July 22, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Dairy

What are your thoughts on milk?

Specifically about the fact that the dairy industry has convinced millions of people, thanks to a very expensive campaign, that milk is the best source of calcium and vitamin D?

There are other ways to get calcium, including broccoli and other greens, so why does milk always show up as the best source?

Humans are also the only species to drink milk as adults. Don't you find that odd? Doesn't the fact that millions of people are allergic to milk mean that it's unhealthy?

Also, I read that there is an addictive component in milk (I think casein?) that keeps people coming back for more, including babies.

Am I healthy if I don't drink milk? What if I do?

-- (Name withheld)

Brooklyn, NY

Quite a lot of questions. Let's take them piece by piece.

My thoughts on a milk? It is a beverage that, depending on the variety, can be a healthy or not-so-healthy choice.

A glass of skim or low fat milk with your breakfast? Great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, and protein.

An extra large latte with half and half? All you're really getting is a boatload of calories and saturated fat (half and half contains very little protein and calcium.)

Is the milk lobby a powerful presence in Washington? You betcha. Why else do you think the "dairy" group in the food pyramid is now called the "milk" group.

That is one change I am very unhappy about, as it takes away attention from other healthy options like yogurt, and cottage cheese.

That said, dairy products truly are a good source of calcium. Not only is the quantity of said mineral rather high, it is also among the most absorbable.

As for vitamin D -- it is not naturally present in milk, but is rather there as a result of fortification. Cereals, orange juice, and soy drinks are also fortified with just as much Vitamin D, so I do not consider dairy to be the "go to" food for the sunshine vitamin.

Besides, a glass of milk provides approximately one tenth of the daily Vitamin D requirement, so the best way to get the sunshine vitamin is to soak up about 20 minutes of sunlight a day and, in my opinion, pop a supplement.

Can you get sufficient calcium without dairy? Absolutely. Nowadays, with calcium-fortified juices and soy products, there is no reason for the word "vegan" to mean "calcium deprived."

There are also a variety of non-dairy foods that naturally contain calcium: tofu, tempeh, and soybeans among them.

Keep in mind that some leafy green vegetables (spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb) contain oxalates, which bind to calcium and greatly reduce its absorption.

If you're looking to get some calcium from vegetables, opt for collard greens, bok choy, and kale.

Seaweed also happens to be a great non-dairy source of calcium.

As for the argument that humans are the only species to drink milk as adults (and therefore some sort of natural aberration), it's one of those leaps of logic that makes absolutely no sense to me.

Other animals don't have the choice to drink milk as adults.

After a certain time, their mother's milk supply is gone, and they certainly don't have supermarkets to shop at, or other species to cuddle up to and start suckling from.

The "humans are the only animals to drink milk as adults" argument isn't even true.

I can tell you from personal experience that if I pour cow's milk into a bowl, my cat will happily drink it without any prodding on my part.

Human allergies with milk have nothing to do with its status as "healthy" or "unhealthy" food. Many people are allergic to peanuts and shrimp, two very healthy foods.

As for there being an addictive substance in milk, I haven't seen that mentioned anywhere in the literature. The reason why babies "keep coming back for more" is because their mothers are feeding it to them.

I firmly stand in the middle of this issue. I believe a perfectly healthy diet can be milk-free just as I believe that milk can be a nutritious beverage.

Personally, I am partial to organic milk from grass-fed cows.

For the record, I have no issues with pasteurized milk. I don't see any reason to start seeking out raw milk (remember, we don't need digestive enzymes from food, so the fact that these enzymes are killed when milk is pasteurized means nothing.)

What I find horribly messed up is that the milk from a cow that eats nothing but grass and is not pumped up with any Franken-hormones (the ONLY milk available at one point in time) is now a "luxury" high-cost product. Ugh.


Anonymous said...

I love You Ask/I Answer.

What do you think about those TrueHope EMPower vitamins (http://www.truehope.com/main/index.html) that make all kinds of claims about aiding mental health? I know B-complexes aid mental functioning, but is all of that really even bioavailable?

Randzig said...

In Barbara Kingslovers book Animal Vegetable Miracle I believe she pretty much lays out factual evidence saying that after the age of 4 many people are unable to properly digest milk. Apparently theres a gene gets turned off that makes people unable to drink it. Just saying you might want to check that source.

blah said...

Actually, certain groups of humans (especially in Northern Europe) developed a mutation that allows them to remain lactose tolerant throughout adulthood.


You can also find milk that comes with the lactose already broken down so that it can be drunk by lactose intolrant people without the usual symptoms.