Ah, dairy. This subject is hairy.
And you’ll probably want to be a bit chary.
Okay, no more rhyming. But it was fun. 😉
So basically, there’s been a lot of debate over whether or not we need dairy. It’s a great question. Here’s what the argument for it looks like:
1. “I love cheese!”
2. “I love ice cream!”
3. “I can tolerate it just fine.”
Okay, fair enough. Not terribly scientific, but I agree on points 1, 2, and 3!
Now let’s take a look at what the argument AGAINST dairy looks like:
1. A whole lot of people can’t tolerate it just fine
Whole populations around the world and quite a large number of people in this country are lactose intolerant. What does it say that so many of us are unable to eat dairy? Maybe it means we don’t need it.
2. Milk is a baby’s food
We don’t even drink our own milk past childhood. Milk contains carbohydrates, fat, and protein all in one so that babies get the three essential macronutrients from their one food source. Milk makes babies grow. But we’re all grown up. So again, maybe we don’t need it.
3. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another animal
A lot of anti-dairy people say, “We don’t drink our own milk, so why are we drinking the milk that’s meant for baby cows?”
Kinda makes you stop and think, right?
3. Milk isn’t a calcium solution
Wait, what?! Yeah. We have a higher consumption of dairy in this country than in most countries around the world. And we also have the highest rate of osteoporosis. That doesn’t add up. Isn’t dairy supposed to protect us from osteoporosis because it gives us calcium to build strong and healthy bones? Seems people in other countries where dairy consumption is very low, are not only finding enough calcium from other sources, they’re not experiencing bone loss the way we are.
I believe the way we’re eating in this country is stripping our bones of calcium…among other things…but we’re not going into that right now. The main point here is that dairy isn’t making up for it. Yet again, I say, “Do we really need it?”
Some great non-dairy sources of calcium?
Broccoli, kale, bok choy, collard greens, rhubarb, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut milk, blackstrap mollasses, tahini, pistachios, almonds/almond butter, and sardines. I’m sure you can find at least ONE thing on that list that sounds good (what? not the last one?!). 🙂
4. Milk consumption can contribute to disease
This is where dairy gets really scary (sorry! that’s the last rhyme!). Milk contains a lot of hormones that aren’t so good for us. You’ve heard of rBST or rBGH, right? It’s the genetically engineered growth hormone (made by Monsanto – need I say more?) they give to cows to stimulate milk production. This is in conventional dairy and has been linked to various types of cancer.
But even organic rBST-free/ rBGH-free dairy has hormones because cows are milked all the time, which means they are milked when pregnant, and some hormones are sky-high during pregnancy. Then all of the milk from all of the cows is pooled together and we consume a whole mix of crazy stuff…stuff coming from a lot of hormonal females…think about it…
All of these hormones look to be contributing to certain types cancer. Prostate cancer is related to higher consumption of dairy products, as is ovarian cancer, although the link is less clear than with prostate. Endometrial cancer is a hormone-related cancer, so there’s concern for dairy hormones there, too.
5. Low-fat and fat-free dairy is linked to acne
Who wants bad skin? ‘Nuff said.
So do I need to take supplements?
Actually, high calcium supplementation has been shown to be related to a higher risk of heart attacks and kidney stones, as well as a higher risk of hip fractures. Basically, the calcium from supplements is different from calcium you consume in foods – it’s a big hit of the mineral at once, instead of a gradual dose throughout the day with various meals and snacks. Calcium also needs to be taken in tandem with magnesium and vitamin D, so just taking a calcium supplement without these will not facilitate absorption. And calcium that doesn’t get absorbed floats around and ends up where it shouldn’t be, causing heart disease, among other health problems. Not good.
My recommendation is to really try to get most of your calcium from your food and proceed with caution with supplements. Take small amounts at a time, if you need to, and always take it with magnesium and vitamin D.
I’ve found the evidence against dairy pretty compelling. But of course, the Dairy Industry makes sure our government recommends it as an essential part of a healthy diet. Food remains the best way to get calcium, but it doesn’t have to be dairy. If you want to eliminate it completely, or almost completely, that’s great. If not, limit your intake to 1-2 servings per day. Moderation is the key here.