Most have see the “got milk?” campaign and heard the claim “milk does a body good”; the product is promoted for its benefits mainly related to the importance of calcium in the human body. The USDA pyramid calls for everyone over the age of 8 to have 3 cups of dairy per day. What does that translate to in terms of various milk products? From the ChooseMyPlate.gov website it could be “1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk (soy beverage), 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.” Yes, this counts:
That’s ludicous enough, but here’s another fun fact: the US Department of Agriculture has both the duty of supporting agriculture as well as promoting the dietary guidelines telling Americans what to eat. Conflict of interest much? Quite a few nutrition experts we’ve learned from- including Dr. Hyman, Dr. Marion Nestle, and Dr. Walter Willet- suggest that the USDA’s recommendations mainly reflect politics, not science, and that dairy may be nature’s perfect food…
…for a calf.
As for humans, it may be worth exercising caution. Here’s why:
1. Not everyone tolerates lactose well. Many people who experience negative reactions to milk may not be allergic to it (though an intolerance to dairy is possibly) but they may have lactose intolerance, meaning that they aren’t able to digest the milk sugar found in the milk. These undigested sugars often end up causing gas, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. Unfortunately certain ethnic groups such as Asians, Native Americans, and Africans have a higher rate of lactose intolerance than their Caucasian counterparts.
2. Bone Health? The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, including more than 75,000 women who were followed for 12 years, found that there was not any protective benefit of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. Surprisingly, the increased intake of calcium from dairy sources was associated with a higher risk. You can decrease your risk for osteoporosis by exercising and increasing calcium intake from plant foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, tahini as well as calcium-fortified products.
3. Contaminants. Synthetic hormones, such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBST), are commonly used in dairy cows to increase milk production. This commonly leads to mastitis or inflammation of the cow’s mammary glands and the treatment involves antibiotics. Traces of hormones, antibiotics, blood, pus, and other dirty items can end up in milk – which is, in part, why it’s pasteurized or even Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurized (this also helps keep it shelf-stable longer). All to keep you safe, right? Some argue that pasteurization kills the bad and good bacteria as well as denaturing proteins. Also, cows are often fed GMO corn and soy products. These are all items for consideration.
4. Even without the addition of synthetic hormones, there are still anabolic hormones contained in milk and these are designed to take a just-born calf at about 85lbs and grow it into a 1000+ cow. What do you think it’s doing to humans?
5. Extra calories. In a time where we are experiencing an epidemic of overweight and obesity, do we really need more calories from beverages or cheese? With the former, consider that water and tea, even coffee, are much lower calorie alternatives.
6. Other connections. Over the years, we’ve seen that dairy can affect individuals in a variety of ways – sinus & ear infections, skin issues such as acne, as well as diarrhea and/or constipation. It’s important to pay attention to your individual results.
Milk and dairy products are not inherently evil but they also aren’t necessary for a healthy diet. Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruit (and fortified foods, if desired). They can help you reach your vitamin and mineral requirements without the potentially adverse effects of dairy.
If you desire to consume milk or dairy products, consider buying the highest-quality sources; other alternatives are using non-dairy milk, or going without.