This is something I wanted to talk about a little more in depth. A myth has been perpetuated for decades that we not only need dairy due to its high levels of calcium, but that children and the elderly need large quantities of it to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. Science is a funny thing, because it is never absolute. Studies are done constantly to test theories, but at no point does science claim something to be “proven”. There is no such thing as scientific proof, which has become a common misnomer. Science actually says that the evidence either strongly supports a theory, or shows it to be highly unlikely, not that it is proven or disproven.
It is because of this that science continually changes. Something that is recommended based on scientific research at one period in time, is subject to change based on continued research down the road. So why, then, have we continued to operate on the suggestion that we consume large quantities of milk and dairy products since the 1950’s, when it was first suggested that we drink milk upon discovery of its high calcium content, despite the fact that countless studies since then have shown dairy to be detrimental to health? The short answer–dairy industry ties to the USDA. But that’s a talk for another day. For today…let’s discuss dairy.
Dairy causes cancer
Men, I will start with you. Do you know what is the first thing a doctor will tell you to do when you are diagnosed with prostate cancer? Stop eating red meat, and stop drinking milk. Why? Because both are known carcinogens that are directly linked to prostate cancer. It would sure be nice if someone would tell you this before you get cancer, right? Well here I am, telling you this now. How do I know? Unfortunately I have a family member who is battling prostate cancer and that is what his doctor told him to do. But don’t take my word for it…I like to provide sources to back up my claims, so I’ve done the research for you and will provide links and name sources throughout this post.
This study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discusses the possibility that a high calcium intake from dairy products may increase the risk of prostate cancer. At the bottom, under conclusion, you’ll read “These results support the hypothesis that dairy products and calcium are associated with a greater risk of prostate cancer.”
Ladies, don’t think that you’re in the clear. Prostate cancer is not the only cancer linked to dairy intake. In fact any cancer can be influenced by consuming dairy because of the animal protein found in milk and all dairy products, called casein. Casein is a known carcinogen, and has actually been used to promote cancer cell growth in lab rats. Not only is casein in cow’s milk, it is actually the primary protein of cow’s milk.
If you’ve never heard of Dr. Colin Campbell, I would like to introduce you to him now. Dr. Campbell is a PhD of nutrition and biochemistry, who was raised…on a dairy farm. He first went to Cornell University to do research on protein, to find out how we can make sure we’re getting enough. What he discovered in his research caused him to completely change his personal biases from being raised in the meat and dairy industry. He learned that animal protein in general (not only casein from cow’s milk) was bad for our arteries and our hearts, and contributed to cancer.
It was during a study in the 1970’s that he discovered the powerful effects of casein on cancer cell growth. He used casein at varying levels to study its effects on liver tumor growth. He had one group of rats at 5% casein intake, and the other group at 20% casein intake. The group of rats consuming only 5% showed no sign of tumor growth, but the rats consuming 20% saw their tumor growth explode.
He then took the study one step farther, by starting out a group of rats at 5%, then raising it to 20%, then dropping it back to 5% to see how tumor growth would respond. When the rats were fed 20%, tumor growth increased dramatically. But intriguingly, when they were reduced back to 5%, the tumors that had formed actually stopped and began to shrink! This would indicate that we can stop cancer cell growth, and possibly even reverse it, simply by eliminating dairy from our diets. So if you’ve been pigging out on dairy for years…it’s not too late to stop!
Where did I get this information? Any quick Google search of Dr. Campbell’s name will bring up a wealth of results, but I first learned of this by watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, which is available on Netflix. To learn more about his extensive research into the effects of animal proteins on the human body, check out his book The China Study: Revised and Expanded Edition: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health. I’m also linking you to this video of a talk that he gave where he speaks about his study, casein, and the effects of animal proteins on the body.
Let’s move from cancer, to bone health
We all know that calcium and strong bones are synonymous. This is seldom disputed, although there is evidence that Vitamin D is just as important because it allows the body to absorb calcium. What is up for debate is what way is the healthiest for us to get that calcium. Because of the fact that dairy is so high in calcium, we latched onto this decades ago, and the USDA has long since been including milk and dairy as an integral part of its dietary guidelines.
Since then, upon continued research and studies, it has been shown that increased milk consumption in kids and young adults doesn’t make a difference in bone mineralization, and that it may actually be detrimental to bone health due to increased levels of inflammation and acidity in the body. Just like a swimming pool, our bodies need to maintain a balanced pH level, and milk increases acidity. How does the body correct this and restore a healthy balance? By drawing calcium from our bones! Calcium is an alkaline nutrient, so in order to help balance out the pH levels of our body to compensate for the acidity of the milk we are consuming, it takes the calcium out of our bones. I will state, however, that fermented milk products such as cheese and yogurt are not shown to raise acidity in the body…although they do contain casein as mentioned above.
Another interesting detail I came across when learning about dairy, is that the countries that are highest in milk consumption, are also the highest in hip fracture rates. Hip fracture is significant because this is the standard measure of osteoporosis rates. We all know that we are supposed to get lots of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. So why, then, are the countries drinking the most milk, also seeing the highest rates of hip fracture and osteoporosis? Well…based on the evidence I provided above–you tell me!
Here are a couple of charts to provide a visual. Take a moment to compare and contrast the level of milk intake and the level of hip fracture among these different countries. As an added bonus, I’m including a graph of prostate cancer rates to compare with the milk consumption graph, as well.
