So for you consistent readers of my blog I am sure you noticed that I have begun to lean away from dairy in my personal diet. I have also begun to suggest to clients to decrease overall dairy intake, for a plethora of reasons. I have gotten tons of questions from them, from people at CP and from readers to this very blog as to why exactly I have chosen to head in this direction.
The answer is I have been slowly heading this way for a few months. I have always been a large dairy consumer, and was practically a complete dairy apologist any time someone would come along and try to knock it if off of the pretty pedestal I had it on. Dairy is a great source of a blend of proteins, casein and whey. It is also a great source of calcium, tends to come with a little vitamin D and also provides some riboflavin, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and potassium to boot. It is a food of great complexity.
Considering how much milk I drank over the first 25 years of my life, I did not come to this decision lightly. Unfortunately the milk we drink today does not resemble a food that our great grand-parents would have recognized 100 years ago. It is mass-produced shit.
Let me back-track a little bit. Lets take a quick look at the history of dairy, and in more specifically, milk. Ryan Andrews over at PrecisionNutriton.com covered some of this topic beautifully, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I am going to quote what he wrote, as it was brilliant. Hang on to your hats, this one is gonna be a doozy.
“Civilizations began to use milk as a source of nourishment around 8000 BCE.
Although animals used for milk include cattle, goats, sheep, horses, buffalo, yaks, donkeys and camels, cow’s milk is one of the mildest tasting mammalian milks and the most popular.
No culture has ever habitually consumed milk from an animal that didn’t live on grass/leaves, as flesh-eating animals secrete milk with an odd flavor that most people don’t fancy. Most flesh eating animals also give birth to a litter (think dogs and pigs), which means the mammary system is spread along the length of the torso. Translation: Milking is difficult with big, clumsy human hands.
Cheese is said to have been discovered by an Arab nomad travelling across the desert during the Neolithic period with milk in a container made from an animal’s stomach. The enzymes in the stomach curdled the milk.
Fast forward to the 1800s & 1900s when our relationship with dairy cows changed. Populations increased and the importance of calcium and phosphorus for skeletal health became evident. Milk was promoted by public education campaigns and doctors as a rich source of these minerals. Doctors considered milk as an “indispensible” component of a child’s diet based on this association.
The industry responded to the demand and milk came from cows crowded into dirty milking sheds. Lots of cows, lots of dirt, and little space meant sick cows. There was concern of a milk-borne epidemic as this new form of unhygienic milk production took precedence. Dairy farmers tried sterile bottling and disease testing on cows, but problems persisted; thus, pasteurization and refrigeration became common after 1900.”
Clearly this is where the problems truly began, since to some degree or another we have been consuming dairy and milk for approximately 10,000 years without issue! As some of you may know, I am no fan of pasteurization as I think it destroys the taste and flavor or raw milk, as well as many beneficial compounds, including lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the most highly studied health-promoting cultures in yogurt. I wrote a blog on the topic here.
“Cows have a nine month gestation period and lactate only when they’ve recently given birth, just like humans. In the past, dairy farmers would allow cows a seasonal reproductive cycle, and birth was planned in sync with the new grass of spring.
This way, the mother had lots of nutritious grazing and time to replenish nutrient stores. Grazing is healthier for cows because it provides fresh air and exercise and grass is what the bovine digestive system is built for.
In contrast, industrial production involves feeding cows grain. More grain means more rumen (stomach) acidity, more thirst, diluted milk and ruminal acidosis. Acidosis leads to ulcers, infectious bacteria, inflammation and growth of E. coli. Antibiotics are administered to offset these ailments.
Current dairy producers inseminate cows just a few months after her previous birth, guaranteeing minimal time between pregnancies. When cows produce milk for longer than one year, their immune systems are compromised and milk quality is diminished.
Not only is this uncomfortable for the cow, it increases pregnancy-triggered estrogens in the milk supply. Estrogens can fuel tumor growth.
The number of dairy cows in the U.S. decreased from 18 million to 9 million between 1960 and 2005. Total milk production increased from 120 billion to 177 billion pounds during the same period. This is due to strategic breeding and pharmaceutical aid.”
|Life of a cow (1850)||Life of a cow (2005)|
|Grazed on pastures
Produced 56 pounds of milk/day
Milked for 6 weeks after birth
336 pounds of milk per year
Milk = $5/gallon
Life span of 20 years before dying of natural causes
|Raised in confined feedlot with grains
Produced 67 pounds of milk/day
Milked for 10 months after birth (and during subsequent pregnancies)
20,000 pounds of milk per year
Milk = $3/gallon
Life span of 3-4 years before being sent to the slaughterhouse. “Spent” dairy cows are used for the cheapest forms of beef.
