While not equivalent to soda and trans fat-laden fast food, they are nevertheless not the nutrition all-stars we have been made to believe. The time for an objective analysis has come.
In no particular order:
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While not equivalent to soda and trans fat-laden fast food, they are nevertheless not the nutrition all-stars we have been made to believe. The time for an objective analysis has come.
In no particular order:
Times have changed. Soy was the first plant milk to “go mainstream” in the mid 1990s, and now multiple varieties are on supermarket shelves, including almond, coconut, hazelnut, hemp, oat, rice, and sunflower seed.
Much like an only child who is the center of attention until a sibling comes along, Big Dairy has started to lash out. “Alternative milks” are no longer relegated to the vegan world; vegetarians and omnivores also purchase and consume plant-based milks. Bad news for Big Dairy (AKA The California Milk Processor Board).
Big Dairy – more specifically, the Milk Processors Education Program – has a hefty advertising budget. Roughly $70 million a year, to be quasi-exact.
Most people are familiar with their “Got Milk?” campaign, but largely unaware of “Get The Glass”, their ‘advergaming’/’edutainment” online interactive adventure (which, from the looks of it, was certainly not produced on a shoestring budget).
I came across the game this past weekend, but “Get The Glass” has been around since 2007. At the time, Steve James, Director of the California Milk Processing Board, explained:
“We want people to imagine what it would be like if milk really was this scarce and how that would change the way we think about it.”
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (or read my tidbits on Facebook regularly) know my stance on milk — yes, it is a good source of calcium and vitamin D (though, remember, milk in the US contains vitamin D because it is mandated by law; in many other countries, milk is devoid of the sunshine vitamin), but not the best source; it also lacks many nutrients that are crucial for healthy bones.
Too often, conversations and debates on the nutritional “worth” of milk turn into a “cows” versus “soybeans” face-off or, if it’s slightly more advanced, “cows” versus all the available milk alternatives (soy, almond, coconut, hemp, oat, and hazelnut).
As far as calcium is concerned, fortified foods and beverages contain calcium that is just as absorbable as — and in some cases, more absorbable than — the calcium in milk. In other words — the added calcium in soy or almond milk is just as good for your bones as the one in cow’s milk (or any other animal’s milk, for that matter).
Unlike the vast majority of nutrients, which only work effectively within their respective food matrices (i.e.: vitamin E, which needs to work with other antioxidants that are present in the foods it is in to do its job properly), calcium’s health benefits are equally derived from food or supplementation.
Vitamin D is fortified in dairy and non-dairy milks. Besides, in order to consume the high amounts we now know are needed for overall health (not just bone health), supplementation is a must.
In order to truly tackle the topic of bone health, though, we need to go beyond the calcium and vitamin D content of milk and its vegan analogues and instead identify all the nutrients that play important roles in bone health. In doing so, we find that milk is far from the king of the bone health hill.
Do you have any insight on Omega 7? Someone told me it was good.
— Marie-Rose Nduku
New York, NY
Before we get to the actual answer, I think it is worth reminding everyone that only two omega fatty acids — omega 3 and omega 6 — are essential. In the world of nutrition, an “essential nutrient” is one we must obtain from food since our bodies are unable to manufacture it. This is why cholesterol is not an essential nutrient. Our bodies produce it on a daily basis, so one can be perfectly healthy without ever consuming a single milligram of cholesterol.
Omega-7 is not an essential fatty acid, no matter how crucial manufacturers of omega-7 supplements make it seem. Let’s learn more about it, though.
There are two types of omega-7 fatty acids: palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.
Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid manufactured by our bodies from other fatty acids in the diet, but is also found in decent amounts in fish and macadamia nut oil. Though research on it is very limited, we do know that it raises the body’s levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This is quite an anomaly, since most monounsaturated fatty acids raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
And so we come to the problem of isolating nutrients, rather than considering them within their respective food matrix. Unfortunately, the mainstream media loves to isolate nutrients and attempt to incite unnecessary hysteria. The fact that palmitoleic acid raises LDL levels does not mean fish and macadamia nut oil are now “unhealthy”.
Foods are a combination of fatty acids. In the example of fish, palmitoleic acid makes up a small amount of the total fatty acid percentage. Even in the case of macadamia nut oil, palmitoleic acid only makes up about twenty percent of its fatty acid profile (almost two-thirds of it are comprised of heart-healthy oleic acid).
Vaccenic acid — the other omega-7 — is a healthful naturally-occurring trans fat found in full-fat dairy products (and, to a smaller extent, in reduced-fat products). I know, I know; all this time you have heard trans fats be vilified. However, the trans fats nutritionists declared Public Enemy #1 were man-made, artificial trans fats. Natural trans fats (like vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid) are a whole other story.
