Milk – Is it Really Good For Us?
We’ve been told, for longer than I’ve been alive, that milk is good for us. (We’re talking about cow’s milk by the way). It’s supposed to help build strong bones, teeth and hair, promote normal blood pressure, build lean muscle, make red blood cells, and maintain the integrity of the immune system. This is supported at whymilk.com. With all of these benefits, what would make people not want to drink milk, especially top athletes like Tony Gonzalez, Scott Jurek, and Carl Lewis? If you’re not familiar with these athletes, here’s a brief overview of their accomplishments.
Tony Gonzalez is a 6’5″, 243lb Tight End entering his 13th season in the NFL. Tony currently holds 6 NFL records including career receiving yards for a Tight End at 11,760 and most seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards by a Tight End.
Scott Jurek is an Ultramarathoner, running races of 50miles and more. He’s won many races and even holds or has held records for several including the US record for a 24 hour distance race at 165.25 miles.
Carl Lewis is a 6’3″, 195lb former Track and Field Olympian. He’s won 9 Gold Medals and 1 Silver Medal and competed in the 1980, ’84, ’88, ’92, and ’96 Olympics and was named Olympic Athlete of the Century. Carl has stated that “…my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”
The question that comes to mind here is, how do these athletes have such long and impressive careers if they’re not drinking milk? The pounding on their bones and joints from running, jumping and hitting should easily cause fractures if they don’t drink milk, unless there are other sources of calcium, protein and vitamin D. Maybe these sources are even better for us than milk, which is why the three athletes mentioned above, along with several others, are able to be at the top of their respective sports for such a long time.
Here are some reasons to keep milk out of your diet:
- Milk and your bones: A 12 year Harvard study of more than 77,000 women showed that women who drank more milk experienced more fractures. An Australian study found that “Consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age.” This completely contradicts the dairy industry ads which state that milk promotes healthy bones. Because there is calcium in milk does not mean that it’s necessarily good for us. Calcium is just one piece of what milk is made of and we have to look at the whole product to understand why bones weaken with increased consumption of milk. What studies are finding now is that there is a direct correlation between exercise and bone mass. These athletes are building strong bones through exercise, not milk.
- Milk is fatty: For example, 2% milk is actually over 35% fat from calories and also contains cholesterol and sodium. Another amazingly deceptive milk product is 2% milk American cheese singles, which is 54% fat and has even more sodium and saturated fat than a serving of 2% milk. Fat, cholesterol and sodium, we already know are unhealthy, which is why you won’t hear them mentioned in an ad promoting milk.
- Milk is hard to digest: You may know someone who is lactose intolerant, or you may be lactose intolerant yourself. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products, and is common in as many as 30-50 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Discomfort within 2hrs of consuming milk and dairy products is a clear indicator. Gas, diarrhea, nausea and swelling in your stomach are just some of the symptoms. Imagine trying to compete in a football game, Olympic track meet, or a 24hr race with diarrhea or nausea. No thanks.
- Milk is not necessary: While milk has calcium, it’s not the only source of calcium. Kale and broccoli are good sources of calcium and have no saturated fat or cholesterol. Milk is also not the only source of vitamin D. The sun hits our skin and our bodies convert it to vitamin D. We’re also the only species to drink milk after infancy, and to get our milk from another species. We were certainly designed to drink milk from our mothers, at least for a time, but what would you think if you saw a monkey milking a cow, or a dog suckling a goat. I’d be freaked out. It’s not natural.
I spent many years with stomach and sinus issues. I actually missed a lot of classes in high school and while that might not sound so bad to many of you, I missed it because I had sinus infections or was doubled over in pain and had embarrassing stomach issues. My family doctor couldn’t figure out what it was so he sent me to a gastroenterologist, who also couldn’t figure out why I was so sick, even after a colonoscopy, which is what every 16 year old can’t wait to have. He gave me medicine that didn’t work and said, “sorry kid, you’ll just have to learn to live with it”, whatever it was.
Looking back now, neither of these doctors asked anything about my diet. If they did they would have discovered that I ate at least one big bowl of cereal in the morning, filled to the top with milk. I often ate pizza, nachos, or cheese fries for lunch, then I’d go home and make an English muffin with melted cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches (yes, that’s sandwiches, as in more than one), then I would have at least one giant glass of milk with dinner. I also loved to have ice cream or a milkshake for desert. You’d think a gastroenterologist might be interested in what I was putting into my gastrointestinal system, but then again, I’m not a gastroenterologist.
At some point in college I got really sick of taking medication for a sinus infection, which I would get twice a year, every year. Finally, when I felt one coming on I decided to stop eating cheese and yogurt and gave up drinking milk, at least until I got past the sinus infection. I’m not entirely sure why I thought this would work, but it seemed to. With that I cut my dairy intake down drastically, giving up drinking milk and eating yogurt all together. I still ate cheese, but in much lower quantities. I haven’t had a sinus infection since (that’s 6 years ago now). Since deciding to transition to a vegan diet I’ve cut my cheese down from an average of once per day to once per week, and it’s getting easier and easier to give it up every week.
I feel like a dairy addict, I tried to give it up cold turkey and it didn’t work, so now I’m stepping down gradually and it’s working wonders for me. I feel better than ever, no more stomach aches, a lot less gas (I guess I didn’t realize how gassy I was before) and I’m almost never congested, which used to be a huge annoyance for me.
Giving up milk, and other dairy products, can be difficult, I know this first hand. As you can see by the athletes and studies highlighted above, you can experience great benefits. Some of these benefits are stronger bones, less fat, cholesterol and sodium in your diet, and better digestion. If you’re experiencing issues we’ve talked about here you may want to try eliminating dairy from your diet. If you’re concerned about calcium on a non-dairy diet check out these many sources of calcium from health.gov.