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Milk: Does It Really Do A Body Good?

Milk: Does It Really Do A Body Good?

The first thing schoolchildren are served as they enter the cafeteria is a carton of milk–followed by menu choices of pizza, burgers, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, and countless other items high in saturated fat and cholesterol. All of these foods contain milk. According to the National School Lunch Program, which serves 31 million children every day, “milk consumption in school has increased nearly 10-fold over the past 23 years”.

Despite its reputation as a wholesome and healthy source of nutrients, getting your calcium and protein from cows’ milk comes at a price: milk and milk products are linked with scores of health issues, like diabetes and cancer. In addition, many people are lactose intolerant or allergic to cows’ milk.

Despite these concerns, cows’ milk is being pushed in school cafeterias, and millions of kids are drinking cows’ milk and eating dairy. The 2010 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act will give America a chance to rethink kids’ school lunches–an important part of kids’ overall nutrition and for many, the main source of nutrients for the day. You can take action to make sure that America’s kids are getting the healthiest lunch possible.

Health Concerns

The health risks linked with milk read like a veritable laundry list of today’s top health concerns. Milk products, like the beloved cheese on top of kids’ school lunch pizzas, are ridden with saturated fat, the artery-clogging fat that leads to heart disease, the top cause of death in America. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Disease-Proof Your Child, drinking cows’ milk has been linked to allergies, anal fissures, childhood-onset (type 1) diabetes, chronic constipation, Crohn’s disease, ear infections, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis and prostate cancer.

Milk ads often brag about the calcium in milk–that drinking milk is a great way to prevent osteoporosis. But more and more research is surfacing that shows this might not be true. The American Journal of Public Health published a 12-year study of 78,000 people that found women who drank more than a glass of milk a day (the USDA recommends three cups per day) had a 45 percent greater chance of a hip fracture. Women who got the same amount of calcium from non-dairy sources had no increase.

This means that drinking more milk did nothing to strengthen bones–in fact, it actually weakened them. People who eat plant-based proteins can maintain a positive calcium balance at only 450 mg per day, lower than the recommended daily amount. How is this possible? Because eating and drinking too much protein, which is easy to do when ingesting meat and dairy, leaches calcium from bones. Excess protein in your diet causes your blood to be more acidic, meaning you need more calcium in your diet…so you drink milk, which gives you calcium, along with animal protein, which causes your blood to be more acidic…and the calcium-leaching cycle continues.

Allergies and Intolerance

Milk is the #1 allergic food in the country, and close to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn’t make enough lactase, the protein we need to digest milk. But this is actually normal! Mammals naturally produce lactase when they are infants in order to digest their mother’s milk, but are eventually supposed to stop producing it once they are weaned. Humans who keep producing lactase into adulthood do so because of a genetic mutation. After all, humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species. Imagine if you saw, say, a zebra drinking the milk of a giraffe. Wouldn’t something just be a bit…unnatural?

A milk allergy is different than lactose intolerance because it’s a reaction to the proteins in cows’ milk, casein and whey. People with milk allergies must avoid all milk and milk products, at the risk of immediate wheezing, vomiting, hives, swelling, or worst of all: anaphylaxis, sudden changes to breathing, heart rate, or other functions.

More Than Just Calcium in Milk

The milk routinely served in school cafeterias is an average carton of milk–cows’ milk. Not organic. Not grass-fed. And although cows’ milk does have important nutrients (need that calcium!), it also has a lot of…not-so-desirable components.

Along with the calcium and protein in an average carton of cows’ milk, researchers have found a range of hormones, including pituitary, hypothalamic, and thyroid. There are gastrointestinal peptides and rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is linked to breast, colon and prostate cancer but also increases the cows’ milk production.

There might also be pus in milk. Cows on an average dairy farm are repeatedly impregnated and milked several times a day–this over-milking causes mastitis, or infected udders, which secrete pus. When the cows are being milked, pus from their udders inevitably seeps in with the milk, and national averages show around 322 million cell counts of pus in a glass of milk. Blood is another disturbing ingredient in a glass of milk–the USDA allows 1.5 million white blood cells per milliliter of commonly sold milk.

If cows get infections, they need medicine. The antibiotics the cows are treated with also enter into their milk. Although the Midwest Dairy Association has called milk “one of the most tested, wholesome, and nutritious foods available”, only about 4 of the 85 drugs used to treat dairy cows are tested. The FDA also acknowledges that over half of all milk contains traces of pharmaceuticals.

Estrogen and Phytoestrogens

If, after reading these concerns, you find yourself looking for an alternative to milk, your first thought might be soymilk. But wait! Doesn’t soymilk have estrogen in it? Too much estrogen can give women breast cancer, and can make men less masculine…

While it’s true that soy, like all foods, should be eaten in moderation, soy contains phytoestrogen, which is plant estrogen, and which will not have the same effects on your body as animal estrogen.

In fact, phytoestrogens have actually been found to be beneficial to the human body because they keep our estrogen levels under control. They can act like weak estrogen when our body’s levels are low, and can inhibit estrogen effects when levels are too high. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism says that phytoestrogens can have health benefits related to cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and menopausal symptoms. There is also evidence that eating and drinking soy in childhood can reduce your risk for cancer later.

