Is Dairy Healthful or Harmful?
There has been a lot of unfounded controversy around dairy. I have heard everything from ‘we are the only mammals who eat another mammal’s milk’ to ‘dairy causes cancer.’ Before I delve into this topic, I need to say this – I feel that there are many paths to health – vegan, vegetarian and omnivore alike. Base you choice to include dairy or exclude dairy off of your personal preference and what feels right for you and not from scare tactics used by people or organizations who are trying to promote their cause.
So, let’s take the first statement – “We are the only mammals who eat another mammal’s milk.’ Actually, we are the only animals capable of milking another animal. There’s a big difference between these statements.
We also farm, cook our foods, read books, go to work, have insurance, drink lattes, drive cars… we do a lot of things that other animals don’t do. Dairy is a highly absorbable protein and nutrient rich food. If accessible, it would be hard pressed to find any animal that would turn this meal down. If you put a bowl of milk out, many animals would consume it. And may I add – if the wolf could get the cow to stand still long enough to milk it, it wouldn’t need to kill the cow.
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I have heard that “dairy causes cancer.” This idea really hitting cult like status when written about in the book The China Study and the follow up film, Forks Over Knives. This book was the most frequently mentioned book during initial intake sessions with my patients over a three year period. When I first watched Forks Over Knives, I had not looked at the preview or film summary. I was working on a project at home and it was playing in the background. I kept hearing inconsistencies being presented in the film – so much so that I stopped what I was doing and started taking notes to look everything up. When I went to research these items, I found that Denise Minger of Raw Food SOS had already done so – page by page with the book and frame by frame with the movie. There have been other well done critiques of The China Study as well – Chris Kresser is one and the Weston Price Organization is another.
Before we talk about the purposed dairy and cancer connection, let’s talk about the book’s author, T. Colin Campbell. He is a vegan, with a strong passion for proving his point that animal protein causes heart disease and cancer. His book The China Study, was written off of the data collected in an epidemiological study during the middle of the last century in China. The book’s major thesis is that we could prevent or cure most disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases… etc) by eating a whole foods plant-based diet, drastically reducing our protein intake, and avoiding meat and dairy products entirely.
The claims that Campbell made in his book were not supported by the data collected in China. He also failed to include important data points that didn’t support his vegan agenda. This isn’t good science. The book, The China Study is an opinion based book, written off an observational study (where no cause and effect can be gleamed) and he cherry picked the data that would best support his claim.
For example, Campbell conveniently fails to mention the county of Tuoli in China. The folks in Tuoli ate 45% of their diet as fat, 134 grams of animal protein each day (twice as much as the average American), and rarely ate vegetables or other plant foods. Yet, according to the data collected, they were extremely healthy with low rates of cancer and heart disease; healthier, in fact, than many of the counties that were nearly vegan. This is just one of many cases of the selective citation and data cherry picking Campbell employs in the China Study.
The China Study is an opinion based book, written off an observational study (where no cause and effect can be gleamed) and he cherry picked the data that would best support his claim. This information was never peer reviewed nor was it published in a medical journal. And yet, this book has had a HUGE influence on the way that many American’s think about dairy. What I see is a large percent of the population being confused about whether dairy is a healthy option or not, and yet they keep eating it because it is prevalent in our food supply and likely because it tastes good. It isn’t healthy to think that a food you are eating isn’t good for you. This sets up uncertainty, stress and guilt. My goal here is that we clear up these misconceptions and this allows you to make a decision about whether to include dairy, again, based your personal preference and how your body responds to dairy.
Does Dairy Cause Cancer?
Let’s dive into the idea that dairy causes cancer – casein and whey are the two proteins in milk. The China Study book, clearly states that dairy causes cancer. What he is basing this off is rat studies. Here is what he presents: in this study rats were either fed a 20% casein diet or a 5% casein diet (so one group of rats is on a 20% protein diet and the other group is on a 5% protein diet). What he and the film Forks Over Knives state is that the rats eating a 20% casein protein diet acquired cancer and saw increased tumor growth on this diet. The rats eating the 5% casein protein diet, did not get cancer. Furthermore, when the rat’s that were eating a 20% casein diet were reduced to 5% casein, the tumor growth slowed. This sounds convincing, doesn’t it?
What he failed to mention is this, in these studies the rats were injected with the highest level of aflatoxin allowed by the FDA in animal studies. Aflatoxin is the toxin associated with peanuts that cause peanut allergies in some humans. The dose of aflatoxin administered to these rats was equivalent to a human eating over 100,000 peanut butter sandwiches. The aflatoxin is what caused the tumor. In fact, if a study is being designed to test a medication, chemical or nutrient on a tumor, aflatoxin is one of the ways to induce a tumor that you would then test your hypothesis on.
The Rats Eating Less Protein (less casein) Died Faster
What was also not presented was that the rats eating 5% casein actually died at a faster rate than the rats eating 20% casein. Why did this happen? Because detoxification is protein driven and the rats eating the 20% casein protein were kept alive longer by being fed a higher protein diet – long enough for the tumors to grow. Dairy does not cause cancer. Casein does not cause cancer.
This may sound like harsh criticism of The China Study and in all honesty it is. This information that animal protein causes heart disease and dairy causes cancer is false. It is an idea that has been circulating in our nation for quite some time and it is simply breading more confusion. We were told that saturated fat caused heart disease in the 70’s – go eat margarine. We were told that eggs raise your cholesterol in the 80’s – go eat egg beaters. We were told that animal protein and dairy cause cancer in this decade – none of these are true.
We have been consuming dairy for over 10,000 years. In fact, we can trace back a genetic adaptation out of dairy farming cultures called ‘lactase persistence.’ Meaning, that people genetically adapted to continue to produce lactase, the sugar in milk, throughout their lifetime.
Dairy is a nutritious food source that may be included, if you choose.
The best dairy to choose is:
Full fat, organic, unsweetened, cultured dairy: cheese, kefir and yogurt – these are the best choices.
Dairy made from cows eating fast growing spring and fall grasses has the highest nutritional content.
I do not recommend nonfat sweetened yogurts, low fat string cheese or nonfat milk. Eat whole foods, the way that nature intended.
Full fat dairy has been scientifically shown to be beneficial to health. Whey has been shown to be anti-carcinogenic in studies. In peer reviewed published studies that have been replicated – whey is anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer). Whey increases glutathione levels in your body – this is one of the most important antioxidants in the body. People eating dairy have a lower chance of getting type 2 diabetes.
If you have a known sensitivity to dairy, don’t eat it. If you are sensitive to lactose, you lack the enzyme lactase to break down the milk sugar lactose. You may still be able to eat fermented dairy foods like cheese and yogurt. These foods contain some enzymes and healthy flora that aid in digestion. You can also enjoy butter, which is 99.9% lactose free.
If you are sensitive to the protein in dairy, then you are likely sensitive to casein and not whey. You could still enjoy ghee. This is clarified butter. The milk solids have been skimmed off. This is virtually a casein-free product. I recommend the brand Pure Indian Foods. You can find this online. Right on their jar they state: Made from cows raised organically eating fast growing spring and fall grasses. If you go to their site you will also notice that this product is not available year round. This is and should be a seasonal product (made from cow’s eating fast growing spring and fall grasses). You may also opt for their cultured ghee. This is 100% casein and lactose free. Again, this is ideal if you are sensitive to casein and/ or lactose intolerant.
You are the only one that can determine if you would like to include or exclude dairy. If you feel that you do have a reaction to dairy, pull it for 30 days and then reintroduce it and see how you feel.
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