Does milk really do a body good?

We’ve grown up being told to drink milk for strong, healthy bones.

We’ve grown up being told to drink milk for strong, healthy bones. We’ve been taught in school from a very early age and it’s clearly shown in the Canada food guide — drink milk every day. Experts have told us for years and celebrities have been flaunting their milk mustaches in magazine ads and on tv — so who would ever think to question it?

Well … don’t mind if I do. It’s interesting to note first off that the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world are found in the highest dairy consuming countries. Weird. I thought milk was supposed to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis?

Perhaps we need to dig a little deeper.

When we were babies we drank milk from our mothers for the purpose of sustenance, of course. Mother’s milk is considered nature’s perfect food, full of enzymes, proteins and fats that are essential to development. But once able to consume actual food, all other species wean themselves from their mothers and begin to drink water. Except humans. We decide to drink the milk from another animal — a cow. A little weird when you think about it. Especially when you look at the macronutrient comparison. See, cow’s milk has three times the protein, half the carbohydrates, and almost four times the calcium of human milk. It’s completely appropriate to develop a small calf into a cow. But we’re not cows.

According to Marta D. Van Loan with the USDA-ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, consuming animal proteins can create a “temporary acid overload — called acidosis” in our blood. Our bodies, being the ingenious machines that they are, will always strive to get back to the natural pH level by buffering those acids with alkaline minerals — one being calcium phosphate, which is easily pulled from the bones if necessary.

A further study comparing vegans with omnivores demonstrated something unexpected. “Bone formation was significantly less in omnivore women than in vegan women. This happened even though the omnivore women had a higher calcium intake than did the vegan volunteers.”

So is it possible that all the calcium we believe we are getting from cow’s milk is actually being used to buffer milk’s acidifying effect due to its high protein content?

A recent Harvard study demonstrated that milk is not the best source of calcium and therefore it is no longer shown on their Healthy Eating Plate pie chart, which only includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein. They say, “Dairy products can be high in saturated fat as well as retinol (vitamin A), which at high levels can paradoxically weaken bones.” Further to that, it states that consumption of dairy can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. Wow — that doesn’t sound like anything they taught in Grade 3 health class.

Not to mention the speculation about the hormones in milk having a connection to the early onset of puberty in our younger generations. Milk can have antibiotics, hormones and the potential for pesticides. If drinking milk … know your source.

In the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, cows’ milk in the mothers diet while breast-feeding “showed a high correlation between infantile colic” in a double blind crossover study. Eliminating dairy products has also been known to help with acne, asthma, chronic sinus conditions and children with ear infections, as it is an inflammatory substance. A 30-day elimination trial is a simple test.

But how do you get your calcium?

According to Human Nutrition, USDA Handbook No. 8, cow’s milk has 118 mg of calcium per 100 grams (3 ½ oz), kelp has 1093mg of calcium per 100 grams (3 ½ ounces), collards (boiled and drained) are 188. Almonds are 254. Answer — lots of ways.

But what about that milkiness for my smoothies or baking? I recommend almond milk all the way. Put it in your tea, your baking and your smoothies. It’s usually a perfect one-to-one substitute for any milk.

Personally, I enjoy organic yogurts, the odd cream in my chai, and I don’t know if I’ll ever refuse a good cheese. I have nothing against dairy farmers and believe a good source of dairy can be beneficial in some cases.

But as for drinking milk, maybe leave that one for the calves.

Kristin Fraser, BSc, is a registered holistic nutritionist and local freelance writer. Her column appears every second Wednesday. She can be reached at kristin@somethingtochewon.ca.

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