The Milk Myth

The other day my friend and I were talking about how easy it is to be misinformed about the nutritional quality of food if we accept media messaging at face value and don’t do research. For a very long time (i.e. until this year) I thought that milk and other dairy products were generalizable as healthy because they “provide calcium” and all that stuff.

I’ve never liked milk all that much. Growing up I drank milk only with my two golden foods: cereal and chocolate. If I felt ambitious I’d drink the remaining milk in my bowl. My entire family felt the same way about milk and we never understood how people could drink it with their dinner. Blech. Suddenly the summer after freshman year I began to enjoy a cold glass of milk by itself. My parents thought I went to the dark side. I thought I was being healthy. In my head: “look at me, getting all this calcium!” Oh, how wrong I was. The truth is that the commercial dairy industry has ingrained us with the idea that we must drink milk to have strong bones. There are multiple problems with this.

First, the human body wasn’t necessarily meant to digest pasteurized milk, especially milk from non-humans.  No other species consumes milk in adulthood and I highly doubt humans have a specific gene that requires we drink milk from other animals to grow. While primitive societies have thrived on milk for a while, there’s a distinct differences between raw milk from grass-fed cows to pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows. After pasteurization most of the nutritional benefits of milk that do exist are destroyed. We barely absorb the calcium.

Second, numerous  studies have found that there is no relation between high calcium intake and strong bones.

Third, recent research has suggested that drinking pasteurized milk actually increases calcium loss. Ingesting milk increases the acidity of the body’s PH level so the body takes action to neutralize the PH using one of the most effective acid neutralizers— calcium. The process of neutralizing actually takes more calcium than you’re consuming by drinking milk in the first place.

Knowing all of this, it’s amazing that the “Got Milk” campaign is so present in schools. It misinforms kids about the nutrients of food and disables them from making healthy, informed decisions about what they put into their bodies. At least tell them that calcium can be found in high quality among vegetables. The new nutrition slogan should be: “when in doubt, eat vegetables”. High-calcium alternatives to milk include dark green veggies (no surprise there), dry beans, sesame seeds and almonds, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds, and okra. I’m sure there are many more. Shout out to vanilla almond milk! You sneaky nut you.

Did anyone else grow up with this misconception of milk? How did you learn about its true nutritional worth? Has this changed how often you drink it or what kind of milk you drink?