Dairy Diet Delusions
"24/24 -- Milk Your Diet, Lose Weight!" What? Drink milk and lose weight? Yes, if you believe the ads by the National Dairy Association in their $200 million ad campaign. The campaign is also working in conjunction with the ADA and the Milk Processor Education Program, an industry group funded by milk processors which began promoting a dairy-based diet called the 24/24 meal plan. The meal plan consists of 24 ounces of dairy products, such as three glasses of milk, consumed in 24 hours as part of a 1,600 calories-per-day diet. They claim that the calcium in three servings of dairy products a day will help you burn fat and lose more weight than cutting calories alone. The campaign is largely based on a 2004 study by a University of Tennessee nutrition researcher, Michael Zemel, who has since published a book The Calcium Key: The Revolutionary Diet Discovery That Will Help You Lose Weight Faster.
A book! A program to change the eating habits of the entire western world! A $200,000,000.00 ad campaign! This must be one major study, yes?
Zemel's study, funded (big surprise) by the National Dairy Council, followed just 32 obese people over a six month period. It concluded that people who consumed three to four servings of milk or other dairy products a day lost more weight than those who took in the same number of calories but ate less dairy.
Okay, forgetting for a moment that this whole 24/24 milk weight-loss campaign is based on a pretty marginal study, is there any truth to it?
Some critics of the plan suggest that just cutting back on calories alone can cause weight loss -- calcium may have nothing to do with it.
Then there is the major Harvard study, published in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, which offers an even larger dispute to Zemel's small survey. The Harvard researchers examined the relationship between older children and teen's milk intake and their weight over a three-year period. And, instead of 32 subjects, they had 12,829, nationwide and made the proper adjustments for adolescent growth and development, race, physical activity, inactivity, and total energy intake. The results? Harvard researchers found that even though most of the subjects drank low-fat milk, the more milk kids drank, the faster they gained weight. In fact, kids who drank more than three glasses of milk a day increased their odds of becoming overweight by 35 percent!
So how does the National Dairy Council respond to these critics?
- First, as for those who claim it's just a matter of calories, the dairy industry feels that argument doesn't address the Zemel study's conclusions that people lost more weight drinking milk because of its calcium content than those who just restricted calories. They add that it's not just Zemel's study, but some 50 studies in total linking milk to weight loss.
- And as for the Harvard study, they say it simply connects weight gain in children to consuming excess calories -- not specifically to drinking milk. And besides, “The weight-loss campaign is geared toward adults only. So there's really no connection."
And are their arguments reasonable? Judge for yourself.
- As for the 50 studies linking milk to weight loss, most of them are not about milk specifically, but about the role calcium plays in weight loss, and some have mixed results. Other studies are test tube studies. The truth of the matter is that there are far more focused studies indicating that dairy products put weight on versus those that indicate they take weight off. For example, in addition to the Harvard study, a study published in April showed that women who added extra milk to their diets for a year lost no more weight than women who consumed the same number of calories, but drank less milk. But beyond studies, there's the simple fact that America is both one of the highest dairy consuming countries in the world (averaging just under 600 lbs of dairy a year per person) and also one of the most obese nations in the history of the world. What's wrong with this picture?
- As for the refutation that the Harvard study only addresses calories, not specifically milk, let's look at their conclusions. According to Catherine Berkey of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the study, "The take-home message is that children should not be drinking milk as a means of losing weight or trying to control weight." I think you'd have to say that's pretty specific.
- And finally, as to the Dairy Council's claims that the Harvard study is irrelevant because the 24/24 diet is only for adults, that's blatantly untrue. Included on the Dairy Council's web page citing the 50 studies supporting the diet is a separate highlighted section for studies involving Children and Adolescents.
Let's back up a moment and think about this logically (I know, a bizarre concept in the world of health and nutrition). What's actually in milk that would give us an indication as to whether we might gain weight or lose weight by drinking it? Milk contains no fiber and is filled with saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. A glass of milk is 49% fat (cheese is 65% fat). To put this into perspective, a 12-ounce glass of milk is equivalent to eight strips of bacon in terms of fat. What about the calories? A 12-ounce glass of milk contains 300 calories and 16 grams of fat. Just for comparison, a 12-ounce glass of beer contains 144 calories and no fat. (No, that's not a recommendation for beer as a health drink.)
High fat and calorie content in milk is no surprise to the dairy industry. They created “low-fat” milk in order to combat the high fat levels, but with little real result. Low-fat 2% milk still provides from 24 to 33 percent of its calories from fat and, in fact, is only slightly less fattening than whole milk, which contains 3 percent fat by weight. The FDA finally cracked down on the industry and put restrictions on “low fat and non-fat” labels on dairy products when dairy producers tried to label cottage cheese with 20% fat calories as “low-fat.” We all know that consuming many high-fat products contributes to added calories, which causes weight gain.