Vaccenic acid is an isomer of heart-healthy oleic acid (“isomer” is science-speak for “not identical, but very very similar to”). Research on vaccenic acid has also been rather scant, but it appears that it is converted into conjugated linoleic acid by the body, thereby providing some cardiovascular-protective benefits.
So, what are our takeaways?
Approximately 75 percent of feedlot cattle (this includes dairy cattle as well as those slaughtered for their meat) in the US receive artificial hormone injections.
Despite its prevalence, Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) hasn’t even been on the market for twenty years.
Even more disturbingly, its safety was never properly assessed. For an eye-opening — and simultaneously infuriating — look at how rBGH made it past the Food & Drug Administration’s approval process, read this short summary by the folks at Sustainable Table.
As much as companies like Monsanto want to make artificial hormones seem like a utopian solution (to what problem, I ask?), the following countries have banned them due to serious health and safety concerns (both for cattle and humans!):
I see this verbiage on my milk carton and it seems very vague.
“Our farmers pledge not to treat their cows with rbST.”
The word ‘pledge’ implies to me that they may or may not do what is stated above.
I’m interested in your input.
— Ken Leebow
In the overwhelming majority of cases, farmers who pledge not to use recombinant bovine Somatotropin (rbST)/ recombinant growth hormone (rBGH) sign legal affidavits that are kept on file by the respective companies they provide milk to.
In the vast majority of cases, though, this is done via an honor system. There is no formal inspection process.
There also aren’t unannounced assessments or investigations. For example, the New York and Connecticut chapters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association explicitly state that they “do not investigate or make any guarantee that the individual farmer is complying with the Farmer’s Pledge.”
Apparently, someone at the National Milk Producers Federation recently had some spare time on their hands — along with a hefty dose of misdirected anger — to bang out this exhausting exhaustive petition about “imitation products that milk dairy terms”.
As NMPF CEO and president Jerry Kozak explains,
“The [Food and Drug Administration] has allowed the meaning of ‘milk’ to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn. You don’t got milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can’t say cheese if it’s made from rice, and faux yogurt can’t be made from soy and still be called yogurt.”
Grammar issues aside (“you don’t got”?), I’m not so sure about using the inside of a dairy barn as a utopian benchmark. Most dairy cattle subsist on unhealthy diets of corn, growth hormones, and antibiotics, and spend most of their lives standing in one spot. I don’t think a hemp plant would be eager to pull a “Freaky Friday” with your average US dairy cattle.
What absolutely confuses me about this petition is that dairy alternatives are already adequately described as “(name of food here) milk.”
The term “milk” in the context of these alternatives makes sense to me. After all, these products are meant to replicate and replace milk in a multitude of ways (in smoothies, over cereal, in coffee, etc).
Kozak and his ilk claim this petition is done in an effort to “prevent false and misleading labeling on consumer products,” but I have yet to know of anyone who accidentally bought soy milk or rice milk thinking they were buying dairy-based milk.
I have seen the term “mylk” thrown around to describe dairy alternatives, which I find to be kind of adorable in that cute counter-culture kind of way.
Do you find this petition as absurd as I do, or do you consider Mr. Kozak’s claims valid?
UPDATE (May 3): Thank you to Small Bites reader Derek for pointing out that the odd grammar I pointed out in Mr. Kozak’s statement is in reference to the multi-million dollar “Got Milk?” campaign!
What are your thoughts on raw milk?
— Adina Grigore
What a timely question!
A few days ago, the Food & Drug Administration officially stated that raw milk should be avoided, since it can “sicken and kill people.”
Why make that statement now? It follows “twelve confirmed cases of illness in Michigan after consumers drank raw milk from Forest Grove Dairy in Middlebury, Indiana.”
The FDA also points to the following statistics related to raw milk consumption, acquired between 1998 and 2008:
If we break it down by year, that’s:
I am not trivializing any person’s death, but consider, for instance, that 28 people died after being struck by lightning in 2008 alone (the average, by the way, is estimated at 40 deaths per year).
So, while raw milk is not some magical elixir that is nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk, I also don’t think it is a hands-down lethal concoction.
FYI 1: In 22 of the 50 states, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption.
FYI 2: Certain populations (individuals with compromised immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, and toddlers) need to be especially careful.
The real concern with raw milk is improper handling. It can be very easy to produce unsafe milk, since cows do not reside in the cleanest of environments.
That said, there are plenty of small farmers who take great care to produce raw milk, and certainly a good number of individuals who drink raw milk regularly and do not get food poisoning.
If raw milk is what you seek, I would check out the source very carefully.
Don’t be afraid to ask raw milk providers important questions: how long have they been producing and selling raw milk for? What precautions do they take to ensure minimal risk (with raw milk, there is never zero risk), etc.
This is a bit of a catch-22. Since the FDA does not condone raw milk consumption, don’t expect any sort of governing body to ever set standards for raw milk and make the process safer for consumers any time soon.
