Since childhood, we have been told that to avoid osteoporosis we must eat two to three servings per day of dairy foods. The calcium in milk and milk products, we are told, will make our bones strong. “Milk does a body good,” the dairy industry insists. Throughout my life I have faithfully consumed my daily doses of dairy, blissfully ignorant of the fact that sound science reveals that dairy is not only useless in preventing osteoporosis, but may actually contribute to the disease.
Not only does milk not do what the dairy industry insists that it does, but milk consumption has also been implicated in several of our most common killer diseases—heart disease, diabetes and several cancers. Milk is not good for the elderly, it is not good for middle aged adults, it is not even good for children. Milk does no-body good.
Why Doesn’t the Public Know This?
This news goes so far against what we have come to believe that most of us receive it with shock and disbelief. I know that I did. I had to consider how I had come to believe in the purported nutritious benefits of dairy to begin with. It didn’t take me long to realize that my faith had been placed fully in the US Department of Agriculture’s annual reports. I had a refrigerator magnet with a copy of their Food Pyramid for many years, and had recently upgraded to an image of their latest graphic, My Plate.
This led me to study Marion Nestle’s book Food Politics. Nestle had been a past participant in the committee that prepares the recommendations that the Department of Agriculture uses to create its guidelines. She had seen for herself how the science of nutrition was compromised during the political process of reconciling the demands of Big Agriculture with the scientific facts that nutritionists prepared. The surprising part was learning that the government agency that is responsible for giving us nutrition guidelines is ruled by the primary directive to increase the sale of agricultural products, including dairy! I was being told to feed my family dairy, not because it was healthy for us, but because it would increase dairy sales.
In essence, we are not so much getting the very best and latest nutritional science, we are getting a watered-down version of the science that will not impact agricultural sales. If dairy is bad for us, we won’t hear about it from them because our knowing it is bad could lead to a reduction in dairy sales!
What Does Science Have to Say?
The science is surprisingly consistent and clear. Dairy is as detrimental to health as it is unnatural. It is patently illogical to think that a grown human should need to consume a substance that is created for the growth and maintenance of an infant of another species. Encouraging people to consume a substance that nature designed to grow a baby cow, from a little over sixty pounds into an animal ten times its birth weight, cannot help but contribute to the obesity epidemic in this country.
The hormone content of milk alone should give us pause. Cows naturally produce hormones, like all mammals, which finds its way into the milk they produce, but these days cows are kept pregnant nearly perpetually so that they will continue to produce milk for the greater amount of their lifespan. That means that their milk is already higher in hormones than it would normally be. In addition, dairy farmers routinely dose their cows with additional hormones to maximize milk production. All of these hormones create a killing cocktail. The excess hormone content has been linked to acne, constipation, early onset puberty and, most perniciously, it contributes to the incidence of breast, ovarian, uterine, and prostate cancers.
As to osteoporosis, in spite of what the dairy industry would have us think, milk does not protect against the disease. The Harvard Nurses Study, the most prestigious nutrition study of all time, clearly demonstrated that there was no increase in bone density from consuming milk, and no reduction in risk for osteoporosis among milk drinkers. At least one study has shown a positive correlation between a high animal protein diet and bone fracture rates in adolescents.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that a plant based diet cut calcium loss in half. As a consequence, vegans have a much lower incidence of osteoporosis than the rest of the population. This can explain the fact that the populations that consume the highest amount of dairy actually have the highest rates of osteoporosis, whereas those who consume no dairy have the lowest rates of osteoporosis as can be seen from the graph below. It is obvious that milk offers no protection against the disease.
Indeed, the vast majority of people (over 75%) become lactose intolerant before they reach adulthood. For the lactose intolerant, drinking milk causes bloating, abdominal cramping, excess mucous excretion and diarrhea. Nature never intended for mammals to drink the milk of another species, or to continue drinking milk after the normal period for weaning.
What About Infants and Children?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, feeding cow’s milk to infants is dangerous.
Cow’s milk is too high in protein and some minerals (like sodium, potassium, and chloride), and too low in other nutrients and minerals (like vitamin E, zinc, and iron). One study concluded that cow’s milk can lead to dehydration and iron deficiency in infants. In addition, cow’s milk has been implicated in causing Type I Diabetes, an auto-immune disease in which the body destroys the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin.
In order to mitigate the dangers of cow’s milk, infant formulas are made by breaking apart the protein molecules in the milk, so that the component parts are easier for the baby to digest. They then add back in some of the nutrients that the cow’s milk was lacking. Infant formula is better for a baby than cow’s milk, but it is far inferior to mother’s milk. By the time a baby is old enough to be weaned from his mother’s milk, he has no further nutritional need for milk. Given the risk for producing auto-immune diseases like Type I diabetes, and the fact that milk does not improve bone density mass, there is no reason to consume cow’s milk, or any of the products of that milk, at any age.
How to Get Calcium into Our Diets?
The most healthy way to get your calcium is from green leafy vegetables and legumes. Green cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens and dino kale are all examples of calcium rich greens, and are among the healthiest foods you can eat. Squash, like butternut squash, has a healthy dose of calcium. Tofu is an excellent source of calcium. Calcium fortified motherless milks like soy and almond milk, and fortified orange juice are all good sources. Multivitamins generally include calcium as well.
While Swiss chard and spinach are as high in calcium as other leafy greens, the oxalate content tends to bind with the calcium. That means that the calcium in these foods will not be available for absorption by our bodies. So, they don’t contribute to our calcium consumption needs.
Additional Ways to Avoid Osteoporosis
Here are several more things you can do to keep your bones as healthy as possible:
1) Exercise every day. Daily exercise, particularly load bearing exercises like walking and running, has been shown to increase bone density.
2) Take a Vitamin D supplement, or take a daily multi-vitamin every day.
3) Avoid too much salt. Salty foods have been linked to low absorption rates for calcium. So, pass on the potato chips and look for low or no salt canned goods.
4) Don’t smoke. Smoking can lead to poor mineral retention, so if you are a smoker avoiding osteoporosis is one more reason to quit.
5) Avoid alcohol, which can also interfere with calcium absorption.
6) Get plenty of Vitamin K, found in abundance in green leafy vegetables.