The Skinny on Milk. Is Milk a ‘Health’ Food?

milkI was recently on a Facebook page for Personal Fitness Trainers and the question came up “What are your REAL THOUGHTS about MILK?” and it turned into a slugging match, which eventually lead into name calling and character assassination. It is a very emotional subject as nutritional preferences are closely linked to core beliefs, personal identity, and group identity (which ‘group’ you belong to).

Back in 1999 my beliefs were challenged in relation to dairy food (and pretty much all nutrition) which sort of set me on a course of exploration. The dairy industry is a billion dollar industry globally, so there are not only beliefs caught up in it, but future bucket-loads of cash. So what follows are my thoughts and findings in relation to dairy (milk) based on what I have read, experienced and thought about over the years.

The ‘packaging’ is all-important

One of the greatest formula’s for health I have found in the last 10 years is Dr Joel Fuhrman’s which says H=N/C. Where H is health, N is Nutrients, and C is Calories. Essentially what he is saying is that our health is directly related to how many nutrients we get for the calories consumed. When choosing food, we want more nutrients (especially micro-nutrients) and less calories. I have also read a number of studies that suggest that calorie restriction (with adequate nutrient intake) can prolong life in both animals and humans.

So when we look at foods, we need to consider all the nutrients we will ingest, as opposed to just individual nutrients that we have been told are good for us. This is what I call the ‘packaging’. It is like having a raw organic nut in the middle of a cup of fat (lard) and calling the whole thing a health food – because of the nut. I don’t know about you, but I think I will definitely pass on that ‘treat’!

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

CHD is one of the top 3 causes of death in the western world (number 1 in the USA), and is generally caused by plaque building up on the insides of the coronary arteries. The plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and calcium, plus other minor substances (according to the Dept of Health & Human Services, USA).

“It may be years before we understand each step and every nuance of the process by which dietary fat and cholesterol destroy coronary arteries. But we are well aware of the general outlines. Simply stated, just as you need stone to build a stone wall, you need a specific level of fat and cholesterol in your bloodstream to narrow and clog your arteries with atherosclerosis.” Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D.

Hmmm…where is this leading, you may ask?

Calcium

“Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. It is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, and that’s where about 99% of the body’s calcium is found. Calcium also helps the heart, nerves, muscles, and other body systems work properly.” As stated by the University of Maryland Medical Center. As stated by me – calcium is very important for the human body.

Sources of Calcium include: dairy products, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, black beans, and green leafy vegetables (to name but a few). There is some conflicting information about the absorption ability of calcium from the various sources. I am not going down that rocky road in this article.

There are a number of foods that can ‘leach’ calcium from the body if consumed to excess. The main ones are caffeine, protein and salt (plus tobacco).

Protein

This is a pretty sticky subject as well. How much protein do we need? I have read references to Worlds Health Organization daily recommended allowance quoting anything from 6% to 9%. U.S. Food and Nutrition Board’s recommended daily
allowance is 6%. A typical western diet consumes about double the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).

All animal protein (that includes Dairy) are acidic. Milk has a pH of 6.5 to 6.7. which makes it acidic (less than a pH of 7, which is neutral). The ideal pH for the body (for survival) is 7.36. The body requires a predominately alkaline diet to maintain the correct internal pH, and to protect against disease.

Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients are plant chemicals that contain protective, disease-preventing, compounds. Their role in plants is to protect plants from disease, injuries, insects, drought, excessive heat, ultraviolet rays, and poisons or pollutants in the air or soil. They form part of the plants immune system. Although they are not yet classified as nutrients (because science is still playing catch-up in figuring out the roles of the 10,000 or so variants), there is mounting evidence that they have disease prevention qualities for humans.

“On the cusp of the millennium, researchers are busily uncovering a host of beneficial compounds in plant foods. While these phytonutrients aren’t essential by traditional definitions, they apparently reduce risks of diseases of aging. For example, the isoflavones in soy products may reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer. Certain flavonoids in blueberries may actually reverse nerve cell aging. And a wide array of compounds in fruits and vegetables may protect cell components against oxidative damage as well as vitamins C or E.” USDA website.

Phytonutrients are believed to encourage disease prevention and are only contained in plants.

Back to ‘packaging’

It is clear that calcium is an important nutrient for the body. There are a number of sources of calcium. Saturated fat and cholesterol are principle players in the forming of plaque that can lead to CHD. So the ideal calcium (and protein) source for the body is one that has the most amount of micro nutrients and least amount of calories.

The packaging of milk:

  1. Calcium
  2. Protein
  3. Saturated fats
  4. Cholesterol
  5. Vitamin D (added)
  6. Acidic
  7. Relatively high calories (125 – 200 calories per cup)

The packaging of an alternative source of calcium (and protein): Spinach (raw)

  1. Calcium (less than milk)
  2. Protein (30% protein)
  3. No saturated fat
  4. No cholesterol
  5. Phytonutrients
  6. Alkaline
  7. Very low calories (7 calories per cup)

In Summary

When selecting any foods, it is important to look at the whole picture, which definitely includes the packaging around the nutrient or nutrients that you are focusing on. Milk tastes yummy. It is also very convenient. But does it come with the best, healthiest and nutrient rich packaging? Or, are there better sources of calcium and protein, that have less fat, cholesterol and have a lot more micronutrients?

I enjoy the taste of chocolates, cakes, cookies, tarts, yoghurt, and cheese. But I do not tell myself, nor do I feel at the time, that I am eating a ‘health’ product. Those feelings are reserved for when I am eating organic fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds and drinking my favourite drink – H2O!

Did you know that 2% milk is actually 35% fat (that is 35% of the calories are derived from fat)? Don’t get me started on food lying. Oops. I meant food labeling.

 

Bibliography:

Diet for a Small Planet‘ by Frances Moore Lappe (the first book that challenged my beliefs on food back in 1999)

The China Study‘ by Dr Colin T. Campbell

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease‘ by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D.

Healthy at 100‘ by John Robbins (son of Irvine Robbins from Baskin-Robbins)

Dare to be 100‘ by Walter M. Bortz II, M.D.

The Engine 2 Diet‘ by Rip Esselstyn (son of Dr Esselstyn)

The RAVE Diet‘ by Mike Anderson

Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes‘ by Dr. Neal Barnard

Clean‘ by Dr. Alejandro Junger

Eat to Live‘ by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Why does calcium leave our Bones from drinking Calcium Rich Milk?’ by Robert Cohen – LINK

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