So how does the dairy industry explain that high-fat moo juice can cause one to lose weight? They cite the Zemel study that says that calcium or other elements in milk may cause the body to make less fat and speed its elimination, but the studies linking to this fact produced mixed results. This could be because the high phosphorus level in dairy actually leaches more calcium out of your body than it puts in. This is supported by one of the clearest statistics you will ever see in the world of nutrition: the countries with the highest levels of dairy consumption in the world have some of the highest osteoporosis levels in the world. And correspondingly, many third world countries with minimal dairy consumption have some of the lowest osteoporosis rates.
Keep in mind, that in addition to obesity being a major problem in the developed world (the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980), there are other major health concerns with drinking milk. I will touch on a few issues here and provide links at the bottom for more detailed information.
To begin with, commercial non-organic, pasteurized milk is not designed for humans. It contains over 20 times the casein levels of human milk. Mother's milk is designed to take an infant from 8 lbs to 40 lbs in 18 months. Moo cow milk is designed to take a calf from 90 lbs to 1000 lbs in 24 months. It's designed to put on massive amounts of weight. In addition, it contains some 59 different hormones, a number of major allergens such as lactose and casein, concentrated pesticides, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Which leads us to the next issue.
Store bought milk is often disease laden. Some estimate that 9 million cows in America are not healthy. Half the herds in America have cows affected with bovine leukemia virus and Crohn's disease. It doesn't take a huge mental leap to make a connection between the high consumption of milk in the United States and the fact that 40 million Americans now suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
And why are cows so diseased? Largely it is because of their tortured environments. A typical cow in nature produces an average of 10 pounds of milk per day, but mass-production dairy cows injected with growth hormones and antibiotics can produce upwards of 50 pounds of milk per day! The average California cow, for example, produces a mind-boggling 19,825 pounds of milk each year. (Ouch! That's gotta hurt!)
And speaking of growth hormones, bovine growth hormone (BGH), which is a recently FDA approved genetically engineered hormone, causes an increase in an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in the milk of treated cows. It also survives pasteurization and human intestinal digestion and can be directly absorbed into the human bloodstream, particularly in infants. It is known to transform human breast cells to cancerous forms, causing breast and colon cancer. Bovine growth hormone, of course, is banned in Europe and Canada.
Another consequence to the mass–producing dairy farm is an increase in cow breast infections. To cure the infections, farmers use large doses of antibiotics, which can also go into our intestinal tract, killing good bacteria colonies in human digestive systems and making us resistant to a whole range of antibiotics. It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration states that milk must be dumped if it has any trace of antibiotics. It must also be dumped if it has too many somatic cells, white cells that can indicate mastitis, an udder infection -- in other words, pus. However, due to budget restrictions, the FDA can only do so much to enforce these laws, and most of us just have to hope that farmers are doing their job in proper testing. Some would say this is not the case. In 1990, an FDA survey found antibiotics and sulfa drugs in 51% of 70 milk samples taken in 14 cities. The Wall Street Journal reported months later that FDA had actually found drugs in 80% of the samples.
Another factor to consider is that milk proteins are large and tend not to break down completely. Your body views these large proteins as foreign invaders, which stimulates an allergic response. This takes the form of both excess mucus running out your nose and encasing your stools, and increases in circulating immune complexes that ultimately end up lodged in your body's soft tissue promoting swelling and water retention – again, counter-productive reactions for those looking for weight-loss. And if that's not enough, beta-caseine, found in cow's milk, can literally trick the immune system into attacking and destroying the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. (Yes, there is a dairy/diabetes connection.) Quite simply, cow's milk is one of primary allergy producing foods you can eat. Bottom line: it's much better to obtain your calcium from dark green vegetables (the same source that cows use) and from seeds and nuts.
Clearly, commercial milk is not a health food. Is drinking milk a better option than getting your calories from donuts and soda? Of course! But that doesn't make it a health food, or a weight-loss food for that matter. If you are interested in more information about dairy products, read the "Now Let's Talk About Dairy" section of the April 7, 2003 Baseline of Health® Newsletter and the "What About Dairy" section of Chapter 6 of Lessons from the Miracle Doctors. You can download a copy of Jon's alternative health book for free.
In conclusion, if you must drink milk, drink raw, unpasteurized, organic milk, if possible. Absolutely avoid milk that has added growth hormones and antibiotics. And do not drink homogenized milk. (I bet those of you living outside the US were starting to feel pretty smug there for most of this newsletter until I just mentioned homogenization.) Homogenized milk contains xanthine oxidase, which attacks the arteries and is a major factor in heart disease. Interestingly enough, this problem seems only to occur with homogenized milk. When non-homogenized milk is consumed, the body excretes the xanthine oxidase. If you do drink homogenized milk, it is essential that you take a folic acid supplement, which can help neutralize the negative effects of the xanthine oxidase.
An even better choice, though, is goat's milk (it's much closer to human milk in composition), if you can stand the taste. And you also have the option of a number of grain and rice-based milk alternatives…in moderation because they tend to be high glycemic. And no, I do not recommend soy milk – but that's a newsletter in itself.
And finally, if you really want to lose weight, stick to a Mediterranean diet, low in pastas and grains, but rich in nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids, and a regular exercise program.