Why Everything You Know About Milk Is Wrong

We’ve been told time and again that milk does a body good, and we seldom question that claim. It’s a dietary staple for millions of North Americans. We raise our kids on it too, convinced it’s the elixir they need to grow big and strong.

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And it’s common knowledge that cow’s milk is an incredible source of nourishment — for a calf.

Milk contains nutrients essential to promote growth and development in a young calf during the first months of its life. Calves are weaned after eight months and never drink milk again — a behaviour that holds true for every mammalian species on earth.

People have consumed cow’s milk for millennia but many factors prove why milk is unfit for human consumption.

In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health declared that dairy is not part of a healthy diet. Their recommendations, which are “not subjected to political or commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists”, suggest safer choices than dairy for obtaining calcium, including vegetables and supplements.

No matter how you slice it, the risks posed by milk consumption significantly outweigh the benefits.

Why milk’s health benefits are so greatly exaggerated can be explained by understanding how cow’s milk earned its reputation as a wholesome food.

During World War I, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, faced with a dairy surplus, began to market cow’s milk through educational milk campaigns and successfully increased its demand. Milk was marketed as a healthy drink packed with nutrients and free from additives, artificial colouring or preservatives.

Is Dairy Bad for You?

The dairy industry has since successfully lobbied governments and health authorities to recommend milk as a nutritional requirement beyond infancy. Milk has been equated with strong bones, prevention of osteoporosis and overall health, but the science behind these claims doesn’t hold up.

Nutrition

Milk, without a doubt, is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, calcium, riboflavin and potassium.

But the milk we consume today is pasteurized as per regulation, and offers very little in terms of real nutrition. Raw unpasteurized milk is wholesome, but can also be also an optimal medium for harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Pasteurization increases milk’s shelf life, making it easier to mass-market, but destroys valuable enzymes and nutrients, and beneficial bacteria that exist in raw milk.

Weight Gain

That tall glass of creamy milk packs a lot of calories – 148 per cup, to be precise. It also contains 8 grams of fat and 12 grams of sugar. Drinking three cups a day – which is the USDA’s recommended intake – adds 444 calories to the diet. Whole milk and whole-milk dairy foods are a common source of saturated fats, and a diet rich in saturate fats can increase overall cholesterol. So if you want to shed some weight, skimmed milk might be the smarter choice.

Lactose Intolerance and Allergy

An astonishing 60 per cent of humans lack the enzyme lactase to properly digest cow’s milk. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to process lactose, the key sugar present in milk, which results in digestive distress upon consumption.

Undigested sugars start fermenting in the colon, creating gas that can lead to abdominal bloating, pain or cramps, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.

Scientists claim lactose intolerance shouldn’t be called a disease because the ability to continue to drink milk beyond infancy is what’s abnormal. In fact, the ability to digest milk as an adult is now termed as a condition – lactase persistence.

Most people cease producing lactase between the ages of two and five. You might not be diagnosed as lactose intolerant, but if your predecessors didn’t come from a place that raised dairy cows for centuries, it’s unlikely your genetics allow you to properly process milk.

Milk is also one of the most common food allergens in the world. A milk allergy can cause wheezing, hives, digestive problems and even anaphylaxis within minutes or hours of consuming milk.

blueberries falling in to milk filled cup

Cancer

The association between cancer and dietary hormones in milk has been of great concern to the medical community, although it has not been extensively studied.

Cow’s milk contains significant amounts of bovine estrogen and progesterone as it is designed to bring a 100-pound calf to a 2,000-pound cow in a couple of years. A calf normally gains roughly eight times its weight by the time it is weaned. Through dairy consumption, these hormones are introduced into the human body, and can disturb normal hormonal function.

Natural estrogens are around 100,000 times more powerful than other estrogens humans are exposed to, and research shows dairy products account for 60 per cent to 80 per cent of estrogens consumed by us.

In the 90s, the FDA also approved the use of synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in cattle, a practice that resulted in cheaper milk production. rBGH, which is illegal in Canada but legal in the U.S., is a hormone that’s been linked to cancer.

According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, high dairy intake is linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer, which tracked lactose intolerant people found that a low consumption of dairy is associated with reduced risks of lung, breast and ovarian cancers.

Bone Health

The main argument for dairy dietary recommendations is that consuming milk products will reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. But in reality, there is little to no evidence that suggests milk boosts bone health.

In the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, researchers tracked 72,000 women over a period of 18 years and found high milk intake has no protective effect on fracture risk. Another Harvard study found women who drank milk three times a day actually suffered more fractures than women who rarely consumed milk.

On average, cow’s milk contains three times more protein than human milk. Animal protein in dairy products can lead to metabolic disturbances and have a calcium-leaching effect on bones, making them weaker.

The Takeaway

Not all dairy products carry the same risks and benefits. Fermented and cultured milk products (yogurt, sour cream and cheese) are healthier than pasteurized cow’s milk. Yogurt is rich in probiotics – healthy bacteria that boosts digestive and immune health. Cheese also provides a range of vitamins, minerals and proteins without containing lactose (removed during the cheese making process), making it suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

There’s more than one way to obtain the nutrients your body needs, and vegetables are often the best source. You can get all the calcium you need and other nutrients from plants, without exposing yourself to potentially unsafe animal protein, sugar and saturated fat.

We absorb only 30 per cent of the calcium present in dairy products, but we absorb twice the amount of calcium from vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and bok choy.

There are also alternatives to drinking dairy milk, and a majority of dairy-free milks are now fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Fortified soy milk, almond, coconut and rice milk are all excellent alternatives to cow’s milk and offer a cornucopia of vitamins and minerals.

Rumana Dsouza

Rumana D’Souza is the social media and content coordinator for Prizm Media and Kudolife. She has found her life’s calling in writing about health and wellness, and believes she can make the world a touch healthier – one blog post at a time.

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