Have we all been duped by the dairy industrys slick, celebrity-driven "got milk?" advertising campaign?
Milk, the sacred cow of the American diet, is under attack, and not just by animal-rights
activists. Though federal dietary guidelines and most mainstream nutrition experts
recommend that people drink three glasses of milk a day, researchers are examining
the role of dairy in everything from rising osteoporosis rates, Type 1 diabetes
and heart disease to breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.
One fact is indisputable: Our bodies need the mineral calcium to build and maintain
bones and teeth. Calcium also helps with blood clotting, muscle function and regulation
of the hearts rhythm. The debate centers on whether milk is really the best
or even a necessary source. Ten thousand or so years ago, cows
milk was not part of the human diet.
For consumers, the issue is profoundly confusing, especially when it comes to
osteoporosis. On one hand, weve had it hammered home since grammar school
that milk is a health food. Were told that increasing calcium intake by
drinking milk will prevent osteoporosis, the weakening of bones.
But researchers Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the
Harvard School of Public Health, and T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of
nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, say there is little evidence that
shows boosting your calcium intake to the currently recommended levels will prevent
Willett, who co-authored The Nurses Health Studies, one of the largest investigations
into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women, found that women with
the highest calcium consumption from dairy products actually had substantially
more fractures than women who drank less milk.
Campbell, who like Willett comes from a dairy-farming family, found the same thing
after spending several decades surveying health-related effects of a plant-based
diet and death rates from cancer in more than 2,400 Chinese counties.
Both men say there is no calcium emergency; Americans get plenty. And they argue
that the unnecessary focus on calcium prevents us from using strategies that really
work in the fight against osteoporosis, including getting enough exercise and
vitamin D and avoiding too much vitamin A.
"The higher the consumption of dairy, animal protein and calcium, the higher
the fracture rate an indisputable observation in my view," says Campbell,
whose life work is compiled in The China Study, one of the most comprehensive
nutritional studies undertaken.
The link between milk and cancers is sketchier peer-reviewed studies back
both pro- and anti-dairy viewpoints though a growing body of evidence has
shown that animal-based foods are associated with prostate cancer, possibly because
of the high intake of calcium and phosphorus, Campbell said.
The dairy industry, the federal government and most conventional registered dietitians
and nutritionists say just the opposite. Milk is more than just calcium; its
a relatively cheap little package of fat, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and
Some research shows calcium may help protect against colon cancer and high blood
pressure. A large-scale government study called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop
Hypertension) found that a balanced, low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and
low-fat dairy foods may help reduce blood pressure as effectively as some medications.
The calcium from some vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and kale is absorbed
as well as or better than calcium from milk and milk products, according to the
National Dairy Councils Calcium Counseling Resource. But the report also
says that to get the same amount of calcium absorbed from 1 cup of milk, one would
have to eat nearly 2 1/2 cups of broccoli or 8 cups of spinach.
"The advantage of dairy is that its convenient, and children are more
likely to consume it over broccoli and prunes," says Jeanette Newton Keith,
a gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago. She advocates a whole-food
diet and recommends dairy as part of the DASH plan.
Though dairy is high in saturated fat, the dairy industry claims that low-fat
dairy products can encourage weight loss. During the last few years it has spent
millions on a controversial "got milk?" advertising campaign.
In response, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed false-labeling
petitions last June with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
They maintain that the "got milk?" weight-loss ads are "dishonest,"
because scientific evidence contradicts the claims. The dairy industry based its
assertion largely on the work of University of Tennessee researcher Michael Zemel,
who received funding from the Dairy Council and who also has patented a weight-loss
program using calcium.
© 2006, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
Culture: Pre-2/21/2007 [Not Milk?]
Not Milk?: New Research Questions Value – if not Safety – of Dairy
By Julie Deardorff
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Article posted on 2/21/2006
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