“Milk. It Does a Body Good.”
This catchy ad campaign bragged of the nutritional virtues we’ve come to expect from the pearly beverage I once affectionately called “moo-juice.” For decades and with little debate, schoolbooks, journalists and our most trusted doctors touted milk’s bone-building properties, presumed due to its high calcium content.
But despite the hundreds of millions of dollars thrown into milk campaigns annually – and the lobbying power of the National Dairy Council, which is funded by dairy producers – concrete evidence of milk’s health benefits is shadowy, at best. And now, a study from Sweden claims that not only does milk fail to live up to its “superfood” reputation, but it may actually harm our bones and even shorten our lives.
“I’ve looked at fractures during the last 25 years,” said study lead author Karl Michaelsson. “I’ve been puzzled by the question because there has again and again been a tendency of a higher risk of fracture with a higher intake of milk.”
So Michaelsson and his team checked the data from two long-term studies of adult dietary habits. They found that women who drank three or more glasses of milk each day were more prone to fracture and had a higher risk of death, and that men with similar intake also had a higher risk of death. Men’s fracture risk wasn’t increased by milk, but it wasn’t reduced, either. Michaelsson theorizes that the sugar D-galactose, which spurs aging in animals, could be responsible for these health woes. Fermented dairy products (like yogurt and certain cheeses) don’t have much galactose, but milk does.
For the record, this new study is no anomaly. Multiple trials of children, teens and adults have debunked the mythical bone-boosting effects of milk and other dairy products.
The lesson? Food industries may not be the best authorities to tell us what we should and should not be eating (or in this case, drinking).
For a while, the council also tried to convince us of dairy’s weight-loss powers. After spending millions on research to back this claim – even though multiple studies had already proven it false – they rolled out slogans like “Milk your diet. Lose weight!” and “Body by Milk.” Stars like Alex Rodriguez and Carrie Underwood appeared in their ads, which were ultimately pulled after the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (love these guys!) sued in protest of the fabricated claims.
If bogus nutritional statements aren’t enough to turn you against these pushers of pasteurized cow secretions, you should know that the U.S. government buys up the dairy industry’s excess milk (overproduction is a yearly phenomenon), a practice that has cost us taxpayers billions. Don’t you wish someone would pay you for your leftovers?
One more blow to the white stuff: Dairy is among the least environmentally sustainable foods on the market. The world’s 250 million dairy cows consume an inordinate amount of food crops and create considerable waste. (They also often suffer horribly, as you can see in this video.)
Despite the dairy industry’s murky intentions, one thing is clear: be it plain, chocolate or skim, cow’s milk is losing its place in the thinking person’s refrigerator. I long ago swapped it for coconut nondairy beverage (the kind in the carton, not the can); almond and rice milks are also delicious alternatives. Plant-based milks are usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and very low in calories. Good stuff, no catchy ad campaign required.