Too Much Milk?

JUST SAY NO TO MILK? Photo credit:
Need we add milk to the list of controlled substances?

Foodie, author and New York Time's columnist Mark Bittman says we drink too much, especially adults, Got Milk? You Don't Need It.  He also reports banishing dairy from his diet cured his chronic heartburn. Really? As an inept cook and mostly herbivore I appreciate Mark Bittman's minimalist approach to cooking especially How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. So I read his dairy-bashing with interest but couldn't help but wonder how accurately he portrayed the white stuff. In case you missed the raw milk craze, cow milk is already somewhat controversial of late.

Why say no to dairy?  Bittman says too many people are lactose-intolerant, allergic and fat (drink water instead of those extra calories).  Okay. Fine but he started to loose my faith with the comparison of milk to soda.
But, says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Sugar — in the form of lactose — contributes about 55 percent of skim milk’s calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda.”
As far as I know milk, unlike Coke, contains some protein not to mention nutrients and doesn't erode tooth enamel or make my kids bounce around like ping pong balls. Moreover, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine isn't exactly BFFs with the American Dairy Association.  The PCRM, a non-profit pushing a vegan lifestyle, prefer animals not end up in research labs or your dinner. Noble goals but these are not the most unbiased set of health professionals. Not the people I'd trust to measure the nation's milk addiction.  It's like asking the attachment parenting crowd to taste test infant formulas. 

Also Bittman says we don't need all the calcium in milk anyhow:
Osteoporosis? You don’t need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. In fact, the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine.
Say what? Ixnay on the alciumcay? (If you skipped middle-school: Pig Latin to English Translator)

A few years ago the Institute of Medicine, an international health organization, reviewed all the good existing health studies on calcium (and Vitamin D).  The research featured a range of outcomes like cardiovascular disease, reproductive health and cancer.  They assessed both the supposed benefits and risks. Here's the IOM's conclusion:

Scientific evidence indicates that calcium and vitamin D play key roles in bone health. The current evidence, however, does not support other benefits for vitamin D or calcium intake. More targeted research should continue. Higher levels have not been shown to confer greater benefits, and in fact, they have been linked to other health problems, challenging the concept that "more is better."
So the report set an upper limit for the amount considered safe. Post-menopausal women, take note, you may be getting too much if you're popping calcium pills.

Tween and teen girls, on the other hand, may need to add a Chobani or two:
National surveys in both the United States and Canada indicate that most people receive enough calcium, with the exception of girls ages 9–18, who often do not take in enough calcium.
FYI: Children aged 9 to 18 need 1,300 milligrams a day.  A cup of milk = 300.

The link between milk-drinking countries and fractures? Slight and speculative.

The IOM begs to differ with the vegan docs' claim calcium need not play a role in bone health.  The sun and exercise are not enough according to the international experts.  Nor do other sources of calcium, say broccoli or nuts, offer as much per serving. 

If you'd like to catch up more on the status of calcium, read Jane E. Brody's column in the New York Times. Long and Short of Vitamin D and Calcium

But let's move on to the claim dairy causes heartburn.  Hell if I know about that but here's what I dug up about the doc who cured Bittman's chronic heartburn by suggesting he lay off dairy, Sidney M. Baker, the man you might not be surprised to learn penned Detoxification and Healing

Of course I Googled this miracle worker.  In addition to curing gastrointestinal distress, Baker also happens to have founded Autism360 and co-founded Defeat Autism Now (now part of the Autism Research Institute), the advocacy group that posits autism as essentially a fancy gastrointestinal disorder, or as Dr. Baker puts it, an Oceanic Disease. Go ahead try to figure out what an oceanic condition might be. Personally, I can't be bothered to watch the YouTube video (especially after wading through his academic offerings, see below) but I'm guessing Baker's viewpoint is not exactly mainstream given his autism liasons. ARI unequivocally states autism is treatable. 

Then there's this excerpt from an article Baker co-wrote:

The concept of an oceanic disease is spawned from the ecology from our modern industrialized societies' major illnesses. It is an understanding of disease that comes, not from linear thinking embodied in the false metaphor that a disease causes its symptoms, but from a concept of an epidemic that is systemic - not only in the sense of being general but also in the sense of being understood in terms of systems theory: a web of interacting factors. As a clinician, I find myself easily lost in my efforts to find the most accessible and productive strands in each patient's web. My epiphanies beginning in 2006 at the IFM Symposium and culminating with Esselstyn's very specific studies of end stage cardiovascular disease have led me to a new appreciation of the raw power of a diet to promote healing.
I too "find myself easily lost" especially reading that load of imprecise claims.


Disease doesn't sicken us.  We sickened ourselves.  Autism and other diseases are but our bodies and minds telling us to limit toxic environmental exposures.  But alas, there's a light at the end of the chemical trail. The raw power of food. 

PS Don't even try to blame a disease or two. Don't fall for a diagnosis. All of you is sick. It's not your failing kidneys, your clogged arteries or compromised immune system. You're screwed from head to toe.

Does the doctor expect us to really follow that bit above? Nod if you think ambiguous prose effectively masks irregularities, problem spots, etc.  Kind of like my old Persian carpets. By the time you figure out what the the guy's saying (or not saying) who has the time to figure out if it's hooey?

So go ahead, pour that milk tonight, make the smoothies and rest assured.  Although you may not be curing your son or daughter of a complex neurological disorder or even a mild case of heartburn, you are not endangering your children's future health and well-being either.

Unless they are truly allergic or seeing Dr. Baker.


Awesome Mom said...

He can pry my dairy from my cold dead fingers. I drank a lot more milk when I was child bearing and a teenager and have recently cut back on my personal milk drinking. I do encourage it for my kids and they have it with almost every meal. I do however love me some cheese and have become a bit of a cheese snob.

It amuses me that people with such open agendas try and tell everyone that they know best how we can live the longest and best. There are others saying that we have to go back to the prehuman times and eat mostly meat to live long and be healthy. I suspect that really our optimal diet is in the middle, we are omnivores after all and cutting out one food group is probably not all that healthy for us.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Awesome, yes it's a curious notion we should return to prehuman diets. Very odd especially for those of us with a family history of colon cancer.

Barbara @therextras said...

Polly, you are the queen of scalpelwords.

Wishing there was more better research 'though it matters little to me since I don't eat dairy (the usual reason).

But, what about colic? My caseload of mostly infants wants to know!

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Barbara!! Missed you. Aha. Colic. The bane of my first child's first months! Have you read the new study linking colic to gut bacteria? Hhhmmm. Just thinking about thoroughly digging into it.

The jargon.

In English.