Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Lies About Milk

My friends and family routinely float online articles about food past me for my thoughts. Today, my mom asked my thoughts on a yahoo article by none other than the Eat This! Not That! guy David Zinczenko. First of all, let me say that I think the well-intentioned Zinczenko routinely oversimplifies his nutritional suggestions, creating false choices for the hundreds of thousands of people who have likely read his books, articles, and magazine (he is the editor of Men's Health). 

He makes some valid points (I highlighted the things I agree with in yellow) in his recent yahoo article, The Truth About Milk, which is copied below. 

But unfortunately, he misses the point. Overall, I simply don't think milk is worth drinking for nutrition's sake. The evolution of how people even came to drink milk is interesting in and of itself and when you examine the societies who drink milk today, America tops the list (arguably because the USDA is in the back pocket of the dairy industry and has been brainwashing us with its health benefits for decades). Part of the reason for that is that much of the world remains lactose intolerant. People of African and Asian descent have strong negative reactions to lactose because they don't have lactase in their stomachs to break it down. America is more diverse now than it was 50 years ago and part of the reason milk consumption has declined is likely related just as much to that as it is to the marketing of cheaper, sugar-filled alternative drink options. I do think (and history and nutrition confirm this) that the right way to consume dairy is in the form of cheese and yogurt (the real stuff, not American cheese or dannon/yoplait yogurt)! The addition of bacteria to dairy helps break down the lactose. Aged cheeses are practically lactose free, as are cultured yogurts, making it more easily digested and more nutritionally beneficial. The stuff I blatantly disagree with in this article is highlighted in red. I also added notes in blue. 

The Truth About Milk

Milk: Healthy and nutritious drink, or fattening, contaminant-filled menace?

You might expect an organization called the Dairy Education Board to promote milk as a good thing. But instead, this advocacy group claims that “Milk is a deadly poison.” Oops. And as Americans have grown more wary of saturated fat, and more concerned about hormones and other substances fed to—and injected into—dairy cows, milk consumption has fallen dramatically. In the post-war days of 1945, the average American was consuming 45 gallons of milk a year. By 2001, per capita consumption was down to just 23 gallons. In 1945, most of America was WHITE and milk wasn't full of puss and then pasteurized to kill the germs in the puss, as it is today! You got your milk from a local dairy by way of a milk man, right??? 
But here’s the thing: Plenty of new research says that we should be drinking more milk, not less. (most of this research is funded by... ahem... the dairy industry!) In fact, swapping soda, juice, sweetened iced teas, and other beverages for milk might be one major reason why Americans are gaining weight at such a rapid pace. (fair enough) Milk not only helps boost protein intake and cut down on sugar, but consuming calcium through dairy foods such as milk may actually reduce the fat absorption from other foods. (Our bodies don't absorb the calcium from dairy as well as we absorb calcium from calcium-rich plant sources! we can also dramatically increase our calcuim absorbtion by pairing it with citrates, so calcium fortified OJ might be a better source than milk!) Who wouldn’t want that? 

Here are four milk myths you might have heard, and why you should consider answering the cowbell more often.
Claim #1: “Milk is a fat-burning food.” (no such thing, especially not from animal sources!)

The Truth: Maybe. In a 6-month study, University of Tennessee researchers (who funded this research?) found that overweight people who downed three servings a day of calcium-rich dairy lost more belly fat than those who followed a similar diet minus two or more of the dairy servings. In addition, the researchers discovered that calcium supplements (what kind of "supplements" are we talking here? I hate how this stuff is over-generalized. As we know, there's a wide variety of supplements availalbe and it's hard to know which ones are best absorbed by the body unless you have a lot of expertise in nutrition and biochemistry! Any walk down the vitamin aisle makes my head spin!) didn’t work as well as milk. Why? They believe that while calcium may increase the rate at which your body burns fat, other active compounds in dairy (such as milk proteins) provide an additional fat-burning effect.  

Claim #2: “Drinking milk builds muscle.” (I think lifting weights builds muscle and I'm sure I can find a strong contingency of fitness experts to back me up on this one!)

