There are bigger fish to fry: Instead of worrying about that glass of milk, let's take a look at their meals and snack foods, cereal bars, goldfish crackers, cookies – things that kids are eating that spike their blood sugar and increase premature hunger."

Beck also cautions against looking at sugar as a dietary thermometer for health: I was shocked to read my tiny carton of fat-free skim milk had 11 grams of sugar.

"That's naturally occurring – that's lactose, not added sugar," she says. "Most people read the labels on milk and yogurt and say 'oh my god!', but you've got to think that's naturally occurring. You're getting so many other nutrients along with that sugar."

As for cow milk's place in the human diet, Beck says, that's a different kettle of fish – or, er, cattle.

Cow's milk has been so culturally accepted – but wouldn't my colleagues have shunned me if I opted for a carton of say, horse milk – or worse, human milk? To Ludwig's point – why is cow milk, or any animal milk, acceptable?

"That's pretty controversial, isn't it?" says Beck, who says she sticks to a plant-based diet. "You can get a lot of nutrients from cow's milk – vitamin D, calcium, protein – but you don't need milk to have a great diet, that's for sure."

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