Retiring Cows: What Would Happen to Nutrition?

Without working cows, consumers would no longer be able to enjoy not only beef, but dairy products, too. The loss of foods that come from cows would lead to a loss of easy access to necessary nutrients. 

Dairy is important for adults and children alike. Dairy foods include essential vitamins and minerals, such as carbohydrates, protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin, and niacin. One serving of milk also meets the daily values for 8 of these nutrients, based on Food and Drug Administration guidelines. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes dairy in its five recommended food groups—fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and dairy—because each of these food groups provides a specific set of nutrients that our bodies need. It would be difficult to replace the nutrients easily obtained through three servings of milk a day. 

As it is, very few Americans are meeting the recommended daily requirements, specifically calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and fiber, with dairy products providing 3 of these nutrients.  

So people can find alternative foods! some argue. Consumers would lose foods like milk and creams, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, sour cream, and more. While there are some plant-based alternatives for a few dairy products, those options do not include the same nutrients that products made with real milk do.  

That’s not to say it is impossible to obtain these nutrients without milk, but it would be difficult. Without milk, you would need to eat 17 cups of raw kale and 15 sardines to get the same amount of calcium and vitamin D, respectively, as in 3 glasses of milk per day.   

If that sounds like a lot, this chart shows more alternatives: 

Imagine the additional resources that would need to be used in agriculture alone to produce more of these foods for each person now finding themselves without a jug of milk. 

Next week, the series will conclude by looking at alternatives to that of the retiring cow.