Too much milk?
By Chris Woolston Special to the Los Angeles Times
July 12, 2010
Few things in life look as pure and simple as a glass of milk. The ingredient list on the carton is refreshingly short too. All it says is "milk," perhaps along with some added vitamin A and vitamin D. No preservatives, no artificial colors, no high-fructose anything. Just milk.
But like many things that appear simple from the outside, there's a lot going on beneath milk's surface. That glass is swirling with natural cow hormones, which isn't surprising considering the source. Milk contains sugars found nowhere else in nature, and it offers a particular blend of nutrients — including protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium — that you can't get anywhere else.
Yet, almost 8,000 years after nomadic herders realized they could tug at the udders of slow-moving livestock, we still aren't sure how much of the stuff we should be drinking. The USDA recommends three cups of dairy a day for all adults, but the science behind milk hasn't been settled. "This is one of the most complicated and interesting areas of nutrition," says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, "and we don't have all of the answers."
Many high-profile nutritionists — often working with large research grants from the dairy industry — say that milk in great quantities is an essential part of the daily diet that can help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. "Anything less than three glasses a day, and you won't get all of the nutrients that you need," says Connie Weaver, head of food and nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Most of Weaver's funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, but she's also supported by the National Dairy Council.
On the other side, groups promoting animal rights and veganism — including PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — say that cow's milk is a nutritional nightmare that doesn't belong in the human diet. "It's gross," says Dr. Neil Barnard, author and founder of the PCRM. "Milk is nutritionally perfect for one purpose: feeding a calf," he says. "The idea that we should be drinking milk from a cow is just bizarre."
Willett, one of the world's most prominent nutrition experts, doesn't belong to either camp. From his viewpoint, one or two cups of milk each day is a safe, reasonable and nutritious goal. "But beyond that," he says, "the benefits are unclear, and there may be some risk."
The PCRM website says that milk raises the risk of breast cancer, but even Barnard isn't convinced. " Breast cancer is unclear," he says, adding that he doesn't often look at the organization's website. A 2005 report from a researcher with the Australian equivalent of the Dairy Council combined results of 52 previous studies examining the issue. When put together, the studies didn't show any connection between dairy and breast cancer.
With all of the studies mentioned in this article that may suggest this or that, we do know that no single food has ever been proven to cause cancer. That is undeniable fact. So with that in mind we need to go back to common sense. When it comes to food it’s important that we eat a balanced diet that includes meat and diary products. And just to show you how radical groups like the PCRM are, Dr. Barnard (founder of the PCRM) even admits that he doesn’t agree with everything they are saying about milk on their website. You would think that they’d at least try to get their story straight while trying to mislead the public.