Moving right along…
Dairy contributes to obesity and diabetes
How so? Well for starters, cheese is one of the most fattening foods available in the supermarket, coming in on average at 70% fat…and not the good kind of fat that is found in plants. What this means for your body is two things. One, that due to its high fat content, your body is very easily able to convert this to additional fat cells within your body for future use. Two, that it slows your metabolism because, once the fat is sufficiently stored, your body doesn’t want to risk losing it by burning it up too quickly. Therefore your metabolism slows to prevent that from happening, also preventing you from losing weight.
What about diabetes? Well the common knowledge about diabetes is that it’s a disease caused by too much sugar. That is actually wildly inaccurate. The reason for this association is that high blood sugar is touted as the root of the disease. What we need to be asking is why that blood sugar is high. Well in a word–fat! When your diet is high in saturated fat, eventually your cells become so clogged with fat that insulin can no longer get through the fat to penetrate the cells. If insulin can’t get through the cells, the glucose in your blood stream is unable to be absorbed by the cell, because it relies on insulin for absorption, thus causing it to remain in your bloodstream and elevate your blood glucose levels.
Ever heard of insulin resistance, the leading “cause” of type 2 diabetes? This is what that actually means. Not that your body is resistant to insulin, but that your cells are resistant to insulin penetration because there is too much fat in them for it to get through. And of course rather than pushing patients to lose weight and consume less saturated fat so the problem can cure itself, they’re given drugs and told to avoid sugar to keep blood glucose levels low.
My source for you to examine this information? This YouTube video of a talk by Neal Barnard, MD. It actually covers every single topic I’ve touched on in this article, as well as industry manipulation and USDA interference with good health. Of all of the sources I’ve linked, this one may be the most informative and beneficial to check out.
My personal dairy conclusion and dietary habits
As grateful as I am for all of the research conducted by Dr. Campbell, and as much value as I have found in the documentary Forks Over Knives, I have not gone, and likely will not go, fully vegan and/or plant-based. Instead I consider myself to be plant-centered. One thing I’ve taken away from the rat/casein study is that rats fed 5% dairy showed no cancer cell growth. This is important to me because that number was not 0%, but 5%. Meaning that consuming small amounts of fermented dairy products, specifically no more than 5% of the protein in my overall diet (as an aside…maximum protein intake needed is 10-12%, or 0.36 grams per pound, which is less than half of what the average American is actually consuming) is not dangerous. It is the American habit of overconsumption, especially when you look at the USDA recommendation that we drink three glasses of milk per day, that causes problems.
So for me, personally, I do consume dairy primarily in the form of cheese, but also on the rare occasion an ice cream or yogurt treat with my boys, in moderation. I will have an ounce or less of cheese with a snack, on a salad, or in a meal a few times per week. So I’m not eating it daily, and when I do I keep it to one ounce or less on that day. As for milk, I don’t drink it, and won’t ever drink it. From the research I’ve done I see zero health benefit from milk and in fact find it to be rather harmful.
When it comes to bone health, remember that fermented dairy products such as cheese and yogurt were not shown to raise inflammation or acidity levels within the body. It is milk that does those things. Without even touching on the growth hormone and antibiotic issues, milk has already become persona non grata with me even in its purest, organic form. As a woman, and with a history of osteoporosis in my family, bone health is a high priority for me and milk is the last on my list of places to get calcium.
So where do I get my calcium from?
Almond milk, first and foremost. Unsweetened, unflavored almond milk can be used in all of the exact same ways as cow’s milk, with far less calories and just as much calcium (45% daily value, to be exact). Another option is soy milk, but I personally prefer the taste and consistency of almond milk better. Chia seeds also have quite a bit of calcium for such a tiny source, at 8% daily value per tablespoon. This is why chia pudding is one of my favorite sugar free desserts–1/2 cup of almond milk, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, a packet of stevia and a splash of vanilla, chilled for at least 20 minutes (better for a couple of hours) for the chia seeds to gel. I also always make my oatmeal with almond milk instead of water, and add a tablespoon of chia seeds to that as well.
Salmon comes in next on the list. While I try to stay away from too much animal protein in my diet (basically I look at meat the same way as I do dairy–no red meat, rarely pork, poultry and fish in moderation), salmon can’t be ignored as a beneficial source of not only Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, but also calcium, coming in around 20% daily value. It’s a good thing that I love salmon so much, because it is one of the healthiest animal based food sources out there.
Beans are sort of the holy grail for a plant-based, or plant-centered, diet. They are high in three major nutrients that you need for optimal health–calcium, fiber and protein. This makes them a good dairy substitute, and a good meat substitute as well. I have a lot of meatless meals, and in most of those meals I use beans as my protein source. The other good news about beans is that they help reduce LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, while also increasing HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps keep bad cholesterols low.
Lastly, by eating my greens. The greener the vegetable, the higher the calcium content, as well as essential vitamins and folates. So all of those salads I posted in last week’s Mediterranean Monday post pack a major calcium, protein, fiber, vitamin and mineral punch. As an added bonus–calcium from these plant-based sources is much easier for the body to absorb than calcium from dairy sources, so Vitamin D is not as much of an issue on a plant-centered diet.
Here is the result of my calcium levels from my 2018 blood panel, with the majority of my calcium intake being plant-based. You can see that I’m right in the center of the healthy range:
So I ask this question of the USDA–why are you still telling us 60-70 years later that we need to drink three glasses of milk per day in order to get enough calcium in our diets? To the rest of you–I hope I have provided some valuable insight on the mythical link between dairy and calcium.