Dr. Mark Hyman: Hi, this is Doctor Mark Hyman. Today I’m going to tell you six reasons why you should avoid dairy. Got milk? Well these days it seems like almost everybody does, celebrities, athletes, even former President Clinton’s head of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala are all proud to wear the white milk mustache. After all, everybody knows that you need milk to be healthy, right? Not necessarily. Sure, dairy is nature’s perfect food, but only if you’re a calf. If that sounds shocking to you, it’s because very few people are willing to tell the truth about dairy. In fact, criticizing milk in America is like taking on motherhood, apple pie or baseball, but that’s just what I’m about to do. Based on the research and my experience in practicing medicine, I typically advise most of my patients to avoid dairy products completely. I like ice cream just as much as the next person, but as a scientist I have to look honestly at what we know. In just a second I’ll explore the many ill effects that are documented from eating dairy.
Now that advice flies in the face of the new “up to date” Food Pyramid from the United States Department of Agriculture. Now the USDA’s Food Pyramid recommends drinking three glass of milk a day. What’s wrong with that? Well for one thing, it’s a recommendation that’s not based on strict science. Some of the experts who helped create the pyramid actually work for the dairy industry, which makes the US Department of Agriculture recommendations reflect industry interest, not science or our best interest. In fact, Doctor Walter Willett, the second most cited scientist in all of clinical medicine and the head of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health is one of the most vocal critics of the US Food Pyramid. He’s even called its guidelines quote “udderly ridiculous,” as in u-d-d-e-r-l-y ridiculous. That’s not something a Harvard scientist says lightly, but Doctor Willett’s right. The pyramid just isn’t based on key scientific findings about health. Just take a look at some of the pyramid’s recommendations and why I disagree with them.
One, consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups while staying within your body’s energy needs. Sounds sensible, but which food groups? If you choose dairy, meats, fats, and carbohydrates, the perfect meal could be a cheeseburger, milkshake, fries with ketchup. Let’s face it, tomatoes and potatoes are vegetables, right, and they’re the two top vegetables eaten in America. Generic advice like that is pretty meaningless and potentially harmful.
The second bit of advice is control your caloric intake to manage your body weight. Again, sounds pretty good, but as I wrote in my book, UltraMetabolism, even the best trained nutritionists and dieticians cannot come close to correctly estimating their own caloric intake in a day. And is it okay to consume all of my calories from cola or ice cream as long as I stay within my caloric needs? Of course not, so this is more useless advice.
Number three, they say increase intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, non-fat or low-fat milk products. Well fruits and veggies and whole grains are great, milk not so much; I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Choose carbohydrates wisely, that’s the next bit of advice from the Food Pyramid. Who could argue with that, but how do they define ‘wisely?’ The real advice should be to cut down sugar intake from a hundred and eighty-five pounds per person per year, which is what we currently consume, to less than a pound a year, to avoid flour products, except as a treat, and stick to whole food carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
The next bit of advice is to choose to prepare foods with little salt. Not bad advice, but what if not of the food you eat is packages or processed foods that you don’t actually prepare and are full of salt? Like most Americans who eat half their meals outside the homes, this isn’t healthful. So a better recommendation would be to avoid packaged, canned, processed, prepared, and fast foods unless you know exactly how they’re made.
The next bit of advice was if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Sounds goods, but if you’re usually drinking two bottles of wine a night, then one seems like moderation. I don’t think that’s a good suggestion. I think it’s better to limit your alcohol consumption to half a drink a day or three glasses a week; that seems to have the most benefit with the least risk.
The next tip is don’t eat unsafe foods. Well of course you shouldn’t leave your egg salad in the hot sun or toss your salad with hands and just handle raw chicken coated with salmonella, but the Food Pyramid guidelines don’t mention pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified foods despite scientific evidence of their harm; shame on the USDA.
You can now see why I have a big problem with the Food Pyramid. Mostly its guidelines try to sound sensible while still protecting the interest of the food industry, the agriculture industry, and all the lobbyists paying for the elections of Congress. Everybody’s happy, right? Well I’m not, and you shouldn’t be either. The public just isn’t served by the watered down, confusing, useless pyramid. Worse, some of the recommendations are downright harmful, like the one to drink more milk and dairy products.
According to Doctor Walter Willett, who has done many of the studies and reviewed this topic extensively, there are many reasons to pass up milk, including one, milk doesn’t reduce bone fractures. Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy has never been shown to reduce fracture risk, but dairy may actually increase the risk of fractures by fifty percent according to the large Nurses Health Study. Less dairy equals better bones. Countries with the lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption, like those in Africa and Asia, have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.
Next thing is that calcium isn’t a bone protective as we thought. Studies of calcium supplementation have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D, on the other hand, appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing practices. Also, calcium may raise cancer risk. Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by thirty to fifty percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor 1, a known cancer promoter. Calcium has benefits that dairy doesn’t. Calcium supplements, but not dairy products, may reduce the risk of colon cancer. And another problem with dairy is that not everyone can stomach dairy. About seventy-five percent or three quarters of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products, a problem called lactose intolerance.
So based on such findings, Doctor Walter Willett has come to some important conclusions. One, everyone needs calcium, but probably not as much as our government’s recommended daily allowance of fifteen hundred milligrams a day. Two, calcium probably doesn’t prevent broken bones. Few people in this country are likely to reduce their fracture risk by getting more calcium. Three, men may not want to take calcium supplements; supplements of calcium and vitamin D may be reasonable for women. And four, dairy may be unhealthy. Advocating dairy consumption may have negative effects on health. Now this is from Doctor Walter Willett, not me, so you should think about your next glass of milk.
If all of that isn’t enough to swear you off milk, there are a few other scientific findings worth noting. First, the Federal Trade Commission recently asked the USDA to look into the scientific basis of claims made in their milk mustache ads. Their panel of scientists stated the truth clearly. Number one, milk doesn’t benefit sports performance. Number two, there’s no evidence that dairy is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis. In fact, the animal protein in it may actually help cause bone loss. Number three, dairy is linked to prostate cancer. Number four, it’s full of saturated fat and it’s linked to heart disease. Number five, dairy causes digestive problems for seventy-five percent of people with lactose intolerance. And number six, dairy aggravates irritable bowel syndrome. Simply put, the FTC asked the dairy industry ‘got proof,’ and the answer was no. Plus, dairy may contribute to more health problems like allergies, sinus issues, ear infections, type I diabetes, chronic constipation, and anemia in children.
But what about raw milk, isn’t that a healthier form of dairy? Well not really. Yes, raw, whole, organic milk eliminates some of the concerns, like pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the effects of homogenization and pasteurization, but to me these benefits don’t outweigh dairy’s potential risk. From an evolutionary point of view, milk is a strange food for humans. Until ten thousand years ago, we didn’t domesticate animals, and we weren’t able to drink milk unless some brave hunter gatherer milked a wild tiger or a buffalo.
Now most scientists agree that it’s better for us to get calcium, potassium, protein, and fats from other sources, like whole plant foods, vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seaweed, great source of minerals. Convinced yet? Well here’s my advice for dealing with dairy. If you want healthy bones, take vitamin D, don’t rely on dairy. Get your calcium from dark leafy vegetables, sesame tahini, sea vegetables, or sardines or salmon with the bones in it. And try giving up all dairy, and see how you feel after a few weeks. And if you can tolerate dairy, only use raw organic dairy products, preferably fermented products like yogurt or kefir.
Still got milk? I hope not. Remember, dairy is not crucial for good health. I encourage you to go dairy-free and see what it does for you.