A few months ago, I found myself in an elementary school cafeteria. It didn’t seem like there was a single square foot of wall untouched by posters of celebrities toting milk mustaches and citing slogans to imply that cow’s milk is the only way to grow up strong and healthy. Our government is so lobbied by the milk industry that they recommend having it at every meal, despite the recommendation of many qualified researchers, and our school administrations are so desperate to get children drinking this stuff that they allow chocolate milk to be on the menu, despite it’s 31 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving.
Yo Einstein, there’s only 26 g of sugar in an 8-ounce serving of Coca Cola. Coca Cola!!!
First of all, yes — I know that milk contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, proteins, fat, sugars, and vitamins A and D. But if milk really is the “perfect package”, why do the countries with the highest milk consumption per capita also have the highest rate of osteoporosis? If all that milk drinking is supposed to make our bones healthier, why are they actually getting weaker?
While researching this article, one source I found noted that the Bantu women of Africa live on a sparse diet of vegetable sources and completely free of dairy foods. Their average intake of calcium is 250 to 400 mg a day which is considerably lower than the 800 mg Recommended Daily Intake for women. They give birth to as many as ten babies and each child is breast-fed for ten months. Although childbearing causes an intense calcium drain, osteoporosis is unknown to these people. When Bantu women migrate to the city and adopt a protein-rich diet, osteoporosis and other diseases suddenly become a threat to their health. The author also looked at the Inuit people, who live on a very high-protein diet and have the greatest calcium intake of any population. Yet, they also have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. What gives?
In my opinion, this isn’t about getting enough calcium, it’s about getting the body to absorb enough calcium.
The dairy industry has conditioned us to think that milk is the best source of calcium and an absolute necessity to strong bones but you can drink milk until the cows come home and it won’t do your bones a lick of good if the rest of your diet is poor in nutrients. A typical North American diet is so deprived of vital nutrients that most the calcium in the dairy they’re consuming isn’t even being absorbed. When added to a diet of fast food, convenience foods, processed food and all the boxed crap you buy from the center aisles of most grocery stores, the calcium in all that milk is simply passed right through you. No wonder our calcium RDA is so high — we’re pissing it all out!
In fact, for many osteoporosis sufferers, drinking more milk only adds to their excess levels of calcium in their body (since their bones are literally leaking calcium) and worse yet, heightens their risk of other damaging conditions that occur from excess calcium such as gout and kidney stones. More milk is not the answer.
What is the answer? I’m no doctor but I keep coming back to the same end: A diet rich in plant-based foods will leave your body balanced and fed. It means getting your nutrients from a diverse group of sources and not just relying on habit because “that’s how I’ve always eaten”.
Here’s a practical example:
Although a bowl of Cheerios in skim milk seems like a healthy option (and looks pretty good on a nutritional label), you have to wonder if all those promised nutrients are doing much for your body after the journey they’ve had to get to your breakfast table. Is the fiber a natural fiber found in an organic ingredient or is it “fortified” fiber that they’ve borrowed from something and added to the cereal?
A usual breakfast for my family consists of 1/4 cup (dry) steel cut oats cooked with 2 tbsp of nuts and seeds (sliced almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds) and then topped with 1/2 tbsp of each ground flax, chia seeds and maple syrup. In addition to the 13g of protein and 20g of iron, we each get 10% of our daily calcium intake in just one bowl. And the best part is that the entire breakfast is from natural plant-based sources — no “fortified” cereals that have been altered with God-knows-what to make them look good on paper! We’re getting a vast amount of trace minerals and nutrients from all those nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
I truly believe that when we eat a diverse range of wholesome plant-based sources (such as the steel cut oats breakfast above), our body can thrive with less than the suggested RDA of calcium. When we omit the foreign (and often toxic) man-made food from our diets, our body can more efficiently absorb and assimilate the nutrients we consume, essentially getting more “nutritional bang for your caloric buck”, as I like to say.
And yet the debate of calcium and bone strength is just one of the many arguments posed against the dairy industry. Some of those worth noting are:
- Monsanto’s growth hormone: rBGH — a growth hormone that keeps cows producing at a 20% higher rate than normal. Thanks to public outcry, rBGH has slowly been phased out (and banned in certain countries) but many American dairy producers still use rBGH despite the common side effect of udder inflammation and infection (mastitis) which leads to contamination in the milk from the udder’s secreted pus. Mmmmm….yummy! For the record, at time of publishing this article, ice-cream companies that still use rBGH include: Dreyer’s, Edy’s, Nestle, Haagen-Dazs, Klondike, Good Humor, Breyer’s.
- Antibiotics — used in conventional dairy farming (i.e. not organic) as a way to treat the diseases and infections that are common in factory farms. Antibiotics are routinely found within the very milk our kids are drinking. Even if these antibiotics are in trace amounts, should our children be drinking trace amounts of antibiotics every single day? And according to the government, three times a day?
- A false sense of nutrient security in parents — how many moms and dads out there give up on getting their kids to eat vegetables with the flawed logic that “hey, they’re drinking enough milk. They’ll be fine!” More milk is not the answer. Wholesome foods are. Our children need the diverse micronutrients that are found in plant-based foods.
Skewing our pH balance — our acid-forming North American diet relies on higher amounts of calcium in order to maintain a pH balance in the blood. Coffee, tea, salt, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, sugary drinks, refined grains, and junk food all create an acidic environment which creates an Eden-like breeding ground for disease. Researchers are finding that cancer cells and tumors thrive in an acidic environments but are stunted or killed off completely in alkaline environments. My aunt not only lost over 100 pounds but also cured herself of breast cancer through following a pH-balanced diet. You can learn more about a pH-balanced diet by clicking here. Perhaps it’s not for everyone but more and more research is showing that many of our common western diseases can be cured or avoided by following this type of diet.
All that said, I don’t cut out dairy completely. Perhaps one day I will decide to go completely free of dairy but for now, I include in my regular diet: organic low-fat cottage cheese; specialty cheeses like gouda, brie, feta, and goats cheese; organic Greek Yogurt; and organic butter.
Come back Monday to learn more about milk alternatives and find out which one I think tastes like the bottom of my gym shoe…if I knew what that tasted like…ahem…right then, see you tomorrow! Same fit place, same fit channel.