Excess animal estrogens can be harmful to the body, and the main source of these estrogens in our diet comes from milk; dairy accounts for 60-80 percent of estrogens we take in. Pregnant females, including pregnant cows, have lots of estrogen in their systems, especially in late pregnancy. A cow must be pregnant or nursing to produce milk, and dairy cows are often milked before they give birth, causing a surge of increased estrogen to enter their milk. One study comparing diet and cancer rates in 42 countries found that milk and cheese were strongly linked with testicular cancer in men ages 20-39. Another finding is that, in the past 50 years, rising dairy consumption in Japan is linked with rising death rates of prostate cancer.

Non-Dairy Calcium Sources

Non-dairy sources of calcium are plentiful, and these sources can be low-fat and low (or no) cholesterol. These healthy, calcium-rich foods include fortified cereals, fortified soymilk, nutmilk, ricemilk or other non-dairy milks, dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli or collards, blackstrap molasses, fortified oatmeal, almonds or almond butter, peas, onion, pickles, pumpkin…A plate of baked beans has over 100 milligrams of calcium, and fortified juice can have over 300 milligrams per cup. Calcium can be found in just about every fruit and vegetable, even apples, raisin, dates, and strawberries. If you are eating a whole-foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, getting enough calcium should not be an issue.

As the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization approaches, reconsider the best ways for our kids to get their nutrients. Whether for health, religious, or ethical reasons, kids should have an alternative choice to cows’ milk and milk products in their school lunch. Eating habits that people learn in childhood are carried into adulthood, and kids need to be able to make healthy choices about their diets. More schools are offering alternatives to dairy in their school lunch menus–but this needs to be required. Kids need the option of having a lunch low in fat and cholesterol, but high in nutrients. Speak up for the health of America’s children, and tell Congress that kids need alternative choices to dairy in their school lunch.

Take Action

If you want to take action to get dairy alternatives in school lunches, sign this petition.

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513 comments

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9:32PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

@ Sarah D. “Also, if you paid attention in Biology and did your homework” My homework implys that most primates live mainly on fruit. Gorillas eat wild celery, and Orangutans eat breadfruit and NO meat or insects. But perhaps you were twisting facts to make some kind of point?


9:23PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

@ dve d “im sticking to drinking god made cow milk” If you are a calf, that is a wise decision. Howener cows have not been around since the beginning of time. None existed before the dinosaur extinction. But perhaps you are a creationist ?

9:10PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

@ Tanya M,, “they don't critique the form of the nutrient; ie, natural vs synthetic or processes” They critique the milk that is available to us, not unavailable theoretical milk. Old order Mennonites who milked their cows humanely by hand were not permitted to sell it publically, and were forced to use milking machines. A German farmer in Ontario was prohibited from selling clean unpasturized milk which he claimed was better than pasteurized. He then offered neighbors who agreed with him to buy a share in his cows, because people may drink the milk from their own cows. He survived considerable government harassment and his customers remained healthy and happy. These are rare exceptions. It is true that some cultures have developed a greater tolerance for milk while others are lactose intolerant.


1:07AM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

Noted

2:43PM PST on Feb 17, 2012

It's great if you're a baby cow. (or whatever you're milking lol)

2:47PM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

people n India can have their milk, it is religiously special(I think) the rest of the world turns it into just a greedy slave driving money machine, endless cycle of negitivity.

others are lazy and cling to their old ways, again, even those nomadic herders. we have people go and preach to them, we even give them laptops. It is high time to herd them to website,to a killing ground and bully them to see the slaughter and collect the goods. If you change the world even by violance it is a good thing,

then take down coperations with boycotts

11:18PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

While I do agree that we really need not depend on cow's milk for our calcium needs and certainly could try to reduce our dairy intake, cow's milk and even buffalo milk has been in use in India since ancient times, say 4000 years or more. As a race, we have much greater lactose tolerance than most others. However, the current extraordinary demand for dairy produce has led to unethical practices and methods of producing and extracting milk from milch cattle. That has to stop right now!

1:33PM PDT on Mar 18, 2011

the horriblez! should we alert nomadic peoples? those Mongolians with their "enslaved" horses? the Maisai with their poor poor cattle?
how do they surivie? maybe they don't?
we should rush in and help with with soy, almond , hemp and rice milk! even if they aren't used to eating such things!
and tell them how damaging it is.

or is it just our backwards, westren, industrial age that dairy is poison?
or humans are the dumbest critters on the planet?

4:17PM PDT on Apr 8, 2010

Recent evidence is suggesting that humans who raised dairy animals developed the ability to digest milk just a few thousand years ago. That's pretty recent on an evolutionary scale. Unfortunately, that means the trait has not had time to spread to the entire species, and with all the food options we have nowadays, the allelic frequency is probably not going to increase. Intolerance and allergies are not simply going to be "weeded out" in by natural selection. But milk remains an extremely rich source of nutrients for a lot of us, and demonizing it is going to extremes. We do need to deal with some issues, though:
1. Overprocessing of milk, both before and after it leaves the cow, reduces its utility for human consumption. We can pasteurize and homogenize it a bit, to keep it safe and enjoyable, but growth hormones and unsafe additives need to stay out of the equation.
1a. Too many milk products have ceased to be real food. If you want to go after the milk that's killing our kids, it's not in a glass, but in microwave dinners, preservative-laden lunch packs, nutritionally empty pastries, and endless bags of junk food.
2. Overconsumption. No need to say more.
3. Alternative choices. Going back to the pain point of this story, I agree that for those who cannot tolerate milk, there should definitely be other choices. Lactose-free, goat, soy, oat, rice, almond, etc. And does it HAVE to be milk? There are endless healthy options, and they're not hard to provide.

2:00PM PDT on Mar 31, 2010

Thanks. I'm a soy or nut milk fan.

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