Thanks to the brilliant marketing of the dairy industry, milk has become synonymous with growing up and staying healthy.  It was once (and in many ways, still is) considered the healthiest food in nature.  We hold it so closely to our hearts that even now, with considerable nutritional research surrounding dairy, it is a hot button topic.  The dairy industry does such a good job of shielding the general population from negative press that most people are totally unaware of what academic nutritional research is finding.  Instead, they use their power to strategically bring their privately funded findings in to the limelight.

This article builds upon a previous article, surrounding the use of chocolate milk as a post exercise recovery beverage (here), where I elude to dairy as a potentially unhealthy food choice.

Dairy, According to the Available Evidence

Canadians and Americans alike are accustomed to the healthy eating plates or pyramids released every few years by our respective governments.  What most people are unaware of is the heavy influence of the agricultural lobbyist groups in determining what ‘optimal nutrition’ is.  Whether we like it or not, despite the actual available evidence, our health is trumped by the financial bottom lines of these groups (dairy, wheat, poultry, etc.).  There is huge money in the government compelling its people to eat a certain food.  I am no conspiracy theorist, but you can bet that our view of modern nutrition is at least partially skewed by these lobbyist efforts.

The timing of the latest push by the dairy industry, in part, seems overly convenient.  The Harvard School of Public Health, perhaps the most respected authority on nutrition in the world, made a huge statement in the fall of 2011.  If you are like most people, you will have no idea what is being eluded to, and for that reason alone, the dairy board marketers deserve a huge raise!  When Harvard made its latest healthy eating plate (see below), it did so based on the available science, and completely ignored the lobbying efforts from the key agricultural stakeholders.  As you can see, dairy is glaringly omitted.  Harvard goes on to make the statement that dairy, according to the available science, is not part of a healthy diet.  This should have drastically changed modern nutritional guidelines, but has been largely forgotten since.

 

Do not get me wrong, I love dairy, especially cheeses and yogurt.  But I also love cakes and pies.  I know that I should eat cakes and pies in moderation because of the negative health effects from chronic consumption.  It makes sense that eating large portions of these foods on a daily basis would be a bad idea from a nutritional standpoint.  If we now know that dairy is not part of a healthy diet either, does logic not dictate that consuming dairy for health reasons is also a bad idea?  It is becoming clear that in a healthy diet, dairy should be consumed in moderation.

Why Milk Products are Potentially Unhealthy

If there is one thing I hate to think about, it is what milk really is.  As neonates, we produce the lactase enzyme in order to digest mother’s milk.  Historically, once weaned, we no longer had use for the enzyme, so the body is genetically programmed to decrease its production as we age.  For this reason, an estimated 75% of adults worldwide under produce lactase enzyme (hypolactasia), and therefore qualify for a varying degree of lactose intolerance (read more here).  Milk is a fetal fluid, produced by a modified sweat gland (mammary glands), to nurture the young of our own species.  Yes, as gross as it is, milk is a modified sweat solution.  Human milk is in fact the perfect food for an infant, just as cow milk is the perfect food for a calf.  Humans (and animals associated with humans, such as cats) are the only species to consume the fetal fluid of another species after weaning.

Most people are familiar with the ‘Got Milk’ campaign, and therefore grew up with the idea that milk products are essential to building strong bones and teeth.  We now know that milk does not protect our bones from fractures, and there is increasing evidence that too much of it may actually weaken bones, and produce a whole slew of other health problems.  Below are reasons why dairy may not be a health promoting food choice:

  • Milk does not reduce the prevalence of age related bone fractures in women (here).
  • Milk is full of saturated fats, which are well known to contribute to cardiovascular disease.
  • High consumption of milk and calcium is tied to various cancers, such as prostate and ovarian due in part to an increase in the cancer promoter Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 and other hormones (here).
  • The countries with the lowest prevalence of osteoporosis consume the least amount of dairy.
  • Lactose intolerance is perhaps the largest contributor to abdominal discomfort, and dairy frequently aggravates irritable bowel conditions.
  • Supplemental calcium protects the body from colorectal cancer, whereas calcium from dairy does not (here).
  • Dairy is tied to various inflammatory conditions such as allergies, skin rashes, sinus/ear infections, and chronic constipation.
How to tell if you are Lactose Intolerant

The ‘Gold Standard’ in nutrition to identify a potential intolerance is ‘Elimination and Challenge. ’  That is, eliminate it from your diet for an amount of time, then challenge the food by consuming it and noting how you feel.  Since most adults are to some degree lactose intolerant, dairy does not usually need an elimination period.  Instead, I find it adequate to simply challenge it.  To find out if you are affected, do the following:

  1. On an empty stomach, upon waking, consume 8 ounces of low fat (1%) milk
  2. Do not eat anything for four hours
  3. If you experience any abdominal discomfort, you are likely lactose intolerant, and would benefit from reduction or elimination of dairy from the diet
Replacing Dairy in the Diet

If your main motivation for consuming dairy is for calcium, you should become aware of the good non-dairy sources of calcium (such as leafy green vegetables), and increase them in your diet:

  • Cooked collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Rhubarb
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Almonds
  • Kale
  • Turnip greens
  • Okra
  • Swiss chard