Is dairy bad for you? There’s a lot of information and no definite answers. However, we do know that dairy is NOT the gateway to strong bones. Calcium is important, but milk and other dairy products are far from the best sources 1 and may actual do more harm to your bones than good.
Got Milk? Hopefully not.
Saying milk doesn’t protect bones is the same as saying the sky isn’t blue, right? Or, maybe not.
If milk and dairy products are so good for us, why does the US department of Agriculture spend $550 million to advertise the so called ‘necessary health benefits’ that dairy exudes?2 Perhaps they just really want everyone to soak up everything dairy has to offer!? Or they’re just trying to encourage people to keep the billion dollar dairy industry afloat. Based on the below studies, and the history of the dairy industry, we’re going to assume the latter.
Many studies have actually linked dairy consumption to osteoporosis.3,4 Osteoporosis is a disorder which causes bones to be more porous, brittle and subject to fracture.35 When bone loss becomes more prevalent than the growth of new bones, this is the onset of Osteoporosis.35 That means milk can actually weaken your bones!
One of these studies was conducted by Harvard; they spent 12 years examining almost 78 thousand women to find out whether high intakes of milk and other calcium rich foods lowered the risk of osteoporosis. Their results; women who consumed 3 glasses of milk a day broke more bones that those who limited their dairy consumption.5 Additionally, a study in Australia found those who consumed the most dairy out of a group of elderly men and women, were twice as likely to suffer from hip fractures than those who consumed the least amount of dairy. 6
The World Health Organization has even noted that countries with the highest consumption of dairy, also have the highest rates of bone fractures.7
Shockingly some research has even found that dairy consumption during your young adult years is associated with a strong correlation to osteoporosis. One study found “Consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age. ” 35
Did you think milk was nature’s greatest nutritional gift? Think again. Over 60% of the world’s population is actually lactose intolerant.8 Milk and other dairy products can also lead to mucus build up.39 This is because they contain lactose and casein. Lactose leads to the formation of mucus and because casein is hard to digest, it secretes mucus and can even lead to sinus infections.39
Why does this all happen? Because cow’s milk is designed for a baby cow, not for humans. Who would’ve thought?!
How cow’s milk weakens bones
Cow’s milk has a positive Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) of 1.9 This means it has an acidic affect in the body. PRAL’s measure the pH levels on a scale from 0-14.10 The lower the number, the more acidic it is, the higher the number means it’s more alkaline.10 So with milk being a 1, you can see how truly acidic it is.
To stay alive, our blood must remain at a balanced pH range of 7.35-7.45. So, when highlyacidic foods like milk are consumed, the body will jump in and neutralize the compounds so the blood levels will not be affected. However, the body does this by sacrificing bone density to protect the urinary tract and kidneys from having to neutralize the acidic properties. So where does our body find acid neutralizing properties, in a readily available form? In our bones.10 How ironic! Your body must rob it’s own calcium storage to neutralize the acidity of cow’s milk. This is because calcium that’s been digested and stored in the bones, is in an alkaline state that can best neutralize acidity. It’s thought that carbonic acid and carbonates are responsible for the low Ph levels (acidity) in cow’s milk.11
This is why cow’s milk and relating dairy products have been shown to weaken bones. It all has to do with how the milk is metabolized in the body.
Dairy products have also been shown to cause inflammation.37 Trans fats greatly trigger inflammation, and cheese is one of the biggest contributors of trans fats in the Standard American Diet.38
Another point to consider, is cow’s milk is designed by nature, for calves! It contains nutritional properties to help calves grow and stay healthy. It actually contains 3 times the amount of protein as human breast milk.10 It should come as no surprise that drinking this regularly, will cause some metabolic issues, because humans are not calves!10
This is why most dairy products don’t actually contain true, bioavailable calcium for humans. Again, this milk was made by mother cow’s to provide adequate nourishment for calves, not human beings. Perhaps during simpler times drinking milk wasn’t so hard on the digestive system because cow’s were fed more naturally; fresh, wild grass while grasing, as opposed to GMO fodder which is used presently by many factory dairy farms, because it’s cheaper.12 Additionally, milk wasn’t as highly pasteurized as it is now, nor did it contain hormones and antibiotics, which are both byproducts of the industrialization of the dairy industry. Lastly, despite the growing evidence that showcases the negative effects of consuming dairy, people are consuming more of it than ever before.13
highly processed & refined
Many countries standardize pasteurization of milk. This means before the initial vitamin fortification process, cow’s milk is stripped of all its nutritional content due to the heavy heating methods used to kill potential bacteria. The FDA claims that “pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value”.14 Strangely, this statement contradicts what the International Dairy Foods Association says that about pasteurized milk. The IDFA claims cow’s milk is heated at temperatures anywhere from 61 to 138 degrees Celsius.15 Although minerals like calcium aren’t as heat sensitive as vitamins, they can still be destroyed at temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. 16,17 This is also dependent on cooking time.
Dairy foods are also one of the top sources of sodium and trans fat.18 Additionally, have you ever seen the phrase on some milk cartons ‘fortified with vitamin D’ or ‘fortified with calcium’? These fortified vitamins are synthetically made, and get added in because the pasteurization has killed off so many of the valuable naturally occuring vitamins. The only problem is that fortified vitamins are not the same as true, dietary food vitamins. Vitamins from food are absorbed 200 to 1500 times better than synthetic, isolated vitamins that have been added to foods.19,20
it’s not just a little white lie
Okay, so why are we lead to believe that a healthy diet must include dairy, and why are people consuming more dairy than ever before? 13 Some experts suggest this is due to the common use of dairy products in many packaged foods. Due to its mass production, it’s a cheap way to add lots of flavour to processed foods.
