-Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron
Throughout North America, we are taught that milk is nature’s perfect food. Milk advocates are quick to praise their “liquid god” because milk contains copious amounts of the important nutrients protein and calcium.
Celebrities from all walks of life have united together in order to promote the consumption of milk products. If you just flick on your TV or pick up a magazine, you can find any number of celebs proudly wearing a milk mustache, partaking in the infamous “Got Milk?” commercials and ads. Who’s paying for these ads? Is the government funding this movement in an attempt to promote optimal health and decrease the incidences of osteoporosis? Nope, not even close.
These ads are ALL funded by the dairy industry itself. Can we trust them to be upfront and honest when they obviously have a vested interest in trying to maximize the world’s intake of their product? Is milk really “an essential part of a healthful and balanced diet”? Hmm, I think it’s time to investigate the two main claims by the dairy industry…
It is no secret that calcium is a very important mineral in the body. In addition to maintaining strong teeth and bones, calcium is also involved in muscle development, regulation of the heartbeat, transmission of nerve impulses, protection against blood clotting, and prevention of cramping, to name just a few. Obviously, being deficient in calcium is not a good idea! So does this mean we should drink milk in order to ensure adequate calcium intake? The short answer is no. Here’s why…
Now don’t get me wrong, milk certainly does contain calcium. In fact, milk contains calcium to the tune of 300 milligrams per eight ounce serving. That is an impressive dose. But here is an important question that hardly ever gets asked: “Is the calcium contained in milk highly absorbable?” And the answer is a surprising NO. The truth is that the calcium absorption rate for milk is a dismal 31%. And if the milk you’re drinking is pasteurized, that 31% may be a generous assumption, since pasteurization destroys naturally occurring enzymes that help utilization of calcium.
So although milk may score high in the calcium content department, it’s bioavailability is poor, making it an “okay” source at best.
On the flip side, calcium absorption rates of vegetables are much higher (up to 64%). For example, 1-½ cups of broccoli contains the same amount of usable calcium found in one cup of milk. Other good sources include: kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and turnip greens, to name a few.
So the verdict is clear: Milk contains a lot of calcium but it has a poor absorption rate. The vegetable options have a better calcium absorption rate while also containing fiber, vitamins, minerals and many other health-promoting nutrients. So if your body can tolerate milk, a little is certainly okay, but don’t feel the need to force milk down your throat in an attempt to meet your calcium requirements. There are clearly other options.
Protein Powerhouse Claims
If you have spent any time reading about nutrition for fat loss, muscle building or health in general, you know about the importance of dietary protein. That being said, milk does provide eight grams of complete protein per cup. The protein itself is quite good and does have an impressive amino acid profile.
Although the protein is high quality, this by no means indicates the need for dairy protein. There are plenty of other high quality sources of protein including: lean meats, eggs, fish, shellfish, beans and legumes, to name a few. And from my experience, these protein sources have fewer downsides for many people than milk does.
So if you don’t tolerate dairy well, don’t worry! Contrary to what the whey protein manufacturers will tell you, you won’t be missing out on a thing. There are many great sources of protein that don’t include a drop of milk. If, on the other hand, you are one of those people who can tolerate dairy, you can definitely use it occasionally as a protein source — but I wouldn’t overdo it. Here’s why…
Some paleo advocates adamantly oppose the use any dairy at all. And with all due fairness, they are able to cite many well-done, legitimate studies that indicate that dairy may be the culprit in many of the diseases (including cancer and crohns disease) many people face today. These dangers may be real, but I don’t personally have proof of this. So I will only list the downsides that I KNOW exist with certainty.
1) Lactose intolerance- Lactose intolerance is the inability to sufficiently digest lactose, the sugar found in milk products. It is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is produced by cells in the small intestine. A huge percentage of the population suffers from lactose intolerance. I’m sure you know who you are because rumbling stomachs, diarrhea, cramps, gas, and bloating are hard not to notice! If you fall into this category, it’s best not to consume dairy. If you insist upon consuming dairy from time to time, try supplementing any meal containing milk products with the enzyme lactase and see if it helps.
2) Allergies- True dairy allergies usually are not related to lactose. Instead, they involve one or both of the other two major components in milk, the proteins whey and casein. I’m sure these components look familiar to you, especially if you’ve ever shopped in the protein powder market. A severe milk allergy involves a strong immune system response to one these proteins and can be life threatening.
3) Milk Reactions- Milk reactions are more common than classic milk allergies. The obvious symptoms to these reactions include: diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and chronic congestion. These symptoms are quite easy to detect and are often misdiagnosed as lactose intolerance. In either case, if you suffer from these symptoms, don’t ingest dairy!
There is another, more insidious type of dairy reaction that can cause digestive problems. I have seen (on many occasions) people who were consuming a lot of dairy wake up one day and develop a reaction to milk. Excessive bloating, and diarrhea are usually the first symptoms. Then shortly thereafter, these individuals start to have reactions to many other foods (most of which they tolerated very well throughout there entire life.
Although no one knows for sure why this happens, I suspect it has to do with the health and permeability of the gut. Milk is suspected to have the ability to make the gut more permeable. If the gut becomes too permeable, larger than normal macromolecules can leak through the gut wall. These large food molecules are not supposed to reach the bloodstream; if they do, the body will recognize them as a foreign substance, trigger an immune response and develop reactions to them.
Other Dairy Dangers?
There are other factors to consider in the dairy debate. For instance, commercially available milk has detectable amounts of pesticides, herbicides, dioxins and many powerful antibiotics. Also, in an effort to maximize profits, most dairy farms inject the toxin rbGH into their dairy cows. rbGH significantly and artificially increases the amount of milk produced by the cow. I’m not exactly sure what the long-term side effects of ingesting these chemicals are for humans, but it’s probably safe to say that you wouldn’t want to ingest high levels of them on a regular basis.
If you tolerate dairy products well, you can certainly have some dairy in moderation. If you consume milk products with any regularity, I would suggest getting grass fed, hormone and antibiotic-free dairy. Look in your area for a local farm that fits these criteria.
Also, if you consume a fair amount of protein shakes, be sure to rotate the source of the protein. Instead of just drinking whey and casein all of the time (like most people do), try rotating in a high quality rice protein, pea or hemp protein powder from time to time.
My personal favorite is Sunwarrior Rice Protein.
Dedicated to your success,
p.s. Please share your experiences and opinions related to dairy in the comment section below. See you there!