We’ve all been brainwashed from an early age that we need to drink our milk for strong bones and a healthy body. Well-intentioned doctors, parents and teachers as well as countless “Got Milk?” advertisements from the dairy industry have led us to believe that dairy products are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Not only are dairy products not an essential component in our diet, they are associated with many health problems ranging from moderate (gas, bloating, indigestion, discomfort, food sensitivities and allergies) to severe (breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and heart disease).
Dairy is big industry in the United Statesand food lobbyists have a lot of influence on government policy making and FDA dietary recommendations. If the FDA tries to tell us to reduce dairy consumption because it isn’t so good for our health, they get a lot of flack from the food lobbyists. There is an excellent book written by MarionNestle called Food Politics that goes into great detail on how the food industry influences nutrition and health.
Rather than get caught up in the politics here, let’s look at this from a common sense point of view. Human beings are not cows. Our digestive systems were not created to be able to digest the milk from another species. Cows milk is nature’s perfect food for a baby cow just as human breast milk is nature’s perfect food for a human baby. Humans are the only species that drinks the milk of another species and continues to drink milk past infancy.
Most adults in other parts of the world do not consume many dairy products. Approximately three quarters of the world’s population are lactose intolerant to varying degrees, meaning they lack the digestive enzymes to digest dairy (ie: we are not cows). Common signs of this are gas, bloating, cramps, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea and constipation.
Dairy products like cheese and ice cream are also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, which can have us headed towards clogged arteries and heart disease, not a place we want to go. With infants, colic, food allergies, and constipation have all been linked to dairy consumption (even breastfed infants if their mothers consume dairy products). When I think of how many little kids I see running around with runny noses and ear infections I cringe. I always want to stop their moms on the street and ask them to please remove dairy from their diets to see how it can help.
Many cows are given growth hormones and these get passed on to us when we consume their products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and meat). You don’t need to know the science behind this to realize this cannot be healthy to consume. All I have to do is take a look at all the young girls who are reaching puberty at younger and younger ages, fully developed with their periods at ages where they should be flat chested, knobby kneed kids and that concerns me enough to remove cow products from our home.
It isn’t just the genetically engineered hormones we need to be concerned about. In order to keep milk production of milking cows at a high level, the cows are kept pregnant all the time. This is good for milk production and for keeping the cost of milk down, but bad for our health. A pregnant cow naturally has very high levels of estrogen, progestins, androgens, and other hormones, which get passed through to their milk. It is this high concentration of hormones that is troublesome. Dr. Walter Willet, head of nutrition at Harvard and author of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, cites nine different studies linking prostate cancer with high levels of dairy intake.
If you do choose to drink milk, it really is worth it to pay the additional price for organic. At least with organic milk you can be assured that there are no added growth hormones and the cows are supposedly raised grass fed in open pastures as opposed to grain and protein fed in pens.
So what about strong bones? Healthy bones need calcium as well as various minerals and vitamins. In milk products there is an overabundance of calcium but the minerals aren’t there. Leafy green vegetables and sea vegetables on the other hand have high levels of calcium as well as magnesium, zinc, and other important minerals allowing for better absorption without the negative side effects you may suffer from dairy products.
Countries with the lowest intake of calcium such asJapanalso have the lowest incidence of osteoporosis. The Harvard Nurses Study that followed 75,000 women for 12 years showed that women who drank two or more glasses of milk per day were at least as likely to break a hip as women who drank 1 glass a week or less, contrary to what we have all been led to believe. As Dr. Willet states, “dairy products shouldn’t occupy a prominent place in our diet, nor should they be the centerpiece of the national strategy to prevent osteoporosis”. If you want to build strong bones there are other preventive measures that are better such as regular exercise (especially weight bearing), and following a diet high in fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens and sea vegetables).
Try this simple experiment. Remove all dairy products from your diet for 30 days. On day 31 go out and have a big glass of milk, a grilled cheese sandwich, big bowl of ice cream…whatever you like. Just load on the dairy and see how you feel. Many people who completely remove dairy for 30 days report a variety of symptoms strangely disappearing. Coughs, stomach distress, migraines, you name it. It’s certainly worth a try if you have nagging health concerns that you can’t seem to shake. Going forward, if a life devoid of pizza and ice cream seems unfathomable, then just consider eating less dairy and only high quality organic products at that. Your digestive system (as well as a few cows) will thank you.
Additional recommended reading:
- Food Politics by MarionNestle
- Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willet
- Food and Healing by Anne Marie Colbin