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  • Archive for the ‘milk’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Chocolate With Benefits

    6a00d83451b19169e20115701502e1970b-500wiHow much truth is there in the idea that chocolate can be a health food?

    If it’s true, does that mean I am getting some health benefits from any chocolate product?

    – Alice Costello
    (Location Withheld)

    To answer this question, it is important to differentiate between cocoa and chocolate.

    Cocoa refers to the seed from the cacao fruit.  Chocolate, meanwhile, is a term that describes a product that, among other ingredients, contains cocoa.

    In the vast majority of cases, chocolate is composed of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other additional ingredients (i.e., almonds) or flavorings (i.e, vanilla).

    Many articles on this topic inaccurately mention the health benefits of chocolate.  In reality, the focus should be on cocoa.

    Cocoa contains a variety of flavonoids — a type of antioxidant — that have been found to have a protective effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

    To get the most out of cocoa, buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder and include it in a recipe (such as this no-bake brownie bites recipe I posted back in February).

    Flavonoids are negatively affected by processing, which is why you get negligible amounts in popular milk chocolate products like M&Ms or Kit Kat bars.

    That said, some chocolate bars contain higher flavonoid levels than others.  Here are some guidelines to help you find them:

    • Look for “cocoa powder” on the ingredient list.  If you see “alkali-treated” or “Dutch processed” varieties of cocoa powder listed, you are looking at major flavonoid loss
    • Look for chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 75% cocoa
    • Ideally, look for chocolate bars that are milk-free (such as Endangered Species) or contain negligible amounts (such as Dagoba), since certain components in milk appear to limit the absorption of antioxidants from cacao.

    If you seek out cocoa flavonoids in chocolate bars rather than cocoa powder, be sure to keep an eye on calories.

    And, also, as wonderful as the flavonoids in cocoa are,  there are plenty of other foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds) that offer various other varieties that are just as beneficial.

    Remember, health is determined by the totality of your diet, not the inclusion of any one food.

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    Want Less Calories? Just Add Water

    CC-reduced-LGFood companies are well aware of the rising demand for lower-calorie alternatives.

    In their efforts to please the masses — and line their pockets — they sometimes utilize the simplest tricks (and hype them up with sneaky advertising).

    Consider, for instance, Hood’s Calorie Countdown dairy beverage.  (This product was originally sold as Hood’s Carb Countdown dairy beverage at the height of the low-carb craze; the subsequent replacement of the word “carb” with “calories” enraged fervent low-carbers!)

    Anyhow — notice the words “dairy beverage”?  They are very significant.

    As you clearly see, the packaging shows what looks to be a glass of milk, along with these statements:

    • 2% Reduced Fat
    • Vitamins A & D
    • Ultra Pasteurized

    Looks and sounds an awful lot like milk, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s not, hence the legally-accurate “dairy beverage” term.

    What makes it a “dairy beverage” rather than “milk”?  The answer, as always, lies in the ingredient list:

    Water, Ultra Filtered Fat Free Milk, Cream, Tricalcium Phosphate, Salt, Disodium Phosphate, Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan, Locust Bean Gum, Sucralose (Splenda Brand), Acesulfame Potassium, Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3. Contains: Milk

    In essence, you are looking at watered-down milk with artificial sweeteners.

    You can pretty much make this at home.  Pour yourself a glass of fat-free milk, add water, and stir in some Splenda (alas, acesulfame potassium is not available in supermarkets).

    What a ridiculous product!

    First of all, rising obesity rates have very little to do with milk consumption (especially when you consider that, while obesity rates have risen, milk consumption has decreased).  The more pressing issue are the 500 calorie muffins consumed alongside a glass of milk!

    Secondly, a cup of reduced fat Hood Calorie Countdown has the same number of calories as a cup of “regular” skim milk.  Why not just drink that instead?

    Here’s a thought — if someone wants the “2 percent taste” in a 90 calorie package, how about simply drinking three quarters of a cup of the REAL thing?

