Is it healthy for humans to consume cow's milk and dairy products?
Do we need to consume milk/dairy to be healthy? What about calcium? I’ve been asked these questions several times lately.
“Stay away from milk. It is nature's perfect food - but only if you are a calf.” - Dr. Mark Hyman
In fact, dairy foods like milk may be causing you feel not so great. No matter how many commercials you see that say otherwise, milk does not necessarily do your body good.
The American Dairy Association wants us to think we will die early (or fall and break a hip) without a daily glass of milk or two. To the contrary, there are entire countries of people who never eat dairy foods in their entire lives. And they still thrive and get plenty of calcium in their diets.
Did you know that over two-thirds of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance? This means the body lacks an enzyme called lactase and cannot digest milk well, causing bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, or other IBS-like symptoms. This is a digestive issue and can be easily resolved if you just stop eating dairy foods. Why suffer!
But besides lactose intolerance, for many people, dairy foods are highly inflammatory. As one of the top three food sensitivities in the US, consuming dairy can cause postnasal drip, chronic congestion, headaches, achy joints, skin inflammation like eczema, weight loss struggles, and/or low energy. Unlike lactose intolerance, you may have no GI symptoms at all. Dairy sensitivity is an immune system reaction. Your body decides dairy foods are a foreign invader (just like it does for a bacteria or virus) and develops antibodies against it. Antibodies allow your immune system to remember what milk looks like. Then every time you drink it, your immune system reactivates the response. And you don’t feel well (usually a delayed reaction). You might want to experiment and fully eliminate all dairy foods for three weeks and watch how you feel. Note: it really needs to be 100% elimination to determine your body’s response (yes, no yogurt, cheese or ice cream).
Dairy sensitivity is growing! The more we make food look less natural to our immune systems, the more likely our bodies are to reject it. With most milk, we pasteurize it, homogenize it, pump it up with hormones and pharmaceuticals, and feed highly stressed-out cows unnatural grains like GMO corn. By the way, having low Vitamin D makes you more likely to develop food sensitivities. Check your levels to make sure they are optimal.
Many people don’t even like dairy but force themselves to eat it so they get enough calcium. Here’s another myth! Studies repeatedly show that higher calcium intake does not help bones long-term. Shocking, I know. Flexible bones are made up of a matrix of protein. We typically become vulnerable to fractures as we age because we stop digesting protein well and/or (for women at least) our progesterone and estrogen levels plummet. Without sufficient protein, dense bones can still be brittle. Strong bones are fortified with a rich mix of minerals including magnesium, boron, strontium, magnesium, manganese, and calcium. Vitamin K2 is particularly critical to ensure the calcium you eat gets into your bones (vs. into soft tissues like your kidneys or the lining of your arteries). Unfortunately, you will not hear about it from the milk commercials.
Yes, we need calcium! Our body uses calcium to run our muscles. Our bones are just our storehouse reserves. And if you do well with dairy foods, they are an excellent source of calcium. Especially fermented dairy like organic plain yogurt and cheese, as these are more likely to be well tolerated by your immune system. But if you don’t do well with dairy, calcium is abundant in many other foods. Especially leafy green vegetables like spinach and collard greens and kale. Nuts like almonds are also good sources. Sesame seeds are particularly high in calcium; sprinkle them on salads, soups, and stir-fry. Tahini (sesame seed butter) is in most hummus and makes a great base for a stir-fry sauce. A delicious, natural sweet treat is a sesame seed bar called halvah.
If you do take calcium supplements, don’t overdo it. Your heart health depends on this choice! Did you know that a significant part of most arterial plaque build-up is calcium? Here are some clinical study results that might surprise you:
In one study, mix of pre- and post-menopausal women and men who used calcium supplements had a 140% higher risk of heart attack. Those getting calcium from food didn’t have increased risk.
In another, more than 1000mg/day of calcium supplements was associated with a 20% increase in cardiovascular disease-related death in men. Dietary calcium was not a factor.
Furthermore, women had a 150% higher risk of heart attack if using 500mg/day supplement along with high dietary intake (for a typical total of 1400mg/day or higher).
And it is well acknowledged that calcium supplementation increases the incidence of kidney stones while dietary calcium does not.
Our body cannot process well the high amounts of calcium in supplements, and excess can end up clogging the arteries or gets stored as kidney stones. Even Dr. Walter Willet, from Harvard University’s School of Public Health (and easily the most respected nutritionist in the world) recommends no more than ~700mg total calcium per day for healthy adults. And part of this comes from food (even without dairy).
Here is a list of the foods with the highest content of calcium (excluding dairy).
· Sardines (canned with bones) — 1 cup: 569 mg (57% DV)
· Kale (raw) — 1 cup: 90.5 mg (9% DV)
· Okra (raw) — 1 cup: 81 mg (8% DV)
· Bok Choy — 1 cup: 74 mg (7% DV)
· Almonds — 1 ounce: 73.9 mg (7% DV)
· Broccoli (raw) — 1 cup: 42.8 mg (4% DV)
· Watercress — 1 cup: 41 mg (4% DV)
Unless you have advanced osteopenia or osteoporosis, we recommend getting calcium from food (not supplements)
and always making sure the supporting cofactors are consumed too. Systemic inflammation can be a major contributor to loss of bone density, and it’s important that we get to the root cause before the disease processes begin.
Eating whole unprocessed foods will definitely put you on the right track to health.