As far as Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating is concerned, naturopathic doctors differ in their views. In terms of a general guideline, I believe that it does a pretty good job of promoting a healthy diet: focusing on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, meat and protein. It even suggests adding healthy oils to the diet and supplementing with vitamin D. Not bad. But, as they say in my family, “Close, but no cigar.” I have one piece of beef with the Food Guide, and it’s not the beef, but rather another cow product that offends me: the outrageously huge influence on dairy.
According to Canada’s Food Guide, dairy is deserving of a food group all on its own. Why? Well the justification is that milk is nutrient-rich, containing a variety of minerals but, most significantly, a large amount of calcium, which we need to build and maintain healthy bones.
There are a few problems with this justification. Firstly, there are other plentiful sources of calcium besides dairy products: leafy greens, soy, nuts, fish and non-dairy milks like almond milk have significant amounts of calcium. Some even contain more calcium per serving than a serving of milk, are far healthier for you and, what’s more, the calcium in these products is in a form that is more readily absorbed in the body.
Secondly, the justification for drinking milk to obtain calcium implies that calcium is the only nutrient that is important for building and maintaining healthy bones when in fact there are a host of other nutrients that we need to maintain our bone mass: vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium, among others. These nutrients help decrease the leaching of calcium from bones and help our digestive tract absorb the calcium we ingest from our diets. The calcium-bone connection is more complicated than we’re led to believe. For starters, countries with the highest dairy intake also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. In East Asian countries, where dairy products do not form a staple in their diets, the rates of osteoporosis are low. This could be because our diets are low in other foods that are rich in calcium: vegetables, seafood, nuts and legumes and high in calcium-leaching foods like sodas and coffee. We also don’t get enough bone-building exercise. In addition to these lifestyle factors, our primary source of calcium – dairy products – are high in phosphorus, which actually inhibits the absorption of calcium.
The fact of the matter is that a diet high in whole foods, such as leafy greens and nuts, will provide us with adequate calcium, while also providing the vitamin D, K, magnesium and potassium that aid in the absorption of calcium. As far as obtaining calcium is concerned, dairy products are not really our best option.
Why is milk bad, though? Simply put: most of us can’t digest it. According to some sources, it is estimated that almost 8% of infants have a true allergy to milk (source). This means that their bodies react to milk via an antibody called IgE, which can produce digestive disturbance such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, respiratory conditions such as asthma and skin rashes. Furthermore, roughly 20% of adults are thought to be intolerant to dairy. This intolerance is associated with intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”, which allows food proteins from the digestive tract to enter the bloodstream and cause an immune reaction. Many autoimmune diseases, digestive disturbances, seasonal allergies, respiratory conditions and frequent infections can be resolved completely when those who are intolerant or allergic to dairy simply remove it completely from the diet.
Do you suffer from acne? Migraines? Frequent colds and flus? Inflammatory Bowel Disease? Chronic fatigue? Ear infections? An autoimmune disease? Autism? You could very well be intolerant or allergic to dairy.
In addition to those who are intolerant to dairy, it is estimated that roughly 70% of people have a lactase deficiency (source) and are therefore lactose intolerant, unable to digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. When dairy is ingested, these people experience gas, bloating and diarrhea.
What’s more, the dairy that we consume is fed to cows who are induced to constantly produce milk, fed an unnatural diet of grains, kept caged their entire lives and provided antibiotics every day of their lives regardless of whether they are sick or not. In Canada, bovine growth hormone is not legally used, but any milk ingredient found in packaged foods, which is from the United States, will most likely contain it. BGH is theorized to induce insulin-like growth factor in humans, a hormone associated with weight gain, insulin-resistance and, potentially, cancer. Would you let a sick, drugged and otherwise unhealthy woman breastfeed your baby? I think you can see what I’m getting at here…
I personally believe that it is unnatural to consume the breast milk of another animal. Cows’ milk and associated products are for their calves, not human consumption. Even if milk were consumed in its raw form, from cows who are naturally producing milk, given antibiotics only when they’re sick (and not milked while on the antibiotics) and allowed to roam free and eat grass, which is their natural diet, I would still protest milk. No other animal on earth consumes milk in adulthood, least of all the milk of another species. Perhaps if we are truly concerned with drinking milk for its nutrient benefits, we should breastfeed our own children longer. At least that is milk that we are meant to consume.
So, why does the Food Guide and government tell us to drink 2-3 servings of milk per day? Simple: In Canada we have a very strong dairy lobby. Tell people that drinking milk is good for them and they will. This makes the dairy corporations money. Your health is simply not on their minds. I could go on and on about their economically-driven ways, but for now I’ll leave you with this:
For the next Canada’s Food Guide, I hope to see dairy products added under meat and alternatives with the rest of the proteins. As far as I’m concerned, in terms of its nutrient profile that’s all it is: an animal product, right in there with steaks and eggs. It’s misleading to tell Canadians that 1 serving of milk product is the equivelant of 1 serving of broccoli. Advertisements, disguised as nutrition policy, tell us that we’re not consuming enough milk products when, in reality, we’re probably consuming way too many of them.