Recently my friends Sham and Carole voiced their opinion that they need to drink milk in order to meet their daily calcium requirement. When I told them that drinking processed milk is actually detrimental to health, they did not believe me…of course. It was another case to show that the media and dairy boards worldwide did a great job in making us believe that we need to include processed milk in our diets. This is far from the truth and I promised to write a detailed report to convince them. So here it is:
The ethics behind the processed milk industry
Firstly, I don’t want to debate too much about whether it is ethical to drink another mammal’s milk, which is actually meant to feed the calf. However, it is an interesting thought and you might like to give it some consideration. You may not know this, but most milk cows are worn out after only four to six years of producing milk, while the natural lifespan of a cow is around 25 years. In order to produce the vast amounts of milk required for human consumption, their genes are manipulated and they are kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy, lactation and milking. As you can see this is abnormal and the same goes for the impact that cattle farms have on the environment. Did you know that it only takes 10,000 cows to produce the equivalent household waste of 1.6 million inhabitants? Did you know that animal agriculture consumes intense amounts of water and emits so much ammonia into our atmosphere that it threatens the air quality, while acidifying our soil and water?
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to health - the main focus of the rest of this article!
How milk is processed and its effects on your body
You might have already noticed that I’m always referring to “processed” milk, rather than organic raw milk, which on the contrary has, at the very least, a high nutritional value. You can only get organic raw milk straight from farmers or in health food shops (or here in Malaysia you have the Indian motorcyclists ferrying about fresh milk. I am not sure if they heat the milk up or not, but at least it is real, unadulterated milk).
The milk that you can buy in supermarkets is either pasteurised, ultra high temperature processed (UHT), homogenised and/or fortified. The result is a far cry from the original raw milk, but who has ever tasted fresh, unprocessed milk straight from the cow to know the difference? I was fortunate to have grown up enjoying raw milk which incidentally can be made even more delicious by leaving it outside in a shallow dish for a day or two. The natural bacteria in the milk ferments it and turns it into homemade sour milk (yoghurt), leaving all the cream (milk fat) on top. Yummy! If you ever try doing that with processed milk, it would turn into a foul-smelling disgusting… something.
Let me explain these processes inherent to processed milk and how they affect your healt
Pasteurisation is a process that uses temperatures below boiling to reduce the count of possibly harmful bacteria that milk may contain. However, the real reason why milk is pasteurised is to make it less perishable so that it can be distributed and stored refrigerated for up to 10 days.
The problem is that it not only kills bad bacteria, but the good ones that make it a living product as well. This process breaks open the membranes of the bacteria cells to release so-called cytotoxins. These substances are foreign to our body and we therefore react to them with immune responses like asthma attacks and mucus production, as well as tearing of the eyes or inflammation. It doesn’t stop there though. The milk produced by conventional dairy farms is of inferior quality and runs a high risk of being contaminated by pathogenic bacteria due to the poor conditions that the cows are kept in. Keep in mind that pasteurisation will not remove any “dead” bacteria, nor will it remove the cytotoxins that are released.
Bacteria aside, pasteurisation also cuts the amount of calcium in milk by half! So how about low-fat milk? Unfortunately, if you think that is healthier then you’re wrong again. Drinking low-fat milk makes calcium un-absorbable because fat is an essential part of the transportation and absorption of calcium.
2. Ultra High Temperature Treatment (UHT)
UHT or ultra high temperature treatment, takes this process a step further. It partially sterilises milk by heating it for a short time at a temperature exceeding 135°C (275°F), resulting in an extended shelf life of up to nine months with no refrigeration required! This also alters the characteristic taste of milk. Needless to say, this product does not have much in common with milk.
Ok, the next process that the industry puts milk through is called “homogenisation”. The milk industry says that this is done to prevent the natural separation of cream from the rest of the emulsion. If you buy raw milk, the fat normally separates from the water and collects at the top. What’s wrong with that, I ask? You would only need to shake the bottle to mix the contents back up! The real reason for homogenisation is so that the industry can take all the fat out of the milk to make butter. They then add milk powder to the strapped milk to increase the taste and make up for the fat content that is stated on the label.
Homogenisation breaks up the fat globules into smaller sizes so that they no longer float on top, but are rather evenly suspended in the milk. This is accomplished by forcing the milk at high pressure through small orifices that unfortunately will also destroy the butterfat structure and releases enzymes that are not supposed to be in milk. This can cause problems in your intestines as well as heart diseases. Epidemiological researchers (they study the origin and spread of diseases) have also found correlations between breast and prostate cancer with consuming milk. Milk can also cause acne, increase childhood diabetes and the risk of bone fractures! Let me also remind you that milk from conventional dairy farms are contaminated with pesticides and genetically engineered bovine growth hormones.
Are you having any more doubts about milk being hazardous to your health? Ok, then we can start talking about milk and calcium.