I’m seeing a nutritionist who has given me a regimen to follow. I’m a little skeptical of it, so am researching each of the items one by one.
One of the items is forgoing milk. She said cow’s milk is particularly bad because it’s pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and our stomachs aren’t meant to digest the milk of another animal.
If I must have some milk, she recommended small amounts of goat’s or sheep’s milk (or cheese), because those animals aren’t fed as many antibiotics and hormones as cows are. (This last part makes me think that organic milk would be no worse than goat or sheep milk, but anyway…)
I know many people are lactose-intolerant because we aren’t meant to digest milk after childhood.
However, if I’m not lactose-intolerant, is it still possible that milk is affecting my digestive system negatively? Do you ever recommend to your clients that they drop dairy entirely?
Should I care that all of the substitutes for dairy milk (soy, almond, rice) are highly processed and don’t really occur in nature?
— Meredith (Last name withheld)
Wonderful questions, Meredith.
First of all, not all cow’s milk is pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.
While, sadly, that is the norm, it is possible to purchase organic milk from cows that have not been fed either of those two things. You can also purchase milk from grass-fed cows (that have also not been pumped with antibiotics and hormones) in most health food stores.
As for the arguments that our stomachs aren’t meant to digest the milk of another animal — it depends. That is certainly true for some individuals, but not for others.
For information on the digestibility of goat’s milk (it goes far beyond lower lactose levels!), please read this post.
Bottom line: if you are not lactose intolerant, there is no reason why dairy products would affect your digestive system negatively.
I would never recommend that a client of mine who is able to digest dairy products completely eliminate them (I do think it is a good idea for omnivores to get calcium from a variety of different foods and not rely solely on dairy, though).
Similarly, I would never tell a vegan client (or one who is lactose intolerant) that their diet is inferior because it does not include dairy.
The mere presence — or absence — of dairy does not make a diet any healthier.
From a purely nutritional standpoint, there is nothing wrong with having it or eschewing it.
Ultimately, your body knows you best. There are people who, while not allergic or intolerant to dairy, feel better without it in their diet. Others feel better when they consume dairy on a daily basis. Both experiences are valid.
In terms of dairy milk substitutes — I enjoy making different nut milks at home. It’s easy, inexpensive, and less processed than some products out there.
That said, if you are buying unsweetened varieties that consist of two or three ingredients, you don’t have anything to worry about.
FYI: One of my favorite home-made nut milks is cashew milk. In a blender, mix a half cup of cashews, two cups of water, a pinch of salt, and some vanilla extract. This makes two cups of cashew milk — delicious by itself or over cereal.
For a chocolate version, add a tablespoon of cacao powder! You can also try substituting cashews with almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, or hazelnuts.
Update (1/20/12): My stance on this issue has since solidified. I fully support chocolate milk bans at schools. In short, children consume excessive amounts of sugars, and chocolate milk only contributes to that amount. It is important to consider the “view from 30,000 feet” and realize that fixing school lunch goes well beyond the chocolate milk issue, but this is an easy step we can take to lower added sugar intake in school cafeterias.
Over the past few days, the nutrition blogosphere has fervently discussed the latest controversy — the “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk” campaign.
Led by the Milk Processor Education Program and the National Dairy Council, the program aims to “keep chocolate milk on the menu in schools nationwide”, in light of “lunch advocates [who] are calling [to remove chocolate milk from the lunch line, a decision that could] cause more harm than good when it comes to children’s health.”
The repertoire of widgets, colorful handouts and downloadable documents make it clear that a significant amount of money has been invested in this campaign.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also a partnership with the National Football League and this slick promotional video that features Registered Dietitians and celeb-moms Angie Harmon and Rebecca Romijn vocalizing their support for keeping chocolate milk in schools.
So, what to make of this?
Nutrition professionals across the country have vastly different feelings on the matter.
One side of the debate is succinctly explained in Dr. Marion Nestle’s top-notch blog, Food Politics.
Dr. Nestle states:
“The rationale for the campaign? If you get rid of chocolate milk, kids won’t drink milk. You will deprive kids of the nutrients in milk and contribute to the “milk deficit.” After all, this rationale goes, chocolate milk is better than soda (Oops. Didn’t we just hear something like this relative to the Smart Choices fiasco?).”
She also adds that this “it’s all about the children!” campaign is about something else — profit.
Specifically, Dr. Nestle states, “schools represent sales of 460 million gallons of milk – more than 7% of total milk sales — [and slightly more than] half of flavored milk is sold in schools.”
Other nutritionists, however, see this campaign as one that takes the important step of “looking at the big picture.”
While they realize chocolate milk is not an ideal beverage, it is a better alternative than sodas or sugar-laden fruit drinks. If chocolate milk is the only way a child will drink milk, they argue, then it would be a true shame to have it removed from school cafeterias across the country.
I am absolutely torn.
As regular readers of Small Bites know, I have my issues with The Dairy Council. I find it troubling that, due to their large budget and forceful lobby, they have managed to convince an entire nation that the only way to get calcium in one’s diet is through dairy products.
Approximately three quarters of African Americans and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant; many of them are not aware that calcium is found in broccoli, bok choy, almonds, and chickpeas. Due to the Dairy Council’s influence, many educational pamphlets fail to mention non-dairy sources of calcium!
In fact, this campaign fails to mention that chocolate soymilk offers the exact same nutrients.
That said, chocolate milk is far from calcium-fortified junk.
Apart from the popular mineral, chocolate milk also offers potassium, magnesium, vitamin D (fortified), riboflavin, and vitamin B12. It is very different from a calcium-fortified Kool Aid drink.
A standard cafeteria-size carton of chocolate milk contains 12 grams (a tablespoon) of added sugar. That amounts to 48 more calories than non-flavored milk. I simply can’t muster much emotion over 48 extra calories (assuming, of course, that chocolate milk consumption is kept to one 8-ounce carton a day).
Similarly, 12 grams of added sugar are not a big deal in a diet that is otherwise not sugar-laden. Sadly, the average US teenager consumes six tablespoons of sugar on a daily basis!
So, in that sense, since any decrease in added sugar intake is positive, why not slash an entire tablespoon by getting rid of chocolate milk? Then again, why not focus on the nutrition-void, sugar-filled junk that is also available at school cafeterias?
By the way, what has been missing from a lot of the articles and blog posts I have read is this: a chocolate milk ban is absolutely meaningless if, during their lunch period, students can purchase a bottle of Snapple iced tea (added sugar count: 3 tablespoons!) from a vending machine.
While I very well may eventually take a firm stand either “for” or “against” keeping chocolate milk in schools, I am currently undecided.
For the time being, I want to open the floor for discussion.
What do you think? Is chocolate milk worth worrying about? Why or why not?
A cup of cooked kale contains ____ percent more vitamin C than a cup of cooked spinach and as much absorbable calcium as ____ cup of milk.
a) 400/one half
b) 200/ one
c) 1,100/ two thirds of a
d) 500/ a quarter
Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer.
One of my friends said that at a wellness workshop she recently attended, a dietitian said that pasteurized milk is not nutritious because the pasteurization process renders calcium unabsorbable to humans.
Apparently, the best way to get calcium is from unpasteurized milk and cheese.
Is that true?
— Deborah Wolper
(City withheld), IL
Wow. I have heard my share of heinous nutrtional inaccuracies, but I think this one might take the cake.
First off, I sincerely hope this completely erroneous “fact” did not come out of the mouth of a Registered Dietitian. If so, I want to apologize on his or her behalf.
Pasteurization has absolutely no effect on calcium levels on dairy, and much less on its bioavailability.
Even if that were true, it would still be inaccurate to then coin pasteurized milk as “not nutritious.” Calcium aside, dairy is a very good source of protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus.
If you are a regular skim milk drinker and optimal nutrition is your goal, there are certain times when low-fat (1%), reduced-fat (2%), or soy (rather than skim) is the way to go.
Although all milk in the United States is fortified with vitamins A & D, non-fat milk is a rather useless vehicle for it. Why? Vitamins A and D are fat-soluble, meaning they need to be consumed along with a small amount of fat (3 or 4 grams usually suffice) to be absorbed.
If at any point in the day you are drinking non-fat milk without any other source of fat, you are much better off opting for a low-fat variety.
Remember, an 8-ounce cup of low-fat milk only contains 14 more calories, 1.8 more grams of fat, and 0.9 more grams of saturated fat than that same amount of skim milk.
If you enjoy the taste of soy milk, make yourself a vegan latte. A cup of soy milk contains enough fat to help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your dairy consumption:
I’m curious if you know why the New York City Department of Health’s recent campaign about [weight gain from drinking] soda and sugar sweetened beverages encourages people to drink low fat milk instead of skim milk.
— Kate Bauer
Since I was not involved in the creation of the campaign, I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that it relates to the recent trend to embrace a small amount of fat (in beverages) as a way to enhance satiety.
The calorie and saturated fat difference between low-fat and skim milk is negligible.
In fact, if the extent of someone’s milk consumption is a quarter cup in their morning coffee, I don’t have an issue with the use of full-fat milk.
A quarter cup of whole milk only provides 37 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat.
Recommendations to switch to low-fat or fat-free milk are only useful when a person’s milk consumption is high or in situations where a beverage contains a significant amount of milk (ie: a 24-ounce latte or smoothie).
In most situations, I find it more effective for people to focus more on what they are eating along with their morning coffee than the type of milk they use.