The Importance of Dairy: Fact or Fiction? (Part 1)

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I have always hated milk. When I was young, my parents forced me to drink a glass of milk every night with dinner, citing the three cups a day guideline, to ensure I would grow up to have strong bones. I soon also became terrified that I was not getting enough calcium, thanks to the “Got Milk?” ads that hammered home the message that if I wasn’t drinking enough milk, I could get osteoporosis. I lived in fear that I would suffer later in life for not being diligent about drinking milk as a child.

        Today, many studies question long-held beliefs that dairy products are an essential part of diet and the best sources for calcium. Rates of hip fractures, a common effect of osteoporosis, are lower in Asian countries, where dairy is not an integral part of the diet. Additionally, studies have found that drinking milk does not correlate with reduced risk of hip fractures among American women and men. Conventional wisdom about dairy’s vital role in building strong bones seems flat out wrong. What’s worse is that drinking copious amounts of milk may actually be harming us.

        Dairy products are high in saturated fat, and so the MyPlate guidelines encourage us to choose low-fat or fat-free milk and cheese. Contrary to this seemingly logical recommendation, children who drink low-fat milk gain more weight than those who drink milk with high fat content. It seems that dairy fat alone should be blamed for the weight gain associated with drinking milk. And this correlation of drinking milk with weight gain doesn’t even take into account the highly sugared milk drinks that are marketed as healthy options for kids. Drinking just the recommended amount of three cups of milk a day may also be harming us in less obvious ways than weight gain. A Harvard Study found that men who drank two or more glasses of milk a day are twice as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than men who did not drink milk at all. There are many studies that correlate milk with increased risk for cancers, and scientists theorize that milking pregnant cows, a common practice in the modern dairy industry, is to blame because of an increased amount of hormones in the milk.

        Given the lack of scientific evidence that supports the three cups a day recommendation for drinking milk in conjunction with the growing amount of literature on the ill effects of eating dairy, one must wonder: Why haven’t we updated our food guidelines to encourage the public to eat vegetables and other non-dairy foods that are high in calcium rather than relying solely on milk and dairy? It may have something to do with the money that the dairy lobby pours into our political system to promote their interests over our health.