A Harvard University professor got his “15 minutes of fame” Tuesday, as news agencies picked up on his cautionary and somewhat dismal remarks about milk.

In an opinion piece on the JAMA Pediatrics web site, professor of pediatrics David Ludwig questioned the recommendation of three servings of milk per day, especially if that milk is flavored and sweetened. 

“….the substitution of sweetened reduced-fat milk for unsweetened whole milk ― which lowers saturated fat by 3 (grams) but increases sugar by 13 (grams) per cup ― clearly undermines diet quality, especially in a population with excessive sugar consumption," he wrote.

Then, he takes a swipe at milk in general, questioning whether it is needed at all.

“Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk… and many populations throughout the world today consume little or no milk for biological reasons (lactase deficiency), lack of availability, or cultural preferences,” Ludwig wrote.

"Adequate dietary calcium for bone health, often cited as the primary rationale for high intakes of milk, can be obtained from many other sources,"  he said. 

Whether these remarks were intended as a “swipe” or not, they were picked up by the news media and many of the reports cast milk in an unflattering light. A story on the Yahoo! home page had the caption, “Drink really isn’t so ‘healthy’ after all,” leading into this article

Yet, points out Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, milk plays a key role in helping Americans, especially children, meet the recommended intakes of critical nutrients.  

“Milk (white or flavored) is an affordable, great-tasting way to enhance the nutrient quality of your diet,” he says.

“Research shows that children who drink flavored milk also drink more milk overall, have better quality diets, do not have higher intakes of added sugar or fat, and are just as likely to be at a healthy weight compared to kids who do not consume flavored milk.

“Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients found in white milk that are important for good health ― a nutrient package difficult to find in other foods that are as affordable or appealing,” Miller adds.

“The nation's leading health and nutrition organizations recognize the valuable role that milk, including flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs. In addition, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recognize that a small amount of added sugars can be used to increase the palatability and appeal of nutrient-dense foods, such as fat-free chocolate milk. 

“In a recent peer-reviewed study, removing or limiting flavored milk from schools had significant unintended consequences on children’s milk consumption. This could negatively impact their nutrient intake. In the 49 elementary schools examined, there was a 37 percent average decrease in milk consumption, resulting from a 26 percent decline in milk purchased and an 11 percent increase in milk discarded. To replace the nutrients from less milk intake in a school district, it would require three to four additional foods, resulting in more calories and fat, and a cost increase of up to $4,600 per 100 students,” Miller says.