Day 29 dairy-free. Do we need milk?

I only have one day left to my dairy free challenge. Since it’s soon coming to an end and I’ll be able to eat whatever I want again I have to decide just what I want to consume. I was having a discussion with my boyfriend the other night about all the negatives of milk consumption, the environmental impact of the industry, how we obviously did not evolve to drink the milk from another species, how many people are lactose intolerant, how many milk products are high in fat and calories per serving. So why are we being told we need to drink milk, lots of milk, at least 2 glasses of milk per day. Why? Because it’s good for your bones! Duh! Everyone knows how great milk is at preventing osteoporosis and maintaining bone health, such a well-known fact should clearly be well documented right? There should be lots of long-term studies evaluating the effects of drinking milk and the risk of osteoporosis.

I decided I needed to do some investigating myself. You can read online articles all day on either side of the milk debate and come away from it very confused so I needed to go straight to the source. Not having any access to online journals Google scholar would have to do for now. A simple search of “drinking milk and osteoporosis” came up with many journal articles. There are a few short-term studies where bone density does increase with an increase in milk/calcium consumption but does this calcium build up last long term and can’t we get the same benefits from non-dairy calcium intake? One of the first articles I select is titled “Milk, Dietary Calcium, and Bone Fractures in Women: A 12-Year Prospective Study”.  Perfect, just what I’m looking for, and what were the results? They found no evidence that increased milk consumption or dietary calcium reduced risk of fractures. In fact their results revealed that women who consumed more calcium from dairy products had an increased risk of hip fracture whereas women with the same intake of non-dairy calcium did not display this increased risk. They propose that the animal protein found in milk may be accountable for this increase in fractures. The study involved 77, 761 female participants from the United States therefore adequately applicable to the average North American woman.

This study also proposed that dietary vitamin D may be more effective at preventing bone loss than calcium on it’s own. I decided to look into this too.  The first article I read also found no association between a high calcium or high milk diet and reduction in risk of hip fracture. Yet they did find a positive correlation between increased vitamin D intake and reduced risk. Obviously I have not taken the time to do an exhaustive detailed evaluation of many academic articles but at first glance what I have found aligns to what my instincts are telling me. That there is no good reason to drink milk; we do not need it in our diet. In fact other sources of calcium may be better for you and don’t contain the added fat and sugar. As long as you’re getting enough dietary calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients (which most vegetables/legumes are full of) there is no reason consume dairy products. Except for the fact that cheese/yogurt/ice cream are delicious!

This issue is important to me for many reasons, but mainly, I don’t like to feel lied to. I’ve been told my entire life that milk is great for you. I’ve watched all the commercials on TV with athletes donning milk moustaches. It’s almost as though the industry uses scare tactics, as well, as a form of promotion.. If you don’t consume enough milk your bones will become brittle and break, period. As soon as you tell someone you’ve cut out dairy, or no longer want to drink milk the first thing they say is “how will you get enough calcium?!” I usually like to respond “from the same place the cows are getting all this calcium, from plants.” This is much like the misbelief that you can’t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet and makes me very angry that we’ve been fed all this propaganda from the meat and dairy industry. An industry, which promotes increased consumption of their products while abusing animals and the environment to meet consumer demand. It also makes me angry that our governments are advocating supporting this system when there are much better alternatives.

As my 30-day dairy free challenge comes to an end I have a lot to think about. As much as I don’t think dairy is superfood I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating some cheese, yogurt or ice cream now and then from a dietary perspective. However from an environmental aspect it’s almost on par with eating meat if you think about the way we farm animals, milk them, and then slaughter them to be eaten. They are still consuming massive amounts of food and water and producing massive amounts of methane. Yet instead of being slaughtered right away, as in the meat industry, we impregnate them, take away their babies, hook them up to machines to suck them dry and then once they can no longer meet their milk quota due to age, or sickness we send them to the slaughter house. What a great life. I’ve heard that in Canada our cows are actually treated pretty well, many are still grass fed, are not bombarded with antibiotics or growth hormones and use a voluntary milking system (which sounds nice but really just means they are trained to go get milked so they get food, or get chased there anyways if they don’t go voluntarily).

Fortunately this 30-day challenge has shown me just how easy it is to make substitutions that cut down on my milk consumption. I’ve had no problem switching to almond milk for my coffee and cereal. I even just today discovered the deliciousness of chocolate almond milk and had a mocha of sorts for my morning caffeine fix. Even my boyfriend is on board with the Earth Balance substitution for butter since it really tastes very similar. I have found some vegan cheeses I enjoy, a soy based mozzarella and Diaya pepperjack shreds. I’ll keep using these and dairy cheese in moderation. The only thing left is yogurt. Unfortunately I have not found a suitable replacement for yogurt yet. I will keep trying but I’m also looking forward to the organic honey flavored Greek yogurt sitting in my fridge waiting for my dairy-free challenge to be over.

Health wise I feel great. I’ve been doing more physical activity lately and when it comes to meals I find I actually don’t want to put cheese on everything. I like my foods not being heavy and fatty and not feeling bloated or tired afterwards. All in all it’s been an informative month and I don’t think I would have willingly cut out so many dairy products without doing this challenge so I am grateful it has taught me that.

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2 responses to “Day 29 dairy-free. Do we need milk?

  1. Sara, this was a good article and I am glad you have found some dairy replacements. I am not a vegan, but am really trying to reduce my meat consumption. The meat I do consume is grass fed and free range and grown locally. In this article you discussed environmental and health impacts of dairy….barely talked about the impact on the dairy cows and put no focus on the calves. I’m not sure about Canada, but in the US, the male calves are kept in cramped stalls for veal, slaughtered immediately or shot or sledgehammered. I will never be able to justify mammary secretions consumption because 2 lives have been devistated. Dairy isn’t eco or ethical. Period.

    • I’m so glad you brought that up and I completely agree. I am very concerned with the treatment of dairy cows and need to gather more information on my own but I do feel they have it a little better here than in the States. Especially in the organic industry. We don’t allow the rBGH hormone to be used in Canada which I feel is a main source of discomfort and disease in the cows, along with the conditions the cows are kept under. When you consume any form of animal products there are going be negative effects associated with the production and processing of those animals. Here in Canada, even if the animals are raised humanely and fed organic food or allowed to graze most of the time they still end up in the same processing facility as factory farmed animals and suffer the same fate. As more and more small processing facilities get shut down farmers are having a hard time finding places to slaughter their animals the way they would like it to do done. Anyways, in my post I purposely left the emphasis off of the ethical argument in order to be heard out by more people. I find people tend to close their ears, or in this case eyes at the mention of unethical animal treatment yet will listen gladly to the health benefits, and possibly even environmental reasons (even this topic is pretty hard to approach). Thank you so much for your post and your concern. I’m so glad there are people like you who choose local, grass fed, free range when possible. Slowly, one by one we can make a difference =)

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