I was poking around the library the other day when I came across a milk documentary. How I had not heard of this, I have no idea. It’s no secret that I am anti-dairy, so I borrowed it, watched it and loved it! I have my list of favorite food/nutrition/health documentaries that I think everybody should see including: Super Size Me, Forks over Knives, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, King Corn, and Food, Inc. And now…. Got the Facts on Milk?
You may believe you have the facts on milk but there’s a good chance you don’t. If you are interested in learning the truth about milk, please watch this movie! The filmmakers interview several experts– doctors, scientists and researchers– as well as everyday Americans as they take a road trip across the country from LA to the USDA in Washington DC. In the film, the producers ask the public if they drink milk. Most say yes– “it does a body good”– “it’s healthy”– “it gives you strong bones and teeth.” When questioned about where they got their information that dairy is healthy most replied from TV or that they were always told it was healthy. Billboards, magazine ads, commercials, posters in schools and of course mom. Hmmm. You know what?– We have been duped. We’ve been given an iconic image of milk mainly from the media and celebrities; we were not given the truth.
I’ll give a recap of a few bits of the movie that I think you’ll find interesting (yes, I took notes for you!):
One major role of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) is to protect the dairy industry. The USDA is also responsible for publishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that tell us what to eat. You would think/hope that these guidelines would be geared towards keeping us healthy. In reality they are promoting agricultural products, even the unhealthy ones. The USDA has incredibly strong financial ties to the meat, dairy and egg industries. Can you see a major conflict of interest here? For more in-depth information on this fascinating issue I recommend reading Food Politics by Marion Nestle. Awesome book!
Cow’s milk is one of the most common allergens. 75% of the world’s population cannot digest milk. The reason many of us can is due to a genetic mutation. 85% of caucasions can digest milk but most other races cannot. Humans stop producing the enzyme lactase to digest lactose (milk sugar) after a few years of age for a specific reason. This is a sign that it’s time to wean. But what do we do? We continue to drink milk, eat cheese, butter and ice cream and then wonder why our stomach hurts and we get diarrhea. It’s unfortunate that people who are lactose intolerant are made to feel that there is something wrong with them, when in fact this is normal.
What about the cows? How is it that cows give milk constantly? They are kept pregnant which makes them lactate. This milk is obviously produced to feed their babies but sadly this doesn’t happen. The calves are immediately separated from their mothers. Instead they are fed unsellable milk that has high levels of infection. Male babies are sent to be raised for veal and females are destined to become dairy cows. Neither is a pleasant life. This film spares you the horrible treatment of cows, but look into it if you care to. If you have a pet dog or cat and wouldn’t dream of doing to them what is done to farm animals then you should be outraged at the dairy, meat, and egg industries.
The doctors in the movie have some pretty strong opinions on milk. I say good for them for standing up and speaking out. Dr. McDougall says that if he had one powerful message to give, it would be to get off dairy. This will improve your health more than giving up meat. He says to think of dairy as liquid meat with essentially the same macronutrient profile– similar proportions of fats, cholesterol, protein, lack of fiber– but linked to additional health problems like allergies, autoimmune diseases and type 1 diabetes. What we have all been told about milk is nothing short of deception. Our children, families and loved ones are being hurt by this dishonesty.
Cancer. Dr. Colin Campbell talked a bit about this. He researched the topic of animal protein and cancer for 27 years. You may have heard of The China Study. His conclusion– without a doubt, animal proteins (including cows milk) increase risk of cancer. He has even been able to turn on and off cancer development by giving or taking away cows milk protein. Think about it… milk is designed to make things grow. It’s what calves drink to quickly grow into huge mammals. We don’t need this as adults because we are done growing– yet the milk makes our bodies think that something needs to grow. Milk has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and raised levels of IGF1 which increases risk of breast cancer. In a comparison between levels of dairy consumption and cancer in different countries, statistics show that deaths from cancer correlate with amounts of dairy eaten. Countries with no to low dairy consumption didn’t make it to the top 20 cancer list.
So, what is the big deal with milk? Calcium. Of course we all need this mineral but there are better ways to get it than from dairy. Don’t automatically assume that because dairy contains the most therefore we need to eat it. The research tells us otherwise. The countries that have the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Yes, that is the opposite of what you would think, right? Dairy is high in animal protein–> a negative calcium balance in your body–> osteoporosis. Animal protein contributes to calcium loss. Animal protein causes your blood to become acidic, calcium is pulled from your bones to neutralize this, and it’s excreted in urine. The message that milk builds strong bones is a myth. I agree with this 100%. Cutting out dairy over 12 years ago you can bet I was concerned about the whole calcium and bones thing. One of my research projects at URI was on dairy and bone health where I looked at the science and studies on dairy’s relationship with osteoporosis. What I found solidified my decision to be dairy-free. For a great explanation about dairy and bone health, take a peek at the Harvard School of Public Health‘s information on milk.
People are not adequately informed about what they can do when they are sick. Instead they are given drugs. Drugs are basically giving you permission to continue to eat the same things that caused the problem in the first place. What else would you expect other than for the underlying disease to continue to get worse unless you make changes? No education is given for the possibility to reverse disease and live longer. Hello health care crisis.
