The great milk debate
Back in November I had lunch with one of my colleagues. Like in any industry, we gushed with excitement at new research and developments, shared the challenges facing each of us in our business, and swapped pet peeves that only someone else doing the same job as you would understand. It went something like this:
Me: “Or how about when you tell someone that dairy isn’t a required component of their diet…?”
Colleague: “YESSSSS!!! How do you DEAL with that? It’s like suddenly I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about and as a result, they’re never going to work with me!”
This is true: our country has been led to believe that milk is a critical component of our diet as a source of calcium if not protein. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Those stories started in the 1940s when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA–a government agency) was helping the dairy industry and trying to promote it’s business because new technology made it possible for bulk milk production. The USDA’s job has never been nutrition–it’s been about promoting agricultural business. In fact, their mission statement (from their website) is:
the best available science, and efficient management.”
Their vision statement (also from their website) is:
Please understand that “food” and “nutrition” are not the same thing. Food is what we eat or have available to eat. Nutrition deals with what foods are necessary for health. They are related, but not the same. “Nutrition appears nowhere in this organizations mission or vision. And that wouldn’t be a problem, but they are doling out nutrition information.
In fact, Harvard School of Public Health was so disgusted by the USDA’s guidelines that they published their own version “Healthy Eating Plate” and then wrote up a side by side comparison noting the pitfalls of the USDA MyPlate model, and noting that the Harvard version “is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.” The Harvard version does not include dairy at all and notes that the health risks far outweigh the benefits.
Last, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine made an equally strong statement against dairy in the diet citing multiple health concerns including cardiovascular disease, increased incidence of obesity and diabetes, contaminants in the milk, and a strong lack of research showing any benefit for osteoporosis prevention or Vitamin D supplementation. They also note a strong link to breast and prostate cancers (this is a topic that I personally am reviewing the data for as I see potential for rBGH to be the problem as opposed to dairy on it’s own; but there is logic for it being the milk alone).
The Weston A. Price Foundation are adamant defenders of raw milk as the best possible thing to drink. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because the works of Dr. Price had little to do with promoting raw milk and everything to do with demonstrating that native diets (which were always local, in-season, fresh, unprocessed foods often with a limited variety of local ingredients but varied wildly across the continents in terms of ingredients available to the local natives) consistently resulted in optimal health that was evident even in facial bone structure such that there was no need for the braces children often need today. In many of the native cultures he studied and observed, there was no animal milk (although the ones that had it DID drink it raw).
We have built a nation of eating habits based on old, out-dated and well-meaning but inaccurate information. Change comes slowly. If you’d like to review your family’s eating habits to see if there are places where it could be better, please feel free to contact me.