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    Advertising the Artificial

    ellie_kriegerThe National Dairy Council’s latest “Got Milk?” advertising campaign (seen here at left) is the first in its 16-year history to feature a Registered Dietitian.  Golf clap.

    Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, but it’s the ad’s accompaying text that I have a serious problem with:

    When it comes to wellness, little things really make a difference.  Like drinking three glasses of lowfat or fat free milk a day.  It’s loaded with Vitamin D, the sunny super nutrient whose preventing health benefits have everyone buzzing.  Just think of it as liquid sunshine.”

    Bad grammar apart (starting a sentence with “like”?  Really?), I  take issue with the fact that the advertised nutrient is simply tacked on.

    Vitamin D is not inherently present in milk — or any dairy product, for that matter.  It just so happens that in the United States, as a result of fortification laws passed in the 1930s, a cup of milk currently provides 100 International Units of Vitamin D (that’s a quarter of a day’s worth of the considered-by-many-to-be-low requirement).

    This advertisement would make no sense in a country like England, where milk is not fortified with Vitamin D.

    Besides, almost every non-dairy milk product (almond, soy, oat, and rice) is also fortified with the vitamin.  So what makes dairy milk special in that regard?  Nothing.

    In fact, a serving of sugary cereal like Lucky Charms offers as much Vitamin D as a cup of milk.  Imagine how silly this advertisement would look if it featured a big box of Lucky Charms.

    Why can’t the National Dairy Council keep it honest and make it clear that milk is “loaded” with Vitamin D as a result of fortification?

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    The Lowdown on Calcium

    Calcium is one of the most misunderstood nutrients.

    The range of confusion varies from those who think dairy products contain the most absorbable type of this mineral to people who think spinach is a great source of calcium.

    Let’s clarify these points.

    Are dairy products a good source of calcium? Yes. After all, eight ounces of milk provide a third of the daily value of calcium.

    Are dairy products the only way to get calcium? Absolutely not.

    Do dairy products provide calcium with the highest bioavailability? No.

    Consider the following:

    Eight ounces (one cup) of milk contain 300 milligrams of calcium.

    A half cup of cooked bok choy provides 79 milligrams of calcium.

    To someone unfamiliar with nutrition, the conclusion might seem obvious: “I need two cups of bok choy to get as much calcium as a cup of milk!”

    Alas, nutrition science isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

    You actually only need one and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy to match the calcium you would get from a cup of milk since the calcium in bok choy is more absorbable than the one in dairy products.

    The same thing happens with Chinese cabbage. A half cup of this cooked vegetable offers 239 milligrams of calcium, but that equals the amount of absorbable calcium in a cup of milk.

    Let’s now turn our attention to spinach. I am continually amazed by the amount of self-touted (though, clearly, not really) nutritione experts who list this vegetable as a good source of calcium.

    A half cup of cooked spinach offers 115 milligrams of calcium. However, due to its high amount of oxalates (organic acids naturally found in spinach that inhibit calcium absorption), it takes EIGHT cups of cooked spinach to equal the amount of absorbable calcium in one cup of milk.

    It just so happens that unlike spinach, the Brassica family of plants — including broccoli, kale, bok choy, cabbage, and mustard greens) does not accumulate oxalate, thereby providing highly absorbable calcium.

    I know some people like their nutrition advice in absolute form (“NEVER eat this, ALWAYS eat this), it’s not my style.

    My suggestions provide you with plenty of choices. If you like milk, drink it — it provides a significant amount of calcium.

    If you don’t like it or don’t want to include it in your diet, no need to worry about calcium as long as you include greens from the Brassica family and other non-dairy sources (tofu, tempeh, almonds, calcium-fortified alternative milks, etc.) in your diet.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Weston Price Organization

    What do you know about the Weston Price Foundation?

    – Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    Let’s start with the positive — they advocate for small farms, particularly the strengthening of farmer-to-consumer relationships.

    Other than that, I view them as an extremist group that tends to border on silliness. That’s their logo, by the way, which, they explain, illustrates Western societies’ narrow-mindedness towards food.

    An odd choice, since the “narrow vision” includes everything from Houston to Peruvian highlands to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, a lot of the nations in the “wide” circles have just as many problems with obesity, diabetes, and junk food consumption as the United States. I don’t get it.

    Their core belief? Full-fat raw dairy, butter, red meat, and soaked grains are the answer to a healthy life, while plant-based diets are the root of all health problems.

    I’ll let their writing speak for itself.

    Exhibit A:

    “According to an article in the Washington Post (“Don’t have a cow, Mom,” October 31, 2006) vegetarianism among teenagers is increasing. Vegetarian families eat a more varied diet, we are told, which includes such yummies as rutabaga and tofu. Not to worry, Mom, says the American Dietetic Association, “. . . a well-planned all-veggie diet for children and adolescents can be nutritionally sound. . . ” as long as teens consume soy beverages and cereals fortified with vitamin D and B12. The dietitians claim teens can get adequate calcium, iron, zinc and protein from vegetables, grains, fruit, and, of course, soy foods. No mention is made of vitamin A, so necessary for reproductive health, nor of the downside of all those soy foods. So, don’t have a cow, Mom. Just don’t expect to have any grandchildren.”

    I must have missed all the headlines about vegetarian women being physically incapable of having children!

    I have so many problems with that paragraph I don’t even know where to begin.

    Firstly, vegetarianism does not necessarily translate into a high consumption of soy foods.

    Additionally, the term “soy foods” is too broad. Adding nutrient-packed soy foods like tempeh or tofu to a dish is very different from eating two bags of processed soy chips every day.

    As for vitamin A: we know that 12 micrograms of beta-carotene equal 1 microgram of Vitamin A. We also know that women need 700 micrograms of vitamin A a day.

    Let’s do some math. A half cup of cooked sweet potato provides approximately 7,000 micrograms of beta carotene, which translates into roughly 580 micrograms of vitamin A (more than three quarters of a day’s worth).

    If this woman were to then eat some carrots, an orange, aor a grapefruit that same day, they would easily meet their vitamin A requirement. So, where is the risk of deficiency?

    Exhibit B:

    “George Rene Francis of Sacramento, who turned 110 this year, enjoys “tons of milk, tons of eggs, lard on bread and salt pork sandwiches.” He avoids visits to the doctor but smokes cigars. He credits his virility to a combination of fresh camel’s milk, daily walks and plenty of meat—rabbit, lamb, chicken and wild animals, which he still hunts himself (www.telegraph.co.uk, August 24, 2007).”

    This is what you call bad science. No, make that horrendous science. Using an anomaly as proof of something is ludicruous. It’s akin to a tobacco company using this news item to show that, hey, smoking is harmless!

    Exhibit C:

    “Today’s dietary gurus tell us that we must eat vegetables and fruit to obtain vitamins and minerals. Per Magnuson, an astute member from Sweden, points out that fruits and vegetables cannot compare in nutrient levels with animal foods, especially nutrient-dense animal foods like liver. Here’s what we came up with as a way of assessing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables versus meat and liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient-including vitamin C-in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots.”

    What a riot! How can someone in the nutrition field expect to be taken seriously when they don’t take into account phytonutrients (which, by mere definition, are only available in plant foods)?

    Good luck getting fiber from liver, too.

    I also can’t comprehend how so-called “experts” don’t mention that one of the causes of hypervitaminosis A (vitamin A toxicity) is frequent consumption of liver!

    Exhibit D:

    “According to government and media health pundits, the top best 14 foods are:

    1. Beans
    2. Blueberries
    3. Broccoli
    4. Oats
    5. Oranges
    6. Pumpkin
    7. Salmon
    8. Soy
    9. Spinach
    10. Tea (green or black)
    11. Tomatoes
    12. Turkey
    13. Walnuts
    14. Yogurt

    This uninspiring list reflects the current establishment angels (anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) and demons (saturated fats and animal foods).

    Our list of the 14 best top foods, foods that supply vital nutrients including the fat-soluble vitamins, looks like this:

    1. Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
    2. Oysters
    3. Liver from grass-fed animals
    4. Eggs from grass-fed hens
    5. Cod liver oil
    6. Fish eggs
    7. Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
    8. Bone broth
    9. Shrimp
    10. Wild salmon
    11. Whole yogurt or kefir
    12. Beef from grass-fed steers
    13. Sauerkraut
    14. Organic Beets

    A diet containing only these foods will confer lifelong good health; a diet containing only the foods in the first list is the fast track to nutritional deficiencies.”

    No one is saying people should limit themselves to the first fourteen items; rather, the recommendation is to include as many of them in your diet as you can. Making an argument based on erroneous pretenses is futile.

    Again, illogical conclusions based on bad science. I rest my case.

    UPDATE: Since this post went up, I have received many comments on other (non-related) postings from “anonymous” sources who, ever-so-coincidentally, suggest I take a look at the Weston Price Organization’s website for the “truth.”

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    You Ask, I Answer: Liquid Calories

    There’s been quite a lot written about liquid calories in the last couple of years. Specifically, Nutrition Action (published by CSPI) has repeatedly warned that too many calories from milk, juice, and soda can lead to weight gain

    I don’t drink any of these things, but I do enjoy pureed whole foods.

    If I make a smoothie from yogurt and whole fruit, or if I blend my vegetable and bean soup into a smooth puree, does my body read that as liquid or solid calories?

    It’s not clear to me if the problem with liquid calories is that they lack fiber and therefore don’t fill you up, or if being pureed makes the sugars in food hit the bloodstream too quickly.

    Or some other explanation entirely.

    – Rachelle Thibodeau
    Ottawa, Canada

    The type of liquid calories you refer to are different than juice and soda because they contain fiber and, therefore, take longer to digest.

    That said, since smoothies are quickly consumed (more so than soups, which are hot and can take some time to finish), it can be very easy to down an 800 calorie one (i,e: a blend of milk, peanut butter, flax oil, and weight gaining powders) in a matter of minutes.

    I should also note that a homemade smoothie with yogurt and whole fruits is different than many commercial ones made with fruit-flavored syrups or juice concentrates.

    As for your blended soups: a pureed version of a food raises blood sugars more quickly than those same foods in their whole form, but since you are dealing with vegetables and beans, the fiber content is still high — and will be helpful in filling you up quickly.

    I refrain from putting milk in the same category as soda and juice drinks.

    A glass of milk (whether dairy, soy, or nut) contains protein, a variety of nutrients, and some fat (depending on the variety of milk you drink). It is not liquid candy.

    The concern with milk and weight gain has more to do with sugar-laden milk-based concoctions like milkshakes, flavored milks, and yogurt beverages that have as much sugar as a can of soda.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Reduced Fat Milk

    I’m REALLY confused.

    I know that “reduced fat” milk is a newer term for what used to be called “2 percent” milk, but why was it called 2 percent?

    I can’t figure it out! If you look at the nutrition label on a carton of “reduced fat” milk, it says that one cup has 123 calories and 5 grams of fat, which equals 8 percent of the Daily Value of fat.

    So how did they ever get the “2 percent” figure?

    – Helen Berry
    Seattle, WA

    Your question perfectly demonstrates some of the reasoning behind the 1998 milk name-change — most people had no clue what “two percent” meant!

    Or, if they did, they were incorrect (i.e.: thinking each cup of “two percent” milk only contained “two percent” of the daily value of fat.)

    Alas, the two percent figure is the product of dividing the grams of fat per serving by the total grams of everything (the rest of what is in milk, including protein, carbohydrates, and water) in that same serving.

    Using real numbers, you simply divide the 5 grams of total fat in one cup of reduced-fat milk by the 244 grams of everything that make up that cup of reduced-fat milk and you get the magical 2 percent figure.

    A useless figure, as far as I’m concerned. Daily Values are far more informative — and important.

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    You Ask, I Answer: UHT Milk

    Can you tell me what UHT milk is?

    I have read in some websites that it is not safe to drink it since it can cause disease.

    – Cynthia (last name withheld)
    Nashville, TN

    “UHT” stands for ultra-heat treated.

    In the case of UHT milk, you are talking about milk that is sterilized very quickly at extremely hot temperatures — much higher than what is reached during standard pasteurization.

    Consequently, it does not need to be refrigerated until opened. It can actually sit on shelves for anywhere from six to nine months, unopened, without spoiling.

    Although not popular in the United States, UHT milk has been a staple in many South American and European countries for decades (the most famous manufacturer of UHT milk is Italian company Parmalat.)

    I actually drank it quite a bit when I lived in Venezuela in the mid 1990s (power outages were very common in that country at the time, so buying UHT milk was one way to guarantee an unopened container of milk wouldn’t go bad.)

    The claims that it “causes disease” are not only annoyingly vague, but also completely untrue.

    UHT milk is simply that — milk.

    It does not have added chemicals or artificial ingredients and there is absolutely nothing about it that makes it unhealthy or “not safe to drink.”

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    You Ask, I Answer: PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome, Milk

    I have a condition known as PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome, which results in my hormones being all out of whack.

    I’m befuddled as to which would further alter my hormone levels more (and which hormones that would be): cow’s milk or soy milk?

    I have read that bodybuilders [try to avoid] soy-based protein powders because they increase estrogen [levels], but I have also read reports that the hormones in cow’s milk can cause girls to [begin] puberty at a younger age.

    Would drinking organic milk be the solution?

    – Rachael (last name unknown)
    (city unknown), NJ

    Let’s first begin by touching upon some nutrition-related specifics regarding PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome (POS).

    The hormones found at high levels in affected individuals are a group of male hormones known as androgens.

    One interesting theory that has emerged about risk factors for POS (other than being overweight or obese) surrounds the body’s inability to use up insulin efficiently.

    Since high levels of free-floating insulin building up in the blood can increase the amount of androgens produced, it is believed this could be a factor behind the development of this syndrome.

    This is also why POS in itself is a risk factor for Type-2 diabetes.

    From a nutritional standpoint, the best recommendation is to lose excess weight, as this often results in more efficient use of insulin by the body and, consequently, lower production of androgens.

    The catch-22 is that, for many individuals, it is precisely this hormonal imbalance that can add a degree of difficulty to achieving weight loss.

    Consequently, I highly recommend that you speak to a Registered Dietitian (as opposed to picking out a diet plan from a book or magazine, even if it is from a highly reputable source.)

    With POS, you need a customized plan based on your individual situation.

    It really doesn’t make a difference to your condition whether you include dairy or soy milk in your diet, as neither of these have a particular effect on androgen levels.

    As for the link between hormones in milk and early puberty — I don’t buy it.

    After all, milk consumption has been on a steady decline over the past two decades. It’s children’s intake of soda — not milk — that has skyrocketed since the 1980s!

    A much more realistic explanation for the recent trend of earlier puberty initiation? Increasing obesity rates among children.

    Highly respected endocrinology journals have published a handful of studies over the past few years — such as this one — making interesting physiological connections between high BMI levels and earlier sexual maturation in girls.

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    In The News: Milk Madness

    The Chicago Tribune is profiling the battle over milk that has ignited in several of the Windy City’s school districts.

    On the one hand, you have administrators and parents supporting the inclusion of milk in school cafeterias, “amid concerns that dairy consumption is waning among older children who have more beverage choices, from flavored water to energy drinks. Nine of every 10 preteen girls fall short of the federally recommended three calcium servings a day… for boys, the estimate is 7 of 10.”

    Then there are those concerned with flavored non-skim milks contributing to childhood obesity. Huh??

    “A half-pint of low-fat chocolate milk has 3 teaspoons of added sugar… [and] those extra 75 calories raise a concern, given that surveys compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that 17 percent of school-age children are obese.”

    Whoever is concerned about those additional 75 calories seriously needs to reevaluate their priorities.

    Childhood obesity is not caused by opting for low-fat chocolate milk over non-flavored skim milk at lunchtime.

    All you need to do is look at the numbers. As childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed, milk consumption has decreased.

    What has increased? Soda consumption — overwhelmingly so!

    It is those beverages, plus chips, breakfast toaster pastries, and supersize fast food portions — staples of so many American teenagers’ diets — that should truly be “of concern.”

    It’s also rather laughable to think that some schools are concerned with milk but apparently don’t take issue with their almost daily offerings of meatloaf, chicken nuggets, and fruit canned in heavy syrup.

    A glass of low-fat chocolate milk with a healthy lunch is harmless. This apparent phobia of 1% (reduced-fat) milk is beyond my comprehension.

    We are talking about 2.5 grams of total fat, of which 1.5 gram are saturated, per cup. Perfectly reasonable numbers, as far as I’m concerned.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Liquid Calories

    I’ve read that we don’t really seem to feel full after drinking caloric drinks like soda, [which is why] we can easily guzzle down 600 calories of Pepsi and still feel hungry.

    My question is, does this apply just as much to milk, or soymilk?

    It seems like while I could guzzle down a full glass of soymilk and not feel that much more satiated, it definitely fills me up more than drinking a glass of Diet Coke.

    – Christine (Last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Those studies are absolutely legitimate, but they mainly apply to empty calories like the ones found in soda and fruit drinks (in my mind, KoolAid and its imitations are basically flat soda).

    Since these beverages contain nothing but sweeteners, they don’t do much in the way of providing satiety. Correction — they do absolutely NOTHING.

    Keep in mind, too, that in your particular case, you are talking about diet soda, which provides zero calories.

    Milk and soy milk are more nutritious beverages. They contain protein and some fat (unless you are drinking skim milk), two nutrients that play a significant role in helping us feel full.

    This same concept can be applied to food. Take almonds and pretzels.

    Pretzels are basically nothing but refined flour — practically 100 percent fiberless carbohydrate.

    Nuts, meanwhile, contains protein, fat, and fiber.

    That is why 150 calories of almonds leave you feeling fuller than that same amount of pretzels.

    Although liquid calories promote less fullness than solid food, milk and soy milk are certainly more filling than sugar water.

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    You Ask, I Answer/In The News: Vitamin D requirements

    I read today that the recommended amount of vitamin D has doubled due to a new study.

    I thought most people get enough of it.

    How much vitamin D do we get from dairy as compared to being out in the sun?

    –Hemi  W.
    Via the blog

    Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem; most people certainly do not get enough (especially in the United States).

    The issue of Vitamin D requirements being too low has actually been a hot topic in some nutrition circles for years.

    According to current recommendations, children and adults up to the age of 50 should get at least 200 International Units, adults 50 to 71 years of age should aim for 400 IUs, and anyone above the age of 71 should be taking in 600.

    The new guidelines you are referring to bump up the 200 IUs figure to 400 IUs.

    Even so, many researchers think everyone should aim for at least 1,000 IUs a day!  Others go further and think the minimum daily intake from supplement should be 2,000 IUs (there is plenty of research to back that up, by the way).

    Our bodies can produce up to 10,000 IUs from sun exposure.  After 10,000 IUs, the body stops producing vitamin D.  So, really, you can consider 10,000 IUs the Upper Tolerable Intake.

    The best source of Vitamin D is the sun, but this can get complicated.

    After all, we get this vitamin from exposure to UVB rays, which are not as powerful in winter months and have a harder time getting through on cloud-covered days.  In fact, anyone who lives north of Atlanta, Georgia (regardless where in the world that may be) is unable to produce vitamin D from the sun between the months of October and April due to the sun’s rays not being powerful enough.

    Additionally, the massive use of moisturizers and creams that block out UVB rays prevents many people from absorbing a good deal of “solar powered” vitamin D.

    Some fortified foods (i.e.: cereals, soy milks, and dairy milk) provide vitamin D, while others (tuna, salmon, and… ugh, cod liver oil) do so naturally.

    Despite this, it can be very difficult to meet the Vitamin D recommended intakes without some sort of supplementation.

    For example, a cup of fortified dairy milk provides a quarter of a day’s worth of Vitamin D (using 400 IUs as the goal).

    Not bad, but unless you’re planning on downing four glasses of milk a day, you will come up short.  And, even then, the new recommendations are not possible to meet through food alone.

    Keep in mind, too, that many dairy products (like yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream) are NOT fortified with vitamin D.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Casein

    What is casein, and how does it relate to nutrition?

    The reason why I ask is because here in Argentina, a popular brand of milk called La Serenisima has released a new milk with extra calcium and extra casein.

    What do you think?

    – Maria (last name withheld)
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Casein is the main protein in milk (80% of protein in the dairy beverage is in the form of casein; the remaining 20% consists of whey.)

    The only way it relates to nutrition is that, just like all other animal proteins — and soy — it is complete, meaning it provides all eight essential amino acids.

    Although casein is highly bioavailable (the technical term for “the body wastes very little of it,”) it is beaten out by egg albumin and whey protein.

    I am not sure why a company would look to create “high casein” milk, particularly since casein is by no means an essential nutrient.

    It is perfectly plausible to meet all your protein and nutrient needs without ever ingesting any casein.

    Perhaps “extra casein” is their snazzy terminology for “extra protein,” which I still do not see the necessity for.

    Milk is already a good source of protein (9 grams per 8 ounce/236 milliliter glass), and as far as I know, protein deficiency is not a health issue in Buenos Aires.

    My thoughts? This is simply an inventive marketing strategy to boost milk sales.

    While we’re on the topic of casein, allow me to say a few more things.

    Although a small percentage of the population (roughly 2 – 3 percent) is allergic to casein, that is very different from being lactose intolerant.

    A casein allergy is an altered immunological response to a specific protein, whereas lactose intolerance has to do with the body’s inability to break down lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk and other dairy products.

    That said, keep in mind that casein is in a lot of non-dairy processed foods (and many cosmetic products) since it is a rather inexpensive binding agent. This is why people with casein allergis need to read food labels VERY carefully.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dairy Controversies

    What are your thoughts on milk?

    Specifically about the fact that the dairy industry has convinced millions of people, thanks to a very expensive campaign, that milk is the best source of calcium and vitamin D?

    There are other ways to get calcium, including broccoli and other greens, so why does milk always show up as the best source?

    Humans are also the only species to drink milk as adults. Don’t you find that odd? Doesn’t the fact that millions of people are allergic to milk mean that it’s unhealthy?

    Also, I read that there is an addictive component in milk (I think casein?) that keeps people coming back for more, including babies.

    Am I healthy if I don’t drink milk? What if I do?

    – (Name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    Quite a lot of questions. Let’s take them piece by piece.

    My thoughts on a milk? It is a beverage that, depending on the variety, can be a healthy or not-so-healthy choice.

    A glass of skim or low fat milk with your breakfast? Great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, and protein.

    An extra large latte with half and half? All you’re really getting is a boatload of calories and saturated fat (half and half contains very little protein and calcium.)

    Is the milk lobby a powerful presence in Washington? You betcha. Why else do you think the “dairy” group in the food pyramid is now called the “milk” group.

    That is one change I am very unhappy about, as it takes away attention from other healthy options like yogurt, and cottage cheese.

    That said, dairy products truly are a good source of calcium. Not only is the quantity of said mineral rather high, it is also among the most absorbable.

    As for vitamin D — it is not naturally present in milk, but is rather there as a result of fortification. Cereals, orange juice, and soy drinks are also fortified with just as much Vitamin D, so I do not consider dairy to be the “go to” food for the sunshine vitamin.

    Besides, a glass of milk provides approximately one tenth of the daily Vitamin D requirement, so the best way to get the sunshine vitamin is to soak up about 20 minutes of sunlight a day and, in my opinion, pop a supplement.

    Can you get sufficient calcium without dairy? Absolutely. Nowadays, with calcium-fortified juices and soy products, there is no reason for the word “vegan” to mean “calcium deprived.”

    There are also a variety of non-dairy foods that naturally contain calcium: tofu, tempeh, and soybeans among them.

    Keep in mind that some leafy green vegetables (spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb) contain oxalates, which bind to calcium and greatly reduce its absorption.

    If you’re looking to get some calcium from vegetables, opt for collard greens, bok choy, and kale.

    Seaweed also happens to be a great non-dairy source of calcium.

    As for the argument that humans are the only species to drink milk as adults (and therefore some sort of natural aberration), it’s one of those leaps of logic that makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Other animals don’t have the choice to drink milk as adults.

    After a certain time, their mother’s milk supply is gone, and they certainly don’t have supermarkets to shop at, or other species to cuddle up to and start suckling from.

    The “humans are the only animals to drink milk as adults” argument isn’t even true.

    I can tell you from personal experience that if I pour cow’s milk into a bowl, my cat will happily drink it without any prodding on my part.

    Human allergies with milk have nothing to do with its status as “healthy” or “unhealthy” food. Many people are allergic to peanuts and shrimp, two very healthy foods.

    As for there being an addictive substance in milk, I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere in the literature. The reason why babies “keep coming back for more” is because their mothers are feeding it to them.

    I firmly stand in the middle of this issue. I believe a perfectly healthy diet can be milk-free just as I believe that milk can be a nutritious beverage.

    Personally, I am partial to organic milk from grass-fed cows.

    For the record, I have no issues with pasteurized milk. I don’t see any reason to start seeking out raw milk (remember, we don’t need digestive enzymes from food, so the fact that these enzymes are killed when milk is pasteurized means nothing.)

    What I find horribly messed up is that the milk from a cow that eats nothing but grass and is not pumped up with any Franken-hormones (the ONLY milk available at one point in time) is now a “luxury” high-cost product. Ugh.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dairy Alternatives/Rice Milk

    I found recently that cows milk and I don’t get on, which is a pity since I love cheese.

    Anyway, I’ve been avoiding cheese while I try to lose weight.

    I have also switched from cow’s milk to rice milk, but I’m not sure if rice milk has more fat or calories, and I’m finding the labeling on my cartons a little confusing.

    Is rice milk okay, or should I be looking to other alternatives? (I’m not a big fan of the soy milk flavor).

    – Ryan Nelson
    Brighton, England

    Lactose intolerance can occur in varying degrees.

    Being unable to digest cow’s milk does not necessarily mean cheese and yogurts should also be off-limits.

    A slice of hard cheese – such as Swiss – offers a tenth of the lactose in a glass of milk.The active cultures in some yogurts, meanwhile, can also help avoid digestive problems.

    Let’s assume, though, that your intolerance to lactose is such that even the tiniest amount in any dairy product offsets problems.

    In that case, I don’t consider rice milk an equal alternative to cow’s milk.

    Whereas soy milk is a good source of protein and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, the same does not hold for rice milk.

    Consider the following:

    A cup (8 fluid ounces) of skim milk contains 91 calories, 8.7 grams of protein, and 30% of the daily calcium requirement.

    A cup of reduced-fat (2%) milk adds up to 123 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, and 28.5% of a day’s calcium needs.

    A cup of rice milk?120 calories, 1 gram of protein, and just 2% of the daily calcium requirement.

    If you opt for rice milk, make sure to consume foods high in calcium (kale, broccoli, calcium-fortified cereals) throughout the day.  The lower protein content is irrelevant; most of us get plenty of it already, seeing as how it is pervasive in the food supply.

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