07 May 2007

Does a body good?

In a new segment (I know what you are thinking, how many possible topics can this jack-ass talk about), this will be the first in what I hope will be many blogs on issues of health. No, i'm not going to give you a short course on chlamydia, so don't get too excited. As many of you know, I have been taking steps towards improving my diet - it has come a long way, to the detriment of Michelena!

As the debut for healthy eating, let's consider milk. It does a body good. Not so fast rapping cow. Is milk good for you? Certainly, the milk board would have you believe so. But of course, they are a lobby group with the mandate to sell their commodity - even if it means dressing up farmer John in some hip young threads and having him skateboard around the barn. As the grandson of dairy farmers, I have always adhered to the lactose creed. But recently, I have begun questioning such tenants.

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Humans are the only mammals to continue drinking milk beyond childhood. Humans are also the only species to drink milk from other species. Amazingly enough, 75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant (http://veg.ca/content/view/139/110/). In and of itself, this seems highly unnatural. Many diets around the world do not include milk as even a minor source of nutrition. Then why do North Americans drink so much of it? Well, the answer is simple, we are influenced to do so, whether correctly or incorrectly, by the corporate lobby groups and by governments. The Canada food guide recommends 2-3 servings of dairy per day.

We drink milk, presumably because it is good for strong bones. Milk is a source of calcium. The Harvard school of public health states that consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D and performing regular, weight-bearing exercise are also important to build maximum bone density and strength (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium.html). A proper diet requires calcium to ward off osteoporosis. But how much calcium do you need, where do you get calcium from, and is milk really the best source of calcium?

Although the jury is out on the first two questions, milk as the most effective source of calcium is a definite misnomer. Calcium can also be found in dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale and collard greens, and in dried beans and legumes.

Food Amount Calcium
Yogurt, plain, low fat 8 oz
Collards, frozen, boiled 1 cup
Skim milk 1 cup
Spinach, frozen, boiled 1 cup
Yogurt, plain, whole milk 8 oz
Cheese food, pasteurized American 1 oz
Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat 1 cup
Baked beans, canned 1 cup
Iceberg lettuce 1 head
Canned salmon 3 oz
Oranges 1 cup
Trail mix (nuts, seeds, chocolate chips) 1 cup
Almonds 1 oz (24 nuts)
Blackeye peas, boiled 1 cup
Green peas, boiled 1 cup

Many studies of cultures outside North America reveal that as little as 300 mg of calcium are required per day. Essentially 1 serving of low fat yogurt.

The question becomes, why get your supply of calcium from milk? Consider the following:
  1. milk is high in saturated fat content, which leads to high cholesterol - even "low" fat dairy products can contain up to 50% of their caloric value from fat.
  2. milk has been linked to prostate and ovarian cancer;
  3. milk has been linked to food allergies;
  4. the entire dairy industry is essentially a chemical factory of hormone pumped cows.
The last point touches especially close to home. My uncle has a dairy farm and I have milked cows there. Whatever you think of animal rights, it is mass consumption industry. Small dairy farmers cannot compete with mega farms. These farms take away from lands that could be used for other sources, such as solar farms, wind farms, sports fields or just plain parks.

Don't take the information I have included here on face value. Go out and become informed. Find out for yourself if you "got milk", or if you just got fooled.


Anonymous said...

This a topic near and dear to me because my sibs and I were raised *not* drinking milk very much at all. It was ok for cereal and as an ingrediant, but as for an actual glass? No way!

I'm a big fan of the idea that breastmilk is best for babies but after about 9-18 mos, I'm all about v little dairy. Milk itself is a huge mucous producer and when you have little kids that are prone to colds and coughs, milk just makes things worse. As well, dairy products in general are hugely difficult to digest, especially when they come from unnatural sources - ie other animal's milk. We are the only species that drinks and uses the milk of other animals for food. Cheese especially is tough to digest and is one of the reasons why most of North America is not very "regular". It's not a coincedence to me that colon cancer rates have skyrocketed in the years since dairy products became so available (although for actual scientific proof - well, let's just say I don't have any citations to list). Everything comes with cheese these days, from burgers to salads - pizza in its true Italian form is hardly the cheese covered monstrosity we eat here.

Anyway, I'm clearly on the "less milk the better" side. I like the idea of drinking milk from hormone free cows raised in a grass fed environment, but for now, I'll be sticking with it only in my tea/coffee and on my cereal. Also, I don't mind it as an ingredient in cooking. But that's it. Cheese, I'm clearly a hypocrite about because I love love love it - however the brown rice cleanse I did in April helped me to see that a little goes a long way.

As far as the soy alternative, one has to be careful about using too much soy because the liver has to work extra hard to process soy products. They are ok, but if you're drinking soy milk, eating soy cheese and soy "meat" you're not doing your body *any* favours. If you want to be a vegan that's cool - but eat things that are *real* (ie legumes, leafy greens, etc) not soy versions of meat and dairy; otherwise, you're just doing more damage to your body than would be done by eating meat and dairy in moderation.

That's my twenty-five cents.

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