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Is Milk Healthy? 8 Surprising Facts About Milk + the Dairy Industry

Have you ever wondered if milk is healthy? Have you stood in the grocery store, reading nutrition labels on milk containers, trying to see through the marketing claims, and wondering why you cannot even pronounce some of the ingredients in something as simple as milk? (True story.)
If you are health conscious, practicing Ahimsa (the yogic principle of non-harming), or you are lactose intolerant, you’ve mostly likely weighed the pros and cons of various kinds of dairy or plant-based milk.

You’ve mostly likely weighed the pros and cons of various kinds of dairy or plant-based milk.

From cow’s milk to toasted coconut almond milk, there is a wide variety of milk options at grocery stores today. And while a Caffe Breve (with steamed half and half!) may sound awesome on a Sunday morning, the use of dairy, especially non-organic dairy, may give you pause.

The Milk Controversy: An Issue of Nutrition or Freedom of Information?

In 2016, the New York Times published an article highlighting the lack of nutritional value in plant-based milk products when compared to cow’s milk. But they failed to point out the overwhelming evidence against dairy or cow’s milk. And while this article this may curdle your views on lattes and real milkshakes, you don’t want to let lobbyists and marketers cloud your judgment, do you?
Educate yourself on the milk industry and find the right milk for you. The points below may surprise and alarm you, but as a consumer, know that you have the power to influence the market – and make the best choice for your body.
Note: we’ve purposely excluded points about cruelty towards animals in the dairy industry because that warrants an entire article unto itself. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – may all beings be peaceful and free from suffering.

Here are 8 points you should consider before drinking cow’s milk:


1. There are risks associated with dairy consumption

Aside from the prevalence of lactose intolerance among adults, the Harvard School of Public Health questions the safety of milk consumption because dairy products:

  • May contribute to heart disease, due to high levels of saturated fats
  • May lead to ovarian cancer, due to release of certain sugars during the digestion of lactose
  • May lead to prostate cancer, which is associated with diets high in calcium

While more research is needed, these potential risks will certainly make you think twice about downing a glass of whole or skim milk.

2. There are alternative sources for the protein, calcium, and vitamins found in milk

Cow’s milk is naturally rich in protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12 – and it is usually fortified with vitamins A and D. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, milk is “only one of many sources of calcium – dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes are among the other sources.”
While the plant-based milks are not naturally high in protein, they are usually fortified with pea or rice protein, calcium, and vitamins. Additional benefits of alternative milks like almond, coconut, pumpkin, and cashew are still being researched.
If you are interested in avoiding additives like xanthan gum, try making your own almond milk at home. Be sure to supplement your diet with other natural foods high in calcium, protein, potassium and vitamins B12, A, and D.

3. The dairy industry spends millions on lobbying

In 2016, the dairy industrial complex lobbied the US federal government to a tune of $6.5M. In 2017, at the time of writing this article, the dairy industry has already spent $1.45M. Collectively, dairy farmers and manufacturers, like Land O’Lakes, and organizations, like the International Dairy Foods Association, doubled spending on lobbying between 2003 and 2013 from $4M to $8M.
You can read all about these lobbying reports here. So, we aren’t sure exactly how embedded the dairy industry is in the government. Some experts even think that lobbying may have skewed US Dietary Guidelines.


4. The dairy industry wants sole use of the “milk” label

In February, 2017, the New York Times reported that 32 members of Congress asked the Food and Drug Administration to “crack down on companies that call plant-based beverages ‘milk.’” Senator Baldwin of Wisconsin recently introduced the Dairy Pride Act which aims to enforce marketers to comply with the definition that “milk” comes from a dairy animal.
Likely in response to 1) the explosion in the non-dairy milk market (almond, soy, coconut) and 2) the sharp decrease in milk consumption (a 37% decline since 1970), the dairy industry is flexing it’s muscle through government lobbying (see #6 below) and the fine print.
However, they are grasping straws: most consumers know the difference between plant-based and dairy-based milk – and forcing a name change will not change the trend towards plant-based milk.

5. Anti-competitive practices create market barriers for plant-based products

The US government program behind the infamous Got Milk? campaign is under congressional scrutiny for attacking vegan mayo. This may seem like an Orwellian joke, but alas, it is a true story. Taxpayer dollars, managed by government boards, are being used to market certain brands or companies.
One of the benefactors is the dairy industrial complex. While money allocated towards marketing is “supposed to increase consumer demand, broaden the market, and spur the development of new products,” it turns out that it is also being used to attack plant-based competitors. This kind of anti-competitive behavior continues to skew what you see on grocery shelves. Luckily, plant-based product development in Silicon Valley is changing the game.

6. The dairy industry knows how to market disinformation

In the early 1990s, after a decadal downturn in milk consumption, the California Milk Processor Board got creative. The Mad Men-style advertising campaign made milk mustaches sexy again and turned industry sales around.
Yet, the rampant claims of whiter teeth and stronger bones were unfounded – and affirmed a set of beliefs that still have a stronghold today. It was a marketing success that fooled the public. But it is never too late to get informed!

7. Humans are the only mammals that drink another species’ milk regularly past infancy

What a strange fact! Humans are the only mammals that drink the milk of other animals regularly and past infancy. According to Archeologist Oliver Craig at the University of York, infants (human or otherwise) produce an enzyme that aids digestion of milk; this enzyme is effectively turned off in adulthood for most species.
While your pets may also go nuts for some cow’s milk, this is not commonplace in the animal kingdom. Maybe this fact alone will make you say, “Got [something besides cow’s] milk?”

8. Even Harvard experts question the nutritional necessity of milk

David Ludwig and Walter Wilett, nutrition experts at Harvard, argue that healthy adults who eat vegetables, nuts, and protein do not get extra benefits from consuming cow’s milk (as explained in JAMA Pediatrics).
They raised concerns about exposure to hormones and antibiotics in milk and high levels of sugar found in chocolate milk – often served in schools. They also questioned the consistent inclusion of 3 cups of milk per day in dietary guidelines created by various organizations and the government.

Listen to Your Body

Every body is different. And everything in moderation, as the adage goes. You should find the right balance for you. If you’ve never tried a dairy-free diet, try it and see what happens. If drinking milk on occasion is a ritual you love, then enjoy that hot chocolate.
However, empower yourself with knowledge and don’t be tricked by disinformation and marketing. Do your own research, see what feels best for your body, and make your own decision.

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Kendra Sand

Kendra is a writer, yoga teacher, and world traveler with an affinity for orchids, hardcover books, and dancing in the moonlight.

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