Does milk build strong bones?
Evidence is emerging everywhere that milk is not a good source for calcium. But of course, this information can hardly be found in mainstream media. The head of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Neal Barnard, says, "It would be hard to imagine a worse vehicle than milk for delivering calcium to the human body.” This non-profit organisation was founded in 1985 to promote preventive medicine, conduct clinical research and encourage higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research. Since then they have gathered over 700 links regarding the terrible effects of milk.
A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women showed that those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. An Australian study also showed that people in countries that consume the highest levels of dairy foods break two or three times more bones than people with the lowest calcium intake! How could this be?
Milk and other dairy products, although rich in calcium, are high in animal protein which has been shown to create calcium loss through the urinary tract. Might the high protein consumption of the western world be the reason why the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium is set to 1,200mg daily, while the World Health Organization recommends 500mg for children and 800mg for adults?
Interestingly, the areas of the world where dietary protein is very low also have low national calcium recommendations. In Thailand, the RDA is set at 400mg for all ages! In contrast, Inuits consume up to 400 grams of protein every day through fish, and even though their RDA of calcium is set at 2,000mg daily, they show the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world!
So how does a high protein diet affect our health?
Milk, cheese and other dairy products, coffee, black tea, meat, fish, eggs, pasta, sugar, bread and all deep fried junk food force the body to produce profuse amounts of acid. Firstly, our stomach produces hydrochloric acid to digest these foods. In order to maintain a pH balance in the blood and to neutralise strong stomach acids, the body then needs massive amounts of calcium. Later, when the food is excreted with other metabolic wastes, calcium compounds can get stuck in the kidneys causing kidney stones, or in the gall bladder producing gallstones.
A diet high in animal protein also depletes calcium by turning excess protein into urea in the liver. This creates a diuretic action in the kidney that lets the calcium (together with other minerals) escape through the urine. Interestingly, vegetarians rarely get kidney stones.
When the body uses calcium to neutralise the acidic mixtures, it creates a negative calcium balance resulting in osteoporosis! This means that protein consumption has the greatest impact on calcium depletion of the bones - even greater than the amount of calcium that you intake through your diet.
Harvard professor Mark Hegsted explains that our bodies adapt to low calcium intake by using what is available. On the contrary, high calcium intake causes the body to decrease the amount of calcium that is absorbed and excrete the excess. This is another explanation for why people with low calcium consumption still manage to form healthy skeletons.
Dean Ornish, MD (author of “Eat More, Weigh Less”) also shares this view. He writes, "The real cause of osteoporosis in this country (USA) is not insufficient calcium intake. It's excessive excretion of calcium in the urine... vegetarians, in contrast, excrete much less calcium, and this is why they have very low rates of osteoporosis even though their dietary intake of calcium is lower than those on a meat-eating diet."
So let me sum this up: while calcium is important for bone health, increasing consumption does not improve bone integrity! Milk and other dairy products are actually bad sources of calcium because they are also loaded with cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics and saturated fats leading to the excretion of calcium through the urine.
You don’t need any more than approximately 600mg of calcium per day and this is an amount that can be easily achieved without dairy products or calcium supplements if you reduce intake of animal protein and increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Not a single nutrient can be found in dairy products that cannot be found in other sources!
Plant products with the highest calcium content per 100 grams (3.5 oz)
Sesame seeds 1000mg, Seaweed 600mg, Tofu 506mg, Tahini 420mg, Blackstrap Molasses 400mg, Leeks 360mg, Flaxseeds 255mg, Almonds 216mg, Mustard Spinach 210mg, Kale 205mg, Dandelion Greens 200mg, Turnip Greens 200mg, Raw Garlic 181mg, Brazil Nuts 169mg, Dried Figs 162mg, Okra 120mg, Watercress 120mg, Tempeh 111mg, Pak Choi 105mg, Olives 90mg.
Please note that oxalic acid (which is found in spinach, rhubarb, chard, and beet greens) binds with the calcium in those foods and reduces its absorption. These foods should not be considered good sources of calcium compared to the ones I stated above. Another advantage of a plant-based diet is also that you will get enough magnesium; an essential mineral that is needed to absorb calcium.
I don’t think it is very difficult to obtain your daily calcium requirements from these sources. What do you think?
Just by eating these foods, getting enough vitamin D through sunlight (which promotes calcium absorption and helps form and maintain strong bones), and doing weight bearing exercises (pulling builds bones!), you’re basically all set to prevent osteoporosis.
So you still want to drink milk?
If all of this has not convinced you yet, I have only one final remark:
How do the largest animals that walk the earth, like the elephant, hippopotamus, giraffe, horse and cow grow their massive skeletons without the aid of cow milk and calcium supplements? ☺
True Nutrition, True Fitness by Jerrold Winter
The New Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford