As a lactose-intolerant child my mom brought juice to school for me to drink at snack time when all the other kindergarteners were drinking milk. I was the odd one out and hated it, but maybe my mom was really on to something. We all grow up hearing about how drinking milk gives us strong bones, but is it really as healthy as many experts claim? “Got the Facts on Milk?” is an upcoming documentary made by Shira Lane that examines Americans’ beliefs about milk and the truth about milk’s healthfulness. Her own dairy allergy prompted her to examine any and all scientific research on the subject and after being startled by the lack on consensus she takes off on a road trip to uncover the truth. This clever, educational, and entertaining documentary follows Lane and her crew across the country as they interview ordinary people, dairy farmers, doctors, scientists, researchers, and school children to uncover the truth about milk. Their goal was to reach Washington D.C. and pose their questions about the health benefits of milk to anyone in the USDA who had the knowledge. Lane was curious about what information she would get from the government body that makes our country’s dietary guidelines.
While viewing this documentary it became clear that Americans primarily believe that milk is good for you and the calcium in it helps build strong bones, but for the most part have never heard any scientific reasoning behind the claim. This belief is passed down through generations of Americans–and comes from the long history of advertisements that the dairy industry has presented about the benefits of milk since World War I, when dairies found themselves with an excess that needed to be sold. But are these benefits validated? Or are we being presented with false information about the health benefits of milk?
The truth that this documentary uncovers is startling. Between 1988 and 1993 over 2,700 articles about milk were added into medical archives, but not a single one referred to milk as an excellent food. Instead, they focused on the medical problems related to milk, including intestinal bleeding, asthma, childhood diabetes, heart disease, anemia, arthritis, allergic reactions, cancer, and even Bovine Leukemia (an AIDS-like virus that affects cows). A surprisingly high number of people across the globe are lactose intolerant, meaning they are unable to digest milk sugar. Many experts believe that these high rates are most likely because our bodies are not made to digest lactose. 75 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, since most humans lose the enzyme used to digest lactose after the age of two. The dairy consumption being pushed in the U.S. has created a genetic mutation where the enzyme used to digest milk is kept for an individual’s entire life span. It only takes having a few generations of milk drinking Americas in your family for this mutation to take place. It can now be seen in 85 percent of Caucasian Americans – explains why I felt like the odd one out as a kid! If the human body isn’t made to digest milk after the age of two, how could it be good for us?
The most common and widely accepted beneficial attributed to milk is it’s rich in calcium, a mineral essential for bone health. However, in the documentary, nutritional scientist Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D. and nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. both agree that milk isn’t actually a good source of calcium. It does contain some calcium, but some vegetables like collard greens and spinach can contain just as much of the nutrient and have higher absorption rates (without the fat and cholesterol that comes in milk). One study found that countries with higher milk and calcium consumption actually had a higher rate of hip fractures. This is believed to be because the calcium found in milk has a 32 percent absorption rate whereas the calcium found in some vegetables can have over a 50 percent absorption rate. Not only do many scientists believe that the staple benefit of milk has been disproved, but the high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol found in milk have been found to have negative health effects.
Every day children under the age of 10 need about 1,000 mg of calcium, teenagers need about 1,300 mg, and adults need around 1,000 mg. There are many healthy non-dairy ways to get the calcium you need: One half cup serving of tofu can give you 253 mg of calcium. You can get 178 mg of calcium in one half cup serving of collard greens and 146 mg of calcium from just a half cup serving of spinach. Although I wouldn’t recommend cutting milk completely out of your diet (a big glass is often needed with cookies) it’s important to know some of the myths about the benefits of milk and choose what you eat wisely. So next time you want milk to build strong bones grab the greens instead. And for more information check out “Got the Facts on Milk?” coming out on DVD on August 30th. (dairydocumentary.com)