Sunday, August 23, 2009
This question was posed to me by a friend recently, and it's one that
comes up fairly frequently. There is a lot of confusion about dairy. On
the one hand, we've been taught since we were knee high that we must
drink our milk to grow up big and strong. Mothers feel worried and even
guilty if they consider not giving their children dairy. Dairy products
have become synonymous with "calcium" in our minds. Women in
particular, trying to keep our bones strong and avoiding osteoporosis
in our later years, have learned that milk and dairy products are
critical. Not to mention that in the last 10 years (ish
articles continue to be published that quote studies indicating that
dairy helps us to keep our weight down. The dairy industry has
certainly done an effective job of marketing and convincing us that
without dairy, we'll become frail and weak. Images of elderly
grandmother types with hunched backs shattering a wrist from picking up
a frying pan come to mind.
Today I want to expose the myths about dairy and give you some information about both dairy and calcium alternatives. So:
Is dairy bad?
short answer: Mostly, yes. Milk doesn't do many bodies much good.
Traditional, pasteurized cow's dairy that is. Here are some of the
issues with dairy:
milk has 3 times more protein than human milk, and a bit less fat (in
the case of the traditionally recommended non-fat milk, it has NO fat).
Human milk also has double the carb
content. The ratio of these nutrients indicates that cow's milk is not
designed for the human body. This high protein content (along with
lactose intolerance, to be explained in a moment) makes dairy the
number one allergen by far. When we consume foods that are not properly
digested, and especially those with anabolic (build-up) properties like
protein and calcium, the excess is not efficiently eliminated, and
leads to problems of excretion like asthma, allergies, strep throat, tonsilitis
, ear infections, pimples/acne, overweight, and excessive mucous and phlegm.
the time we reach late childhood or adolescence, 70% of people have
lost the enzyme required to break down lactose (milk sugar). In fact,
lactose intolerance is so common, those who retain the ability to
digest it really should be called "lactose persistent" rather than
labeling those who lose it as intolerant. This should be a hint that we
aren't really meant to consume it. In fact, what other species can you
name that drinks the milk of another species? It's rather odd actually.
Less commonly known is that many people are allergic to the proteins in
dairy (casein, whey).
consumption of milk/dairy in fact CONTRIBUTES largely to a deficiency
in calcium in the body! Vegetarians have been shown to have higher bone
density than meat eaters of the same age, and countries that have the
highest dairy intake also have the most osteoporosis (Allergies, Disease in Disguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch, ND)
. This is so opposite of everything we've been taught to believe, I know it's hard to accept. There are a few ways this is so:
milk has a lower ratio of Calcium to Phosphorous (1.27:1 versus 2.35:1
in human milk). Phosphorous binds to Calcium in the digestive tract,
making it less absorbable.
you are unable to digest it (as most are), the lactose ferments in your
digestive tract. This produces lactic acid, which binds with the
Calcium and Magnesium, making them less available for the body.
- Pasteurization reduces 50% of available calcium through the process of pasteurization.
- Low fat and skim milk lack the fat necessary for transport of calcium through cell walls.
top of everything, dairy cows (as with all livestock) are pumped with
antibiotics to prevent disease that would be rampant due to living
conditions. They are also fed with processed grains that are not really
meant for their consumption. In the US they also have to worry about BGH
(Bovine Growth Hormone) which luckily is banned in Canada.
The Myth of the Weight Loss Connection
all heard time and again that "research proves that dairy helps you
burn more fat and lose weight." However in reality, there have only
been 3 very small studies that found that people lost weight when they
ate dairy foods AND CUT CALORIES
And all 3 of those studies were funded by one researcher who had a
patent on the claim that dairy helps with weight loss. Since then, 2
new studies have in fact shown that dairy foods don't have any affect
on weight one way or another. (Nutrition Action Healthletter Sept 2005)
The results are inconclusive at best. There is some evidence (still
inconclusive) that dairy may help weight loss in individuals who are
overweight, eating too little calcium, with a diet that isn't too high
in protein or too low in calories. That's a lot of "ifs." And dairy in
particular is not necessarily required for the effect; maybe calcium
from other sources would have the same result. The bottom line though
is that the claims being made by marketers for the dairy industry have
greatly stretched what the research has indicated.
So if I don't eat dairy, where am I getting my Calcium?
interesting how concerned we are with Calcium. Not that it's not
important, but it's really just one of many essential minerals the body
needs to be healthy. A potassium deficiency, for example, can cause
heart failure. But you never hear anyone worrying about potassium.
Maybe that's because there's no fearmongering
"Banana council" to "educate" us. [/rant]
I've convinced you that dairy is effectively junk food. But you want to
make sure you get your calcium. In fact it is surprisingly not that
hard to do.