The Truth: Absolutely. In fact, milk is one of the best muscle foods on the planet. Milk is full of high-quality protein: about 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Whey is known as a “fast protein” because it’s quickly broken down intoamino acids and absorbed into the bloodstream—perfect for post-workout consumption. Casein, on the other hand, is digested more slowly—ideal for providing your body with a steady supply of smaller amounts of protein for a longer period of time, such as between meals or while you sleep. (if you're looking for amino acids, there are much better sources. try Braggs Liquid Aminos for a start. Use it to flavor soups and stews and in place of soy sauce! It's available in the "healthy/organic section of most grocery stores, sold online, and available at most naturals/health food stores) 
Claim #3: “Cows are given antibiotics. Doesn’t that make their milk unhealthy?”  (um, not to mention the growth hormone RBGH, which has been linked to weight gain and the early onset of puberty. The antibiotics fed to cows are more of a global health risk as widespread use of such antibiotics promotes the growth of "superbugs" that are resistant to andtibiotics. Don't think this is serious business? Pharma companies sell more antibiotics to farm animals than they do to people!)
The Truth: No one really knows. Some scientists argue that milk from cows given antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance in humans, making these types of drugs less effective when you take them for an infection. But this has never been proven. (this isn't the right way to look at the issue of antibiotic resistance. we're not talking about humans being resistant to drugs. we're talking about the bacteria being resistant to them! plenty of viruses and bacteria can/do mutate and cross species. H1N1 ring a bell? see note above)

It is true that hormones and antibiotics have never been part of a cow’s natural diet, and they have been shown to have adverse effects on the animals. Canadian researchers, for example, discovered that cows given hormones are more likely to contract an udder infection called mastitis. If you’re uneasy, you can purchase antibiotic-free (and typically hormone-free, as well) milk from producers like Horizon and Organic Valley at most major supermarkets. The cows will certainly thank you. (skip the nationally distributed brands in favor of local organic dairies. your local economy and the environment will thank you!)

Claim #4: “Fat-free milk is much healthier than whole.”

The Truth: Nope. While you’ve probably always been told to drink reduced-fat milk, the majority of scientific studies (funded by... ?) show that drinking whole milk actually improves cholesterol levels—just not as much as drinking fat-free does. One recent exception: Danish researchers found that men who consumed a diet rich in whole milk experienced a slight increase in LDL cholesterol (six points). However, it’s worth noting that these men drank six 8-ounce glasses a day, an unusually high amount. Even so, their triglycerides—another marker of heart-disease risk—decreased by 22 percent. The bottom line: Drinking two to three glasses of milk a day, whether it’s fat-free, 2%, or whole, lowers the likelihood of both heart attackand stroke—a finding confirmed by British scientists. (in place of other beverages or in addition to?)

EAT RIGHT RULE: If your food can go bad, it's good for you. If it can't go bad, it's bad for you. (I generally agree with this sentiment, but remember that beef goes bad and beef isn't good for you. Dried legumes and grains on the other hand, don't really go bad and are good for  you...)


  1. Great post! Aaron made sure I saw it :) Makes me wonder if David Zinczenko is backed by the dairy people.

  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Janel! Things have been so crazy, but it was a great prompt to check out your blog, which is beautiful! We really need to grab dinner sometime - True Bistro is calling my name as soon as I can put this accounting final behind me!

  3. Andrea

    My family and I (even during my childhood) were never milk drinkers. However, I agree milk today, how it is processed, and what goes into it is a disbenefit to the diet; whereas, prior to 1900, milk was a beneficial food substance. Few people are aware that clean, raw milk from grass-fed cows was actually used as a medicine in the early part of the last century, and is a complete and properly balanced food. You talk briefly about amino acids. As you know, our bodies use amino acids as building blocks for protein, eight of them are considered essential, we get them only from our diet. Raw cow's milk has all 8 essential amino acids and extremely beneficial; the problem, society has over-processed the food supply removing the good and adding the bad. A sorry condition indeed, however, one could, as you suggest, go to a local farm, and drink milk in the purest form.

    Robert Mela

  4. That's a great point! For those of us fortunate enough to be blessed with the gene that helps us produce the lactase enzyme as adults, raw (cow/goat/sheep) milk (and cheese and yogurt), do offer significant nutritional benefits. Many states in the US regulate milk the wrong way, making it near impossible to find raw milk unless you know a farmer willing to give it to you under the table or own a cow yourself, though!