Nutrition Edition: No More Dairytale

By Charlotte Wilson, MSc Nutritional Sciences

Do you remember that feeling when you first found out there is no Tooth Fairy?  Well, some of you are going to experience that feeling after reading this…  We’ve been told for years (since the middle of the last century!) that cow’s milk is good for you.  In fact, we were told it is pretty close to essential if you want to have strong bones and teeth.  Well here it comes…maybe sit down…cow’s milk and other dairy products are not only NOT essential, but research (and a lot of it) is showing that it may actually be harmful for humans.  And these detrimental effects range from annoying to downright deadly.

Let’s start with bone strength.  Drinking cow’s milk does not reduce risk of bone fractures and in fact, studies show that it may raise the risk.  Research also shows that dairy increases the acid load on the kidneys which can contribute to kidney stones and gout.  Dairy is also implicated in acne, asthma, migraine and other types of headaches and is a real pain (literally!) for the approximately 65% of humans who are lactose intolerant.  This is an average number and lactose intolerance varies considerably between ethnicities (approximately 5% of people of northern European descent to close to 100% of people of East Asian descent).

But those ‘inconveniences’ may not be enough to deter some people from consuming cow’s milk and associated products.  So let’s talk about some health conditions affected by dairy that will get most people’s attention.  Now, where to start… how about a diagnosis nobody wants to hear: cancer.  Cow’s milk and dairy have been shown in numerous studies to raise the risk of certain cancers (breast, likely prostate, and potentially ovarian).

We can't forget the number one killer: heart disease.  A main risk factor for heart disease is high blood cholesterol.  Saturated fat intake increases blood cholesterol, and dairy is a source of saturated fat (some cheeses, in terms of calories, are about half saturated fat!)  Steering away from foods high in saturated fat will lower your risk of heart disease.  The less you eat, the better your chances

Additionally, consuming dairy is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease.  Results are mixed for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, but is this something you really want to gamble on?  Plus, regarding longevity, research shows that the more cow’s milk a person drinks, the higher the risk of a premature death in general. 

Wow. Not sure their marketing slogan ‘Milk does a body good’ is really accurate.

It seems like we’ve been fed a lie all these years - a 'dairytale'.  Humans do not need dairy to thrive, or even survive.  And that’s only looking at health!  Other strikes against dairy include the effect of 'farming' cows on the environment and climate change, plus the fact that the majority of cows live a very different (read: ghastly) life compared to what is portrayed in the idyllic farm picture on a carton of milk.  Luckily for all of us who call earth home, there are wonderful plant-based alternatives to dairy!