First, let's look at ways you can stop your body from losing the calcium you get:
Alternate Sources of Calcium
- reduce your caffeine intake (coffee, tea, pop, chocolate) - it causes increased calcium loss in urine
intake of refined sugar - it also increases calcium loss through urine;
as well, it reduces the body's ability to absorb calcium
phosphorous (POP is the biggest source in most people's diets; also
cow's dairy, red meat) - it binds to calcium and makes it less absorbable
- reduce salt - increases calcium loss through urine
- Make sure you get your Vit D (eggs, liver, mushrooms, 20 min of sun exposure several times a week, or supplement) - calcium can't be used without Vit D
overeat protein - it is acid forming; the body will protect the pH
level of blood by pulling minerals (especially calcium) from the bones
to buffer the acidity
- smoking, alcohol, and corticocosteroid medications also contribute to calcium loss
1 cup of cow's milk provides 288mg of calcium. Other sources and the amount you can get from a typical serving are:
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds 1/4 cup 150mg
Hazelnuts 1/4 cup 106mg
Sesame Seeds 2 tbsp 264mg
Walnuts 1/4 cup 54mg
Sunflower Seeds 1/4 cup 65mg
and Milks made from nuts and seeds are also be great sources of
Calcium. And since these products are not heated or cooked, the calcium
is highly absorbable
Most vegetables (especially GREEN ones like leafy greens and broccoli)
provide between 20 and 75mg per half cup. Lamb's quarters provide 232mg
in a half cup! Sea vegetables (agar, kelp) provide about 60mg and Wakame
(1 cup servings)
Navy beans 128mg
Pinto beans 82mg
(5 oz serving)
Meeting Daily Requirements
can see by the above values, it's really not that hard to get your
Calcium with non-dairy sources. The average daily intake recommended in
Canada is 1000mg (male and female adults). If you had a serving of
almonds (150), 2 cups of leafy greens (150-200), a serving of salmon
(338mg), a serving of broccoli (100) a serving of tempeh
(172), and some almond butter (225mg) and you would exceed the DRI
values. As well, for those who are vegetarians, less intake is required because it is more absorbable
without animal foods in the diet.
Not ready to make the switch?
it's not all just about the calcium, you LIKE milk, yogurt, cheese, and
of course ice cream? You don't want to give it up. Fine. Here are a few
- If you're able to digest it, no one
says it's completely unhealthy to have SOME dairy in your diet;
consider it a treat, and have it in moderation
- If you have
trouble digesting it, consider trying raw/unpasteurized dairy. It still
has live enzymes that will help you digest it. Milk can be hard to
find, you'll have to purchase directly from farmers, and being
unpasteurized, you'll need to consume it fairly quickly to avoid
spoiling. Cheese (due to some kind of loopholes in regulatory laws) is
easier to find made from raw milk.
- Try goat's milk, yogurt and cheese. It's closer in nutrient content to human milk than cow's, so again, easier to digest.
are a myriad of types of alternative milks on the market. Rice milk,
Hemp milk, Soy milk (which I wouldn't really recommend as it's a
processed food often made from non-organic and GMO'd
sources), and my favourite, Almond Milk (the unsweetened is the closest
in taste to skim milk that I could find when I was getting off milk).
Try them for your cereals and smoothies, or even just drink a glass.
You might be surprised!
- There are also some great alternatives
to ice cream. There are soy versions (again, not high on my list for
the same reasons), rice versions, and more recently I'm finding COCONUT
versions which are truly delicious. Have some chocolate coconut "ice
cream" with fresh raspberries on top, now THAT is a TREAT!
I used to be a HUGE dairy fanatic. When I was eating healthfully (I used to swing back and forth from eating REEEEALLY bad to eating REEEALLY
healthfully), I would eat 4 servings of dairy a day (milk in my cereal,
yogurt and cottage cheese for snacks, more milk at dinner). I always
found when I was eating healthfully I seemed to get all backed up (hey,
I'm a nutritionist, we talk about poo. Deal with it.). I was so
confused because I was eating so much fibre, much more than when I was
on a "junk food diet." I thought maybe the fat content of the junk food
diet was keeping me "going." Then I learned about dairy and I decided
to try going off it for a couple weeks. Well it didn't even take that
long. That was the cause of my problems.
And, my beautiful
little niece, she had the same problem - she was constipated
practically from birth, and had to be hospitalized at one point. After
trying laxative treatment for 6 months, and it not getting any better,
we took her off dairy and within a few days, ta daaaah, all better.
dairy was hard at first, I craved it for quite a while. But now I just
can't imagine drinking a big glass of milk. And while at first I was
strict - I carefully examined every label and avoided everything baked
or made with milk or milk protein (casein and whey) or milk sugar
(lactose) in it, after 6 months or a year I loosened up. Now I find I
can tolerate a little milk here and there without adverse affects (some
cream in my coffee, an ice cream on a hot day at the beach). But,
generally it's not part of my regular diet anymore.
may not be entirely aware of how dairy affects you, but I think with
all the options out there now, there's no real need for dairy. You can
easily get enough calcium through non dairy sources, that in my
opinion, "why bother?" It doesn't help your health, even if you're not
sure it's actually"hurting" you.
Allergies, Disease in Disguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch
Food and Healing, AnneMarie Colbin
Nutrition in Action Healthletter, Sept 2005