You have probably asked someone (a Dr. or Nutritionist or maybe your health savvy friend) about whether you should be cutting dairy and trying one of those crazy nut milks that are all the craze these days.
Or maybe you are like I was and not thinking about that AT ALL. Maybe you still think dairy is a 100% necessary part of a healthy diet and you feel badly for all those lactose intolerants out there; If that's the case-STOP!
Before I can really get into it, you have to change your perspective a little bit on 'healthy eating', the Food Guide and where it all comes from.
If you are like me back in my innocent and carefree food days, you probably think that the Food Guide is brought to you by a group of super passionate doctors and health care experts that have one thing in mind-the best possible health for all Canadians. I was seriously shocked to learn that this wasn't the case at all. The Food Guide is actually BIG business. In fact, 25% of the Food Guide Advisory Council who put out the 2007 version of Canada's Food Guide were employed by big food corporations such as the Dairy Council-say WHAT!
Since milk (dairy in general) is BIG business and someone employed by The Dairy Council had a direct say in the Food Guide, is it really shocking that dairy is classified as a food group? I mean really-is dairy a food group or a food that fits into a group? Yes, we need calcium, and yes some calcium is found in dairy, but calcium is also found in spinach, collard greens, almonds...the list goes on. I mean think about that, if we continue this logic that a single type of food contributes wholly to a nutrient in our diets and should be a group, than oranges could be a food group too-providing us with essential Vitamin C. Sadly orange farmers were not a part of the council, so oranges stay relegated to a larger grouping of fruits and vegetables-which makes sense (a food within a group NOT a food AS a group).
The Food Guide has many things wrong with it, which is not the point of this article, but I think the biggest challenge is the groupings. Let's look at changing the food groups and see if these make more sense (and if they devalue the importance of dairy). Currently, the food groups are fruits & vegetables, grains, meat & alternatives and dairy & alternatives. In this case we are looking at the food groups covering 2 of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates and protein-we are missing fat) as well as one random micronutrient (calcium).
Lets now relabel the categories as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats & protein. These are the categories we would have if business had no say in our nutritional recommendations.
Meat isn't the only source of protein and isn't even arguable the best source (vegetarians do just fine without it sooooo probably not necessary right?) and healthy fats are completely essential to our survival. Seriously-they make up our brain, our hormones and the walls of every single cell within our bodies.
Fruits, vegetables and grains make up the healthy carbohydrates we need to manufacture energy. So in this case, we are looking at the groups making up the main macronutrients we need to ingest (carbs, protein and fat) and trusting that a variety of whole food sources will provide the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals such as calcium) that we require.
So, looking at these, does any one food seem completely necessary? Of course not! All foods have a mix of macronutrients and micronutrients which place them into the above categories. Some foods are better sources than others of different necessary nutrients but there are alternatives all across tho board.
In truth it is estimated that about 75% of the world's population loses the ability to digest lactose after weaning. Now, is it just me or does it make no evolutionary sense that a food 'essential' to our survival is undigestable by the vast majority of us? No! Of course that makes no sense! And if we stop looking at the traditional food groups and start categorizing food as suggested then it becomes a whole lot easier to think of dairy as just another food option and by no means an essential one.
You have to remember that the Dairy Council is a marketing group-not a health care group-and the primary goal is selling milk and generating profits. Somewhere way back when, in the Mad Men era most likely, some brilliant Don Draper came up with the idea to convince us that milk was crucial to human health. They lobbied and lobbied and spent big big money to make sure that when food guides were published, dairy became it's own food group!
Just as the early cigarette advertisements claiming health benefits make no sense to us today, I predict that future generations will shake their heads at how we could believe this dairy marketing. The Dairy Council(s) have a product and the potential for big money in marketing that product so market it they do! As does Coca-Cola and Smirnoff.....you get the picture. And good for them-they rock at their jobs!
WE need to rock at being savvy consumers and able to see through all the marketing. We should be getting better at differentiating between advertising and health, but it's so darn hard and there is conflicting information EVERYWHERE. And when that bias goes back generations AND is propagated through trusted sources such as Dr.'s and governing bodies who may be drinking the kool aid or just receiving a kick back.....it becomes even harder.
Okay, I feel like I've given you enough information to MAYBE start questioning the merit of dairy as an actual recommended food group, and that's my goal.
Question it! Take the facts and make an educated decision!
We've all heard the hyped up arguments to avoid dairy, like no other animals drink the milk of another; or that we are not baby cows. I am not going to compare the profiles of breast milk and cow milk (although you should look into it because its very interesting).
I am going to throw a fact at you. Osteoporosis is more frequent in countries where milk is consumed than in countries where milk is not. Boom. Mic drop. Re-read that sentence. Yes, this is a fact, not an opinion or skewed research. Clearly, there is more to bone strength than calcium.
If you dig a little deeper into the research out there it appears that animal protein is the limiting factor in bone loss. You see calcium is constantly leaching out of and reabsorbing into our bones depending on the need for it in the blood. Animal protein is very acidic (and yes milk does indeed contain animal protein) and taking in large amounts pulls more calcium out of the bones. Research supports this.
Bone loss rates are consistently higher in meat eating populations vs vegetarian populations. Some indigenous groups with the lowest bone loss rates consume the lowest calcium, but also the lowest meat. Conversely, meat eating populations who consume the highest calcium tend to have the highest rates of bone loss.
This is basically a really long winded way for me to tell you that calcium from milk may actually cause calcium to leach OUT of our bones as opposed to strengthening them. Now, the research isn't conclusive, but to me there is more than enough out there telling me I definitely don't NEED milk and enough telling me I don't WANT milk.
Yes-I don't do dairy. I also don't think it's poison and I don't judge if dairy is your cup of tea. However, know this: as a Holistic Nutritionist with many years of schooling and many hours of research, I can definitively tell you that you don't need it.
Dairy really isn't doing anything special for you and excess amounts are probably contributing to negative effects in your body. Try removing it and see what changes for you health wise. Many people find their health improves immensely without dairy, which has been implicated in colic, excess mucous, inflammation, skin disorders such as eczema and many other common health complaints. Side note: if you do decide to try cutting dairy, cut it for at least two weeks to see real changes. If you feel worse right away and then feel better that is a SURE sign dairy is not your BFF.
If you need a milk replacement, try almond milk which is my personal fave-and no I don't mean the sweetened version, I mean plain unsweetened or homemade (if you are a kitchen star). Cashew milk is also extremely delicious and an easy substitute. Be wary of frequent soy milk as it can be a hormone disrupter, and coconut milk has a much higher content of saturated fat so it may not be your best daily choice either.
If you feel like drinking milk after all this information overload by all means drink it, but know that you aren't doing anything exceptionally healthy for your body. Oh-and look into the dairy industry as a whole and their treatment of cattle, which is an entirely different posting. Choose organic grass fed milk where the cows actually live a decent life. The omega 3 content of grass fed cow milk has been shown to be higher-and you aren't unwittingly treating yourself to an unnecessary round of antibiotics and contributing to potential antibiotic resistance which is a terrifying reality. If you are in the United States you are also saving yourself from the extra dose of hormones and the resulting Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which has potential to increase the growth rate of tumours! Fun!
SOOOOO that's it! That's dairy in a nutshell. Did I miss anything? Do you LOVE dairy? Hate it? Do you have a fave nut milk recipe? Let me know in a comment!
Until next time,