Those are some scary numbers right there. So not only do we have the fact that pasteurization sucks, the artificial diet makes the cows sick so they are stuffed with antibiotics, they are kept pregnant practically year-round which reduces immunity and milk quality, and the cows are practically milked to death; this whole systems is pumping cancer-causing estrogens into us and our food supply? And we recommend giving this food and its hormones to our developing kids?
There have been a few new studies looking at the estrogens in milk, and it is scary stuff. These estrogens can fuel the growth of many tumors and are linked to prostate, breast and ovarian cancer. The hormones come along with the fat in dairy, so one would assume that fat-free or skim would the way to go. The problem with that assumption is that there is one of the most biologically active and dangerous estrogen metabolites is found in the highest concentrations in skim milk. Not good. Whole milk also had the lowest total amount of estrogens. Not only that, but in large-scale epidemiological studies low-fat milk and dairy was associated with larger waist circumference, while whole fat dairy was associated with smaller waist circumference. We know that waist circumference, more specifically visceral fat, is associated with many health problems, so keeping a smaller waist circumference is essential to good health.
While many people also believe that since milk is a great source of calcium, it is therefore imperative for optimal bone health. This unfortunately is highly suspect.
“In many parts of the world cow’s milk is a negligible part of the diet, and yet, diseases associated with lack of calcium (e.g., osteoporosis, fracture) are uncommon.
In fact, data suggests that calcium rich dairy foods actually increase calcium losses from the body. How much calcium we get from the diet really isn’t that important, rather, what matters is how much we retain in the body. Populations consuming the most dairy have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life. While cow’s milk can be high in certain nutrients, it’s difficult to argue that it is “essential” for optimal health.
While kids believe drinking milk is the key to bone health, scientific reviews acknowledge the following:
“Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization.” (Lanou 2006)”
It certainly makes me wonder. In case you were wondering about the connection between the calcium in dairy and weight loss, I am calling bullshit on it. There have been over 35 clinical trials since 1989 looking at the relationship between dairy and weight loss, and only 4 have shown a connection. Oddly enough all four of those studies were conducted by the same guy, Michael Zemel. Think he might be a stooge?
Moving on, there has also been some talk about casein, a protein found in dairy, linked to different forms of cancer, with strong associations for lymphoma, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. Considering all the milk and cottage cheese I have consumed over the years, this concerns me greatly. For those of you who put cottage cheese in their protein smoothies or consume it at night before bed, just switch to Greek yogurt which is also a rich source of casein, it is a much healthier alternative which I will cover in a second.
This casein-cancer connection is worrisome, especially since it is also known that consuming whey in conjunction with casein is superior for increasing muscle protein synthesis, decreasing muscle protein breakdown, recovery and muscular growth. The lactic acid bacteria in the yogurt seems to prevent the casein-cancer connection, as well as providing plenty of other cancer-preventing benefits. Also of note, it has been shown that the whey protein in dairy (whey makes up 20% of the dairy protein, casein is 80%) can also prevent the casein-cancer link.
One more knock against casein is its prevention of the health benefits of green tea. When milk is poured into green tea, the caseins bind to the catechins in the tea, and prevent them from exerting their health-promoting benefits.
After all of this, I didn’t even get into the fact that approximately 75% of adults are lactose-intolerant to some degree or another. Some people will make other claims about the negatives of dairy and wander into a fantasy world of negatives that have little to no evidential support.
To wrap up, this is why the majority of my dairy consumption has been cut back. I do still consume 16oz of Greek yogurt everyday, as it does provide high quality protein, inhibits the casein-cancer connection, and provides plenty of probiotic cultures that seem to have a cancer-preventing effect. I also still consume pastured butter for it is a fine source of many great nutrients including CLA, omega-3′s, the fat soluble vitamins especially D and K (specifically K2 MK-4) as well as butyric acid. I do have some cheese from time to time, but it is not common.
That about wraps it up for today, I hope I clarified a few of the reasons why I have begun to lean away from dairy.
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