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Milk was in the news last week, following an opinion piece by well respected cookbook author and journalist Mark Bittman. Got Milk? Don’t Need It generated a lively discussion on the interwebs, and we thought we’d chime in with some of our thoughts as well.
1. Milk Allergy: Bittman recently stopped drinking milk and eating any dairy products because of a health problem he has had for years. Overnight his symptoms disappeared. Bittman concludes that everyone should follow course.
Our take: Lactose intolerance does affect certain ethnic groups and populations, but many Americans don’t have any problem breaking down dairy in the body. Statistics based on N=1 (me, you, your aunt, her neighbor, etc…) are meaningless.
2. Saturated Fat: Dairy is a major source of saturated fat, which should be limited. Hence we should not consume as many milk products as we do, especially cheese.
Our take: The same can be said of meat products as well. When it comes to milk and yogurt, we recommend low or non fat products. As for cheese, it should be consumed as a condiment. Buy the good stuff.
3. Factory Farms: Dairy cows are treated poorly says Bittman, so we shouldn’t be a part of that.
Our take: True. The entire food chain in modern society is not geared for animal welfare. So potentially any animal product is going to come from a mistreated being. If this is a concern to you, opt for organic milk or products from small local farms. Of course there is the growing vegetarian and vegan trend. If you don’t want to fully commit, you can try going plant based just one or two days a week.
4. Calcium and Vitamin D Scaremongering: The dairy industry claims dairy is a must because of our calcium and vitamin D needs. Without them, we’d all be developing osteoporosis and breaking bones. Bittman: “the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine.”
Our take: Milk is definitely not the only source of calcium in a diet, and vitamin D is actually added to milk, not naturally present. Sunshine is not always available, so some people may need to supplement vitamin D, or eat certain types of seafood. There are entire countries where dairy is not a part of the culture and people seem to have strong bones. The calcium argument may not be as strong as the milk industry would like us to believe.
Bottom line: Milk and dairy products have been a part of human diets for generations. They obviously work at sustaining entire populations. But a large portion of humanity never consumed milk or dairy products and somehow managed to thrive. Each family needs to figure out for itself if dairy does it good or not. The nutrients from milk are available elsewhere.