You heard me. Time to take on Big Dairy.
I know those milk mustache commercials are a hit. I know you’ve been told that milk does a body good. But seriously, for so long I’ve felt like I was all alone in my quest to point out the milk emperor has no clothes. Seriously, people, has it occurred to none of you that we are the only mammals on the planet who consume milk after the early childhood period? We’re so obsessed with it that we’re forced to go get the milk from other species in order to keep up this practice.
Hear me: I’m all for breastfeeding. It’s what all other mammals do, and I believe the evidence shows that breastfeeding is good for kids. I also understand that we likely breastfeed for a shorter duration than nature intended, and in those cases formula and milk are fine. But after age 2 or so, or whenever the brain no longer needs the extra fat for development, there is no good reason for us to keep on drinking the stuff. Really! Don’t take my word for it. Here’s David Ludwig in JAMA Pediatrics:
Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to diet. Anatomically modern humans presumably achieved adequate nutrition for millennia before domestication of dairy animals, and many populations throughout the world today consume little or no milk for biological reasons (lactase deficiency), lack of availability, or cultural preferences.
Yes! A thousand times yes! I know what some of you are saying: we need the calcium! It’s good for bones! Try again (links added by me):
Adequate dietary calcium for bone health, often cited as the primary rationale for high intakes of milk, can be obtained from many other sources. Indeed, the recommended levels of calcium intake in the United States, based predominately on balance studies of 3 weeks or less, likely overestimate actual requirements and greatly exceed recommended intakes in the United Kingdom. Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared with those that do. Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults, according to a recent meta-analysis.
Getting past my obvious glee at this development, I have some serious reasons for tilting at this windmill. Tons of nutrition recommendations say that we should limit children’s consumption of calorie-containing beverages, but milk always gets a pass. In fact, some of them recommend three cups a day of nonfat milk. That’s still more than 240 calories in beverages, and more than 36g of sugar. Ironically, nonfat milk contains more sugar than whole milk. Why do we recommend this?
Moreover, drinking too much milk can be awful for your gut. It makes it bleed. Every single year of residency, I admitted at least one child who was drinking a ton of milk and had slowly bled from his GI track to a level of anemia that would kill an adult. It was always shocking, and the parents were always horrified to hear that it was excessive milk consumption that had put their kid in the hospital for an extended stay. Here’s a news story. Or take the word of Duke University Health System:
Cow’s milk is low in iron and can actually prevent iron from being absorbed from the diet. In addition, some children develop small amounts of bleeding from their intestines when they have too much cow’s milk.
Am I saying milk is the devil? NO. It’s an important part of a small child’s diet, and you should listen to your doctor about your toddler’s consumption. Moreover, like most things, in moderation it’s totally awesome. What else are kids going to drink with apple pie? An Oreo without milk is close to a sin.
But at some point, in older children and adults, we should own that milk is a calorie-laden beverage like many others. It holds no special place, and you don’t need it. Phenomenal marketing and a lot of “wisdom” have convinced you otherwise. We should get over it.
Let the hate mail commence…