The pros and cons of dairy
[A health feature in our April 7 edition provoked considerable controversy among our readers with regard to some statements about the health impact of dairy products. The two letters below present two different perspectives on the issue.]
The dairy dilemma
In response to a letter to the editor published in The River Reporter of April 14, I‘d like to address some points regarding the “virtues of dairy.”
I agree that there are many reasons to support our local farmers. These people are some of the hardest working individuals I have had the pleasure to call friends. They are pillars of the community who give our area the charm and beauty we all cherish. We are, as noted previously in these pages, very fortunate to have the opportunity to know our farmers and therefore, know our food. These farms are not the atrocities known as factory farms whose mass production undermines the value of our beloved neighbors’ product. Not to mention the value of the life (animal and soil) from which it is extracted.
The issue I have is one of nutrition. With the scientific research now available to us, it is misleading to market dairy or any animal product as nutritious. Delicious, sure, but nutritious? If anyone is truly interested in understanding how animal protein affects our bodies, read “The China Study.” It was written by Cornell professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD and is one of the longest, most comprehensive scientific studies ever conducted on nutrition. Another eye opener is “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins of the Baskin-Robbins empire.
A large number of forward-thinking physicians now recommend a plant-based diet for optimum health. One example is Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, who has been pioneering this movement for years. He has succeeded in totally reversing severe heart disease and certain cancers. This approach is in lieu of the long list of medications on which many of our loved ones are choking.
The recommendations made by physicians like these are based on science, not cultural norms. The society in which we live most often dictates what it is we eat. We are accustomed to the foods on which our parents and grandparents raised us and we understandably often take offense to someone challenging these traditions. This cycle is a difficult one to break but not impossible with an open-mind and the proper motivation.
We are fortunate in this country to have the freedom to choose what we eat. As noted above, there are many reasons to support our local dairy farmers. Nutrition is not one of them. There in lies our dilemma.
The contribution of dairy
I am concerned with the April 7 health feature and some recent letters regarding the consumption of animal products—in particular, the recommendation to eliminate dairy from the diet to prevent autism, and comments regarding casein.
Milk contains a variety of nutrients, one of which is calcium, which aids in the prevention of osteoporosis, plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve functioning, and promotes proper bone growth and development. Calcium is more readily absorbed into the blood with Vitamin D, lactose (a type of milk sugar) and protein. While substitutes exist, research has proven milk to be efficient in this macro-nutrient delivery.
The statement, “We do not have the digestive enzymes to digest dairy once we’ve been weaned,” is not based in study or fact. Every body is unique. There are always exceptions, as each of us grow and develop differently. Some people are lactose intolerant as they do not produce enough lactase to break down the milk sugar. Lactase milk can be used as a substitute. The majority of our population, however, is not lactose intolerant. With generalizations like this, one should question what the evidence is to prove that they apply to everyone.
In the recent body of research examining the benefits of milk, Kanwar and colleagues have stated that the following components of milk are of particular interest:
1) Lactoferrin has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasite and antitumor activities and accelerates immunomodulatory properties. Lactoferrin is a potent inhibitor for several types of viruses.
2) Casein has been protective in experimental septicemia. Casein was also protective in diabetic animals, reduced the tumor growth and diminished colicky symptoms in infants. Β-casein A-2 in milk is being researched not only for cardiovascular benefits but also in its association with less severe symptoms of autism and schizophrenia. (S. J. Bell et. al.)
3) A Proline rich polypeptide revealed a variety of immunotropic functions, including promotion of T-cell activation and inhibition of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
4) α-Lactalbumin demonstrates antiviral, antitumor and anti-stress properties.
5) Lactoperoxidase shows antibacterial properties.
6) Lysozyme is effective in treatment of periodentitis and prevention of tooth decay.
With regard to the claim regarding pus in milk: milk that you purchase on the shelf is tested and regulated more than any other commodity you purchase. Cows are milked on a regular schedule, as required by their udders. Mastitis may develop from harvest procedures, exposure to an organism etc. Cows receive veterinary care regularly. If a cow is treated for mastitis, the milk is separated at harvest and disposed of appropriately. It does not make it to the bottle you purchase. Milk is tested at the cow, the bulk tank (where milk is held at the farm for pick up) and the delivery truck. If contamination is found, it is reported, the milk is disposed of properly and the farmer is financially responsible for the load lost.
While research is ongoing, consuming milk in moderate amounts is still considered a healthy and safe choice by nutritionists and doctors. Studies continue to involve insight into diet and health. A plant-based diet may be suitable for some, but not for others. Studies are looking into the development of the digestive system and exposure to food types at infancy with a variety of discoveries and impacts to the individual. Working directly with a doctor or nutritionist for your particular nutritional needs is important.
Dairy, Livestock & Agronomy Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension