Health Benefits to Steering Clear of Dairy Products

Author: Beverley Goodwin; Year: 2013; Source: Flickr

Author: Beverley Goodwin; Title: Milk today; Year: 2013; Source: Flickr

A closer look at dairy products can be summed up in five words: Don’t cry over spilled milk. If you grew up in the United States, chances are you were sold the myth that dairy products, or foods made from mammal milk, are essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet. However, this rhetoric is not based on scientific evidence.

What are these products anyways? They come in a variety of forms and are present in abundance in many American refrigerators. Some of the most common dairy products include milk from cows, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and gelato.

So why the government backed policies on increasing dairy product consumption if it is a myth? The dairy industry is an incredibly powerful business in the United States. It generates over $11 billion in milk and $16 billion in cheese revenue annually. Plus, countless lobbying groups financially back the industry. OpenSecrets, a non-partisan and independent organization whose mission is to educate and promote responsible politics, estimates dairy lobbyists spent over $5.5 million in 2014.

Nutrition scientists, medical professionals, clinical researchers, and consumers have debated the validity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid. In fact, a literature review of studies on dairy products shows consensus that the negative effects of dairy consumption outweigh any potential health benefits.

A closer look at the content of conventional milk reveals approximately 60 antibiotics in addition to growth hormones, herbicides, pesticides, dioxins, blood, pus, feces, bacteria, viruses, and allergens. One of the most prevalent genetically engineered growth hormones is rBGH, or synthetic bovine. Due to the forced increase of milk production caused by artificial hormone injections, many cows are subject to frequent mastitis (udder infection), in turn treated by even more antibiotics.

While organic milk steers clear of most drugs, there is a dearth of statistically significant clinical studies proving organic milk to be much different from its conventional counterpart. Other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt contain an even greater and more concentrated amount of the antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides than present in milk.

Most Americans grew up believing that dairy consumption is essential to adequate calcium intake, critical in preventing osteoporosis. However, studies show that vitamin D and magnesium may play an even greater role in bone health. In fact, magnesium is required for the body to absorb calcium. Without a sufficient magnesium supply, the body cannot make use of the calcium. Milk is also acidic in nature, causing the body to react by drawing upon existing calcium, magnesium, and potassium reserves to maintain a neutral pH. There is a positive correlation between dairy consumption and osteoporosis incidence. Asian and African countries with low dairy consumption show the lowest rates of osteoporosis.

Many adverse health effects are linked to the abundance of growth hormones in milk, especially due to unwanted growth like in cancer cells. One of the most widely known hormones present in milk is IGF–1, or insulin-like growth factor–1, which promotes cancer cell growth. Other commonly cited negative health disparities associated with and exacerbated by dairy consumption include inflammation, allergic reactions, digestive issues, headaches, acne, and increase risk of heart disease and Type 1 diabetes.

According to a Journal of the American Medical Association publication, Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health challenges the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for adults to consume three glasses of milk per day. He claims there may be more health benefits in a diet free of dairy products.

For those choosing to consume dairy, products derived from goat or sheep milk are healthier choices. Aside from dairy, foods high in calcium include almonds and many green vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, and collard greens.

The silver lining is that there has been an increase of awareness and education surrounding dairy products. With this paradigm shift comes an increase in dairy alternatives like Spread, a dairy- and gluten-free almond-based cheese alternative so consumers can still enjoy healthy, tasty meals.

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