The topic of milk seems to be coming up a lot lately! Last month I had one very well-respected woman in the nutrition and animal welfare field question my recommending milk products such as kefir and yogurt as a probiotic. And, then this weekend I was staying at a friend’s in East Hampton and she was making smoothies with whole milk for her girls and had a question about ”what is so wrong with milk.” So here go my thoughts on the subject.
Milk is the perfect food for babies who need calories and nutrients in order to grow but it is not the ideal food for adults. We are the only species who drink the milk of another species. Most of us do not need to consume a drink that is intended to grow a 90-pound calf into a 2,000 pound cow!
While milk is an essential food when we are babies, humans were not created to drink milk as adults. We are the only species on the planet who drink milk as adults, and who consumes the milk of another species! At around eighteen months to 4 years of age, humans lose the ability to produce adequate quantities of the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk. Most adults have about 5-10 percent of the lactase than they had as infants and this causes many adults to be lactose intolerant.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, sinus congestion, chronic colds, rings under the eyes, headaches and, in extreme cases,diarrhea. Yogurt is much easier to digest than milk because the lactose is broken down by the healthy lactic acid bacteria contained in the yogurt. So, if you must consume dairy products, yogurt is the one to go with!
Even for those who have no problems digesting dairy, dairy produces mucus. Cow’s milk contains casein, which is the main ingredient in Elmer’s glue. When you drink milk, your body senses a foreign substance and wants to get rid of it and produces mucus. Over time this can lead to constant congestion in the sinuses and sinus infections. If this has not convinced you yet, just think of the hormones, steroids, pesticides and antibiotics that make its way into the milk. And, then to top it off the pasteurization takes whatever beneficial enzymes out and decreases calcium absorption.
Additionally, Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent) has been linked with the consumption of dairy products. Researchers have found that in some people dairy proteins spark an auto-immune reaction, which is believed to destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Milk is also high in natural sugars, which may also be a contributor.
A correlation between the consumption of dairy products and cardiovascular disease has also been found. Milk is high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which increase cardiovascular risk.
And, lastly, ovarian cancer has been linked to dairy consumption. A Harvard study by Daniel Cramer, M.D., found that when dairy consumption exceeds a woman’s enzyme capacity to break down the sugar, galactose, it may build up in the blood and affect the ovaries.
There are several myths associated with dairy consumption:
Myth #1: We must drink milk for calcium.
Most of us have been told growing up that we have to drink our milk to have healthy bones and teeth. This myth has inadvertently been told to us by our parents, and reinforced by advertisements and the food pyramid (which, by the way, was created and paid for by the meat and dairy industry indirectly through the USDA.) It is very hard for us to get our hands around the fact that it is purely a myth that you have to drink milk or consume dairy products to get your calcium.
The facts are clear. We can get all the calcium we need from vegetable and grain sources. The calcium contained in these foods is much easier for our bodies to absorb and much healthier for us in the long run. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens have 85-90% of the calcium as in a cup of milk. Additional sources that are high in calcium are broccoli, kelp and seaweed, chickpeas, broccoli, soybeans, tofu, quinoa, fortified-cereals, molasses, sesame and sunflower seeds, and almonds.
Myth #2: We must drink milk to prevent osteoporosis.
Researchers from Yale, Harvard, Penn State, the National Institute of Health and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have studied the effects of dairy intake on bones and not one found dairy to be a deterrent to osteoporosis. On the contrary, researchers at Yale found that after looking at thirty-four studies published in sixteen countries that the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis- including the United States, Sweden and Finland- were those in which people consumed the most milk, meat and other animal foods. A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women found that those who drink cow’s milk are more likely to have brittle bones and develop osteoporosis . (”Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women”, American Journal of Public Health, 1997; 87:992-7.) The study additionally found that those with an increased intake of calcium from dairy were associated with the highest risk of fractures. Ironically, in the countries where people consume the most dairy, there are the highest rates of osteoporosis.
Myth #3: Milk is a good protein source.
While dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream do provide protein, there is no iron in milk and the dairy blocks the absorption of iron possibly contributing to iron deficiency. Better protein sources are grains such as brown rice and quinoa, fish high in Omega 3’s such as salmon, farm-raised chicken, tofu, and nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
Do yourself and your body a favor and take dairy products out of your diet! Eat lots of leaf greens, tofu and nuts such as almonds and substitute soy or rice milk in your morning coffee and on your cereal. Substitute soy yogurt for regular yogurt (O’Soy is delicious) and soy cheese for regular cheese (Soya Kaas Monterrey Jack is my favorite.) And, if you have a hankering for ice cream Soy Delicious has incredible flavors such as Chunky Mint Madness, Cookie Avalanche and Peanut Butter Zigzag.
If you are not ready to give up milk entirely then just reduce it. But, if you are then by all means do so! Not only will your body love you but so will the animals!
The bottom line is that each individual has to make their own choices that feel right for them and go at their own pace!