Most of us grow up with the conception that milk is the number one source of calcium and a crucial part of a healthy diet. However, much of this hullabaloo is the result of strategic and clever ad campaigns by the dairy industry. Milk is actually neither the most reliable source of calcium, nor the beacon of health it’s cracked up to be.
Babies Drink Milk
Babies consume milk because it is a customized food that is easily digestible and provides them with the nutrients they need to grow and develop in the early stages of their life. But after they wean off mother’s milk, humans stand alone as the only species on earth that continues to drink milk, let alone from that of another animal!
It takes humans some sixteen years to reach maturity versus cows who do it only one year. And with cow bones three to four times bigger than human bones, just imagine the chemistry of cow milk in relation to that of human milk. Their calcium-protein ratios are geared towards the individual needs of their respective species. When humans consume cow’s milk, they are ingesting something that is not only ill-suited for their body’s needs, but something that also can be conducive to disease.
Grocery store shelves are lined with pasteurized milk varieties. Pasteurization involves boiling milk to kill all bacteria. Most milk boxes that you see in grocery stores have undergone ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization, which is when the milk is raised to a temperature of about 285 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to sterilize the milk and kill not only bacteria but also any beneficial enzymes. Homogenization is the process of breaking up fat globules to a smaller size so that they remain suspended evenly in the milk rather than separate and floating on the surface.
Both pasteurization and homogenization add further downsides to milk consumption. Heating milk compromises its nutritional value. Homogenization changes the structure of milk’s proteins and makes it much harder to digest. The body is usually efficient in removing potentially harmful elements of milk, but homogenization enables certain substances to sidestep the protection filter, such as the hormones and steroids that may have been administered to the cows to increase production.
The food industry has inculcated a deep sense of trust in milk for its bone-building properties. However, these widespread claims are now coming into question. According to a 12-year Harvard University study of some 80,000 women, those who drank milk three times per day broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. Another study conducted by the Department of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia followed elderly men and women and found that higher dairy product consumption was associated with an increased risk of fracture. Those who had the highest dairy product consumption levels were also those that experienced double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption levels.
Calcium loss in bones occurs when calcium from bones dissolves in the blood stream, passes through the kidneys, and then leaves your body in urine. Reduce your sodium intake and you can decrease calcium loss in bones. Smoking is also a risk factor. According to a study of identical twins, in which one was a long-term smoker and the other not, the smoker’s risk of a fracture was 40 percent higher.
Lifestyle shifts can make a huge difference, without the false reassurance provided by milk consumption. Sure, dairy products contain calcium, but it is often accompanied by cholesterol, sugar, growth hormones, drugs, and other toxins, ultimately overshadowing the possible benefits. Opt for plant-proteins over animal-proteins, and you can avoid the leaching of calcium from your bones. Consume more beans, grains, and vegetables in place of fish, poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products.
A diet rich in easy-to-digest green leaves and vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard is a great way to include calcium. They also contain many other important nutrients and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. Beans are another great source of calcium. They are not only rich in calcium, but they also contain magnesium, which calcium works with to strengthen bones.
If you are looking for the consistency of milk rather than simply the benefits, try your hand at homemade nut milks or purchase them from your local grocery store.
Photo Credit: LollyKnit