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Does Milk Block Antioxidants in Foods and Beverages?

High-antioxidant foods like tea, coffee and fruit have been
linked to many health benefits.

Unfortunately, some studies have found that milk may block some
of these beneficial compounds. However, other studies have
found that milk has no effect.

So what should you believe? This article explores whether milk
inactivates the antioxidants found in foods and beverages and
if you should be concerned.

Milk Splashing into a Coffee Cup

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants
are substances that prevent oxidation. Oxidation is a common
chemical reaction in which a molecule gives up electrons.

In the body, oxidation can lead to the production of harmful
free radicals, which are molecules that are missing an
electron. Free radicals then take electrons from wherever they
can, often causing damage to cells.

In fact, excessive free radicals may contribute to aging and
the development of certain diseases, such as dementia and
diabetes complications (1, 2, 3).

Antioxidants, which help eliminate these free radicals, come in
many forms. Some are naturally produced within the body, while
others come from your diet.

The vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and polyphenols found
in fruits, tea and coffee are all compounds that act as
antioxidants (1, 4).

Many health experts believe that a diet high in antioxidants
can help protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation
caused by free radicals. In turn, this may help reduce the risk
of related health problems (5, 6).

However, research has caused some people to worry that certain
foods, namely milk products, may cause the antioxidants in
foods to become inactivated, potentially negating their
beneficial health effects.

Summary: Antioxidants are produced in your
body and can be found in your diet. They help fight free
radicals, which can damage cells and contribute to aging and
disease.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods That Are Commonly Paired With Dairy

Two Pots of Yogurt and Some Berries

Many foods and beverages provide antioxidants.

Some of them are frequently consumed with dairy,
and it’s these combinations that may be of concern.

Here are a few examples of high-antioxidant foods and beverages
commonly consumed with dairy:

  • Coffee and cream
  • Tea and milk
  • Berries and yogurt
  • Fruit and cream
  • Oatmeal and milk
  • Chocolate or cocoa and milk

Summary: Some foods and drinks that are high
in antioxidants are commonly paired with milk products. These
include coffee, tea, fruit and chocolate.

Studies on Milk and Tea

Cup of Tea with Milk

Preliminary research has found that milk products
may inhibit some antioxidants in certain foods and beverages.

The most common example of this is adding milk to tea, which is
a customary practice in some countries.

Several studies have found that adding milk to tea decreases
its antioxidant capacity, or how effective its antioxidants are
at preventing oxidation.

This effect is thought to occur because the milk protein

casein
binds with antioxidants, reducing their ability to
fight harmful free radicals (7).

However, the results have been conflicting. While some studies
show that milk decreases the antioxidant capacity of tea, other
studies show that it has no effect or even a positive effect
(8).

For example, one study assessed three different measures of
antioxidant capacity in tea. One test found that adding milk
protein to tea reduced its antioxidant capacity by 11–27%
(7).

However, another test using a different measure found that milk
protein improved antioxidant capacity from 6% to 75% (7).

Yet, two other studies found that milk had no effect on the
antioxidant capacity of tea in human participants (9, 10).

The results are likely varied due to the type of tea, the type
and amount of milk, the way the tea was prepared and the way
the antioxidant capacity was measured.

Summary: Some research has shown that mixing
milk with tea may reduce or block its beneficial
antioxidants. However, several studies have also found a
neutral or even positive effect.

Studies on Milk and Other Foods and Beverages

Regular Milk and Chocolate Milk in Small Jars

Interestingly, similar results have been found with coffee,
chocolate and blueberries, despite the fact that they don’t
contain the same types of antioxidants.

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One study found that milk reduced the antioxidant capacity of
chocolate by approximately 30%, while another study found that
milk negated the antioxidant effects of chocolate altogether
(11, 12).

Another study found that eating
blueberries
with milk reduced the absorption of their
polyphenols and blocked their antioxidant effects (13).

Similarly, the antioxidant capacity of different types of

coffee
was shown to decrease with the addition of milk.
What’s more, the more milk that was added, the lower the
coffee’s antioxidant capacity became (14).

Most evidence indicates that milk decreases the antioxidant
capacity of some foods and beverages. However, the research is
too conflicting to be sure.

Additionally, whether milk affects the health benefits of
antioxidant foods and drinks, such as a decreased risk of heart
disease, is not clear.

Summary: Some research has shown that mixing
milk with antioxidant-rich foods and beverages may reduce or
block their ability to fight free radicals. However, the
evidence is too conflicting to say for sure.

Dairy Does Not Necessarily Reduce the Health Benefits of
Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Blueberry Muesli with Milk

Even though the majority of studies found that milk decreases
antioxidant capacity, many found that it only does so to a
limited extent.

For example, several studies found that milk decreased the
antioxidant capacity of foods or drinks by 30%, at the most
(7, 11).

That means that at least 70% of their antioxidant capacities
remained unaffected.

It’s also important to understand that a decrease in the
antioxidant capacity of a food does not directly translate to a
decrease in its health benefits.

Currently, no studies have directly examined whether consuming
dairy with high-antioxidant foods affects the health benefits,
such as reducing the risk of dementia or heart disease.

However, one review of the effects of tea on heart disease
found interesting results.

It found that drinking tea protected against heart disease in
most countries, but that the risk of heart disease in the UK
and risk of stroke in Australia increased with every three cups
of tea consumed per day (15).

The authors suggested that this difference could be because tea
is usually consumed with milk in the UK and Australia. However,
this is only a hypothesis, and there are many other potential
explanations as well.

At the moment, the evidence is too conflicting to know for sure
whether milk blocks a few antioxidants or whether it inhibits
the health benefits of antioxidant-rich foods.

Summary: Although research shows that milk
may block some of the antioxidants in foods, it probably does
not inhibit all antioxidants. Currently, there is no evidence
that it reduces the overall health benefits.

Should You Avoid Mixing Dairy With High-Antioxidant Foods?

The best answer is to keep doing what you’re already doing.

There is currently no evidence that consuming dairy with
antioxidant-rich foods reduces their overall health benefits.

In fact, there are many different factors affecting the
antioxidant capacity — and even the nutrient content — of
different foods.

Instead, the best thing you can do to maximize the health
benefits of your diet is to consume a wide variety of
antioxidant-rich foods and drinks.

If adding milk to your coffee is the way you like to enjoy it,
don’t feel guilty about it.

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