The producers finally arrive at the USDA and interview an RD for the dairy council. She gives us the usual line that milk is a package of nutrients needed for good health. It gets somewhat amusing as they make her look a little ridiculous, obviously to drive their message home hard. This USDA dietitian reminded me a lot of the dairy council representative who visited us during my dietetic internship. And now, as if this post isn’t already long enough, I’d like to further entertain you with an excerpt from my ‘Diary of a Mad Dietetic Intern’ journal, soon to be on the bestseller list:
It was a long and draining day. The morning was a presentation by XXX from the National Dairy Council and the afternoon was a presentation by XXX, a sales rep of enteral formulas and supplemental formulas like Ensure for Abbott. Both presentations were annoying to me because of the short-sightedness and very different perspectives that these women have from me. Yet, I was still very interested, open-minded and attentive because I feel a need to know what is going on in the world of nutrition advice and “professionals.” I learned a few things too. Milk is being switched to plastic bottles from paper cartons because it has been shown that kids will drink more that way. The National Dairy Council is heavily involved in working with schools– kids drink a lot of milk in schools. The idea is to make it “cool” so they will drink it and to promote flavored milk– the “small” amount of sugar added is not significant as it is still a nutrient rich drink. Free “Wellness Activation” kits are provided to schools, which promote milk. XXX stated “If they’re not getting calcium now, they’re going to break bones later.” This kind of thinking and teaching enrages me. It’s just not true. One of their goals is to increase the number of health professionals that recommend three servings of dairy each day. She listed the health benefits of dairy as the following: bone health, overall diet quality, BP/DASH, unique nutrient packaging and “emerging benefits.” She also discussed the lactose intolerance issue and ways to overcome this “barrier” such as lactose free milk, yogurt with active cultures, and hard cheeses which are naturally low in lactose. Whereas my thoughts are…if they are lactose intolerant, instead of making them feel like something is wrong with them and they are defective, why not encourage them to eat healthy foods instead of dairy and don’t scare them into believing that they need to eat dairy! Lactose intolerance statistics are as follows: Caucasian 15%, Mexican American 53%, Native American 62-100%, African-American 80%, and Asian American 90%. Now to me, nature is telling us that our bodies are not meant to digest this food. We are weaned after a couple of years of age and there is no reason that anyone should believe that it is necessary to consume another mammals mammary secretions. The Dairy Council also works with and educates WIC, which serves 45% of all infants born in the US. “Maximizing dairy” is the goal here and for soy to be used the child needs a doctor’s note and it must be fortified. So, I ask why is there no RDA for calcium if it so very crucial to our health? There’s not? she says. No, there is an AI but no RDA, why is that? She doesn’t know. She just knows that the recommendation is 1000mg, blah, blah, blah, etc. I say it’s because to have an RDA for a nutrient there must be adequate scientific evidence to support it and that does not exist. I ask her if she thinks the high recommendation of 1000mg/day is specifically tailored to the typical American who eats a poor diet, high in sodium, high in animal protein, doesn’t exercise, smokes, etc and she says no, she thinks that we all need that amount of calcium. Well, what about the World Health Organization’s recommendation of only 500mg or other countries who eat much less calcium and don’t have the osteoporosis rates that we do. She hadn’t known about the World Health Organization’s number and didn’t know the answer to the other question. Obviously she herself had been brainwashed by the company she works for. I mentioned how I felt the recommendation is so high and vegans or other people who don’t eat dairy can have a difficult time achieving the 1000mg from plant foods and does she think if a vegan has a healthy lifestyle and diet do they need to still aim for that high level of calcium. Yes, she says, and they can supplement with vitamins but that is not as good. She also kept mentioning how milk as a “whole package” is so nutritious– but everything else in milk can easily be found in other foods- it’s just the amount of calcium I question- which further leads me to question the current AI. Then ZZZZ starts in talking about Skinny Bitch and how they say milk is so bad for you and they both laugh and say how they hate how these people with no credentials can write these things and how they don’t know any healthy vegans that get all the nutrients they need. So, I raise my hand and say that I get more nutrients than probably 95% of Americans. I say that the way I see milk is that it is not a horrible food that you must avoid but that it is also not this wonderful health food either. Sure, it’s better than a soda but it’s just not necessary. No one there seems to feel like I do; I just have to remember that there are plenty of other people who see it too. It’s frustrating feeling like I am the only sane person in a room full of crazy people and I wonder if it’s the other way around or what. Chris says it’s because I question what I’m told or taught and most everyone else just believes that what they are told is automatically true. Or they see clever dairy marketing on television and say, oh it’s on TV so it must be true, or, the government has our health in their best interest so they wouldn’t allow anything bad.
There is so much more that the movie touches upon… issues of hormones, methane gas and the environment, deforestation to create pasture for cattle, milk derivatives added to food products and the fact that the various food assistance programs like WIC, schools and prisons are really just dumping grounds for agricultural commodities. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to educate yourself. I’m not here to say you should give up dairy, but the more you know and understand, the more power you have to change your life. Think for yourself, never stop questioning and use what you learn to make informed decisions.
Did you watch this documentary? What did you think of it?