The demand is kept high because the industry makes a lot of money. The dairy industry makes billions of dollars a year, in North America alone. One sugary yogurt brand actually made 1.3 billion dollars from 2012-2013.21
To keep cash in their pockets, the dairy industry heavily markets its products to people everywhere, partially by making outlandish health claims. Not only this, but large dairy farms are replacing smaller owned family farms to meet the demands of consumers, which are; fast food, for cheap. 22 Globally more and more people are demanding quick foods at lower prices. This leads to more processed, shelf stable foods that contain dairy additives for flavour. It wasn’t up until the 1920’s that large industries began to push the ideals of consuming dairy. Before then, milk wasn’t a commonly consumed by anyone other than growing babies.
The Canadian Food Guide has even drafted up changes set to be published next year, that will place less emphasis on animal products and more on plant-based foods.36 The new revisions will even deter people from consuming butter, cheese and beef.
the toll on animals and the planet
*This section does contain some graphic content, please continue reading with this in mind, or skip to the next part under ‘calcium rich plant foods.’
It’s no secret that animals greatly suffer in our food industry, but for some reason many people think this suffering is only rampant in the meat industry. Unfortunately happy animals are nowhere to be found in the dairy industry either. Many common industry practices that factory farms use, would be considered animal abuse if carried out on domesticated animals,23 and as the demand for dairy goes up, so does the demand on animals. According to the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals):
“Today’s dairy cows each produce about 100 pounds of milk per day, which is 10 times more than cows living just a few decades ago. This is due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets and being bred selectively for massive milk production”. Cow’s have to work extremely hard to produce milk, and naturally they only produce it when they’re nursing.33 Professor John Webster, author of The Welfare of Dairy Cattle, wrote, “The amount of work done by the cow in peak lactation is immense …To achieve a comparably high work rate a human would have to jog for about six hours a day, every day.” 24
Cruelty to dairy cows aside, consumers are left with milk that is a byproduct of an unnaturally bred animal force fed or injected with hormones. Delightful! Don’t worry, the real cherry on top of this creamy cow’s milk sundae is the antibiotics in milk. You see when cow’s are sick, they are give mass amounts of antibiotics to heal quickly and start producing milk again, because time = milk and milk = money. Traces of those same antibiotics are then found in milk.25 Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and dioxins are other contaminants found in milk. Dairy products contribute to 1/4 to 1/2 of the dietary intake of total dioxins. 26 Note: dioxins are highly toxic compounds that have been linked to causing cancer, reproductive and developmental issues, immune system damage and can interfere with hormones. 27
Calcium rich Plant foods
Beans, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Chinese cabbage and collard are all great sources of calcium.28 To get the most calcium out of your leafy greens, its best to lightly steam them before consumption. This is because many greens contain anti-nutrients called oxalates that inhibit the full absorption of calcium. Oxalates are one of many anti nutritional factors, and they are most commonly found in dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach or beet greens.29,30 Oxalates can be removed by steaming or boiling the greens for a short period of time.31
Beans should be soaked appropriately to destroy their unique antinutrients. Read our soaking guide to get the most out of your beans!
If you’re eating lots of organic, steamed leafy greens and soaked beans, but still looking for more calcium, try our PureFood A to Z! It has 30% of your daily recommendation of calcium, from bioavailable foods. Additionally your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, 32 luckily our A to Z also has 80% of your daily value of vitamin D2! This will help your body absorb and use more calcium.
Due to the processed nature of most dairy products in North America, we recommend consuming them in mild moderation, if at all. Due to the negative health effects and environmental and animal suffering the dairy industry causes, we are all for spending your money elsewhere.
If you do want to eat meat and dairy in moderation, try your best to select grass fed, organic products when possible, to lesser the environmental impacts. As for dairy products, perhaps buy from a small scale family farm and inquire about how the animals are treated. This way your money isn’t supporting large factory farms and their practices. Most misfortune of agriculture is due to the mass scale and fast production methods. The less dairy we consume, the more the demand goes down and the less devastation occurs.
Encourage yourself and others to try delicious nut milks, nut cheeses or other dairyalternatives like our Almond Satay Spread or Coconut Milk Whipped Cream! You might surprise yourself and end up preferring plant-based, whole food, dairy alternatives! 😉
Share this article with someone you know who would love to know the truth about dairy.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2004.
4 Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.
18 Rhodes DG, Adler ME, Clemens JC, LaComb RP, Moshfegh AJ. Consumption of Pizza: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010. Food Surveys Research Group Dietary Data Brief No. 11. February 2014.
19 Vinson JA, Bose P. Bioavailability of Synthetic Ascorbic Acid and a Citrus Extract. Ann New York Academy of Sciences, 1987;498:525-526
20 Vinson JA. Human Supplementation with Different Forms of Vitamin C. University of Scranton, Scranton (PA)RFUll
26 Bhandari SD, Schmidt RH, Rodrick GE. Hazards resulting from environmental, industrial, and agricultural contaminants. In: Schmidt RH, Rodrick GE, eds. Food Safety Handbook. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2005:291–321.
28 Mariotti, F (Ed.) Vegetarian and plant based diets in health and disease prevention (2017) London, UK: Academic Press (pp. 534, paragraph 7)
35 “Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly”. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 139, No. 5, 1994
Additional references and resources: