By now you may have herd that the government of Canada introduced a new Canadian Food Guide, and hallelujah! Dairy has finally been eliminated as a food group!
I OFTEN recommend patients eliminate dairy from their diet because it's just not as good for us as we've been made to believe. Dairy lobbyist have been pushing dairy (milk, cheeses, yogurt etc) on us for years and and have been successful in incorporating milk into government-wide initiatives, like hospitals and school programs because... it is good for us?.. Nope... Because it's big business!
But instead of focusing on the downfalls of the of the food industry (read The End of Food, for an eye-opening perspective), let's focus on the positive.
Canada is no longer recommending a glass of milk at every meal, and that’s a good thing!
The 2019 Food Guide (left) compared to the 2017 Food guide (above). Notice that milk is not present in the food guide at all. Instead dairy is a part of the protein foods.
Doesn't milk build strong bones helping prevent osteoporosis as I get older?
In short, probably not.
Consider the following studies:
A 2014 study following 96,000 women and men for 22 years, found no association between milk consumption as a teenager and decreased risk of hip fractures later in life (1).
Another 2014 Swedish study, which surveyed 61,433 women ages 39-74 and 45,339 men ages 45-79, found that similar to the above, milk did not protect against hip fractures.
Even more shocking, with each additional glass of milk consumed, markers for oxidative stress and inflammation (urine 8-iso-PGF2α and serum interleukin 6, specifically) also increased (2)!
These harmful effects could possibly be caused by the sugarD-galactose. When lactose from milk is digested, it is broken down into D-glucose and D-galactose. Animal studies have showed that even at low doses (the equivalent of two glasses of milk a day for humans), D-glactose had significant health repercussions.
It shortened life-span, caused neurodegeneration, increased inflammation and oxidative stress, decreased immune response and even caused changes at the genetic level. These results are worrisome given that they are underlying factors in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, premature aging and cancer.
Of course, this is assuming that you are capable of digesting lactose, and 65% of people are not! These individuals lack the genetic mutation responsible for the production of lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose. For these people, the consumption of milk is even more problematic. Not only does it cause inflammation and hyper-permeability of the digestive tract (ie. leaky gut), it also stresses the immune system creating acute symptoms such as diarrhea, flatulence, nausea and vomiting.
Where should we get our calcium?
Calcium is involved in a number of bodily functions. It works in unison with other nutrients for the formation of strong bones and teeth and for the maintenance of healthy gums. It helps maintain a regular heartbeat and a firing nervous system, and it ensure that our muscles, including the heart, are properly contacting.
But before you start taking a calcium supplement, consider this:
One study found that calcium supplementation actually increased the risk of fractures by 45% in women (3).
Another study found that high calcium intake was associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis, but this only happened when calcium was consumed as a natural food source. The benefit could perhaps lie in the fact that these whole-food options are plentiful in other nutrients that work synergistically.
When calcium supplements were taken instead, they actually increased the risk of coronary artery calcification. That is, hard deposits of calcium formed in the heart, most of which were calcium carbonate, a common form recommended (4).
Plant-Based Sources of Calcium
If you are consuming a well-balanced whole-foods diet, that is abundant in fruits and vegetables than chances are you are getting enough calcium. This is true for both adults and children.
Below is a list of plant-based sources of calcium that you can easily incorporate into your daily diet. Aim for about 2 servings of these a day. For comparison, one cup of milk is about 300mg of calcium.
If you really love dairyand decide to incorporate some of it into your diet, make yogurt or Parmesan cheese your dairy of choice. These foods have bacterial cultures that naturally digest lactose. Bacterial strains L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus specifically, have shown to have lactase producing ability, which is promising, even for those who are lactose intolerant (5).
And remember, everybody's needs and health concerns are unique. It is always best to seek the advice of a doctor or nutritionist and find out what works best for you. There is definitely no one-size-fits-all when it comes to something as personal as your health.
1. Feskanich D, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Frazier AL, Willett WC. Milk Consumption During Teenage Years and Risk of Hip Fractures in Older Adults. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(1):54–60. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3821
2. Michaëlsson K, Wolk A, Langenskiöld S, et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies BMJ 2014; 349:g6015
3. Feskanich D. et al. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. Am J Public Health 1997;87(6);992-7.
4. Anderson, John J B et al. “Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10-Year Follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)” Journal of the American Heart Association vol. 5,10 e003815. 11 Oct. 2016, doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.003815
5. Goodenoug ER, Kleyn DH. Influence of viable yogurt microflora on digestion of lactose by the rat. Daily Sci 1976; 59: 601-6.