“Got milk?”

Okay, I will give it this… the ads WERE funny. And catchy.

It’s 1993 and the original “Got milk?” campaign featured a string of ads showing a person in a situation that would “require” milk. One of them showed a smart guy meticulously spreading peanut butter on bread and then shoving it into his mouth while listening to a radio show. When the radio asks the $10,000 question and then randomly calls a listener (him) for the answer, the poor chap is muffled and unintelligible in his attempt to answer. Frantically, he reaches for his carton of milk: it’s empty. The screen fades as the radio announcer states he’s sorry and the line goes dead. “Got milk?” is shown on the black screen.

What followed was the famous “milk moustache” ads featuring numerous famous folks, encouraging us all to drink the white stuff. Another memorable milk tag line was introduced back in the 80’s: “Milk. It Does a Body Good.” This marketing ensured us that milk was building strong bones and bodies, providing calcium and helping brains to grow. One ad featured a nerdy little kid drinking milk as 2 bullies approach him. He gradually starts to grow older onscreen, telling the bullies how milk is going to help him grow up big and strong and when he gets older, he will “never forget a face.” The bullies stumble off screen. “Milk. It Does a Body Good.”

3 servings a day? Says who?

Think about it. Where have you learned about how much milk and dairy you are supposed to consume daily? The “trusty” USDA food pyramid telling you “3 servings daily”? The milk ad campaigns ensuring you of its benefits? Your parents telling you to drink milk to build strong bones and get enough calcium?

Likely guilty on all accounts. However, there is becoming more and more compelling evidence and strong scientific studies supporting the fact that milk really isn’t doing our body good. In fact, it could be causing more harm than benefit. These studies and ideas are often met with criticism, annoyance and anger. It’s milk! You are supposed to drink milk! It does a body good! How are you supposed to get calcium? How are you supposed to build strong bones?

The dairy dilemma

I’m having the dairy dilemma in my very own house right now. As I have continued to read, research and learn more about functional medicine and functional nutrition specifically, I’m finding myself questioning the very notions of what I have been taught about dairy and what my own body has been likely telling me for years. Milk is not doing my body good. When I mention this to my husband and 3 kids and suggest we have a conversation about dairy, milk and its contribution to inflammation in the body, I am met with stares of disbelief and complete annoyance. “MOM! You aren’t going to make me stop drinking MILK are you??!!”

Perhaps I should present them with the research from Dr. Walter Willett. Dr. Willett is the chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and is described as “the world’s most influential nutritionist,” He is also is the grandson of a dairy farmer. However, his research has led him to believe that humans do not need to consume milk at all. He often challenges food policies from a scientific basis.

Willett and his co-author, David Ludwig, of Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote in an article published in September 2013 in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics that

“Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to the diet.”

But what about the milk moustaches?

Based on his scientific findings, Dr. Walter Willett describes the current recommendations as “udderly ridiculous.” Functional medicine advocate Dr. Mark Hyman also helps to summarize Dr. Willett’s findings about why he recommends little to no dairy for his own patients:

  • Milk doesn’t reduce fractures. It has never been shown to reduce fractures and may actually increase the risk of fractures. Countries with the highest consumption of dairy have the highest levels of osteoporosis (weak bone) related hip fractures.
  • The calcium in milk is not as bone protective as originally thought. Calcium supplements are absorbed better and there’s also further evidence that it’s Vitamin D (not calcium) that truly strengthens bones.
  • 75% of the world’s population are unable to produce the enzyme, lactase, that breaks down milk and are therefore lactose intolerant.

But what about those milk moustache ads? Well, the FTC asked the USDA to investigate the scientific basis of claims made by the milk moustache ads. And what did they find?  “Got milk” has “No proof”.

  • Milk doesn’t benefit sports performance.
  • As noted above, there is no evidence that milk is good for bones or helps prevent osteoporosis.
  • Dairy consumption may be linked to increased risk of cancers.
  • Dairy is full of saturated fat and excess consumption is linked to heart disease.
  • Dairy aggravates irritable bowel disease.
  • The vast majority of people can’t digest dairy.


Motherhood, apple pie and baseball

While Dr. Hyman readily admits that criticizing milk in America is like “taking on motherhood, apple pie and baseball,” he is still adamant about his recommendations regarding little to no dairy. In his new book, Food, What the Heck Should I Eat, Dr. Hyman continues:

  • The recommendations of “3 servings a day” of dairy is not based in science. This was decided upon by many “experts” who also worked for the dairy industry. It reflected industry interests and not scientific facts.
  • Skim milk is worse for you than whole milk. “When we remove the fat from dairy, we make it less satiating and promote overeating.” Studies have shown that children and adults who drink low-fat milk gain more weight than those who drink whole milk.
  • Butter is back. “Experts are now waking up to the realization that carbs and sugar have been responsible for the obesity crisis all along, butter is on the rebound.” Grass-fed butter or ghee from time to time should not be off-limits.
  • The preferred forms of dairy, eaten in moderation from time to time are:
    • grass-fed, organic, full-fat cow’s milk or cheese
    • goat’s milk dairy products
    • probiotic-rich dairy foods like kefir and yogurt (as long as they’re grass-fed and not full of added sugar.)

“Milk is nature’s perfect food—but only if you are a calf.”

-Dr. Mark Hyman

Do you know what is in your milk?

Dr. David Friedman in his recently released book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, is also debunking the wide-held milk myths taught to us by advertisements, the dairy industry and the government’s biased food pyramid.

  • Conventional milk is allowed to contain blood, growth hormones, antibiotics and even pus cells. Gross. Add that to your morning cereal.
  • Unbiased research from major universities, scientists, doctors and authors have found a link between drinking milk and certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, ear infections, allergies, diabetes and cancer.
  • He also concurs that milk from a cow is designed to grow a calf into a “half-ton, 4-legged animal” and that all species except for humans drink milk only in their infancy and never as adults.

Aya Inspired Takeaway:

So where does that leave us with our best nutrition choices regarding dairy? With my patients that I see that are experiencing a lot GI discomfort, chronic stomach aches, constipation, eczema or allergy flares, one of the first things I have them consider is a full elimination diet of dairy, gluten and sugar for 3 weeks and then slowly re-introduce dairy and other foods to see how they feel. If you do feel that you can tolerate dairy, here are some recommendations:

  • Stick with just one serving per day, but make it full fat, grass-fed, organic milk, cheese or yogurt (without added sugars.)
  • Take a regular calcium and vitamin D supplement.
  • Explore alternatives to cows’ milk including: almond, cashew, hemp, coconut and rice milks. I love the Silk brand of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and use this in all of my smoothies.
  • Branch out to goats’ milk dairy products. Goat’s milk does not contain the same casein as cows’ milk and is not inflammatory. I personally love Redwood Hill Farm Plain Goat Milk yogurt and kefir products. I also prefer goat cheese over any other type of cows’ cheese including: chevre and Haystack Mountain and Humboldt Fog brands.
  • Ditch the margarine and anything out of a tub that is “spreadable”. I buy grass-fed, organic butter and the taste is fantastic. Just a small amount on top of veggies adds wonderful flavor. We keep our butter on the counter in a butter crock similar to this one and it is always fresh and spreadable.

So remember this food for thought the next time you hear the phrase “Got Milk?”

There is in fact…

“No proof.”

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Doneva, N. (2014, January 23) Drinking milk not essential for humans despite belief it prevents osteoporosis, nutritionist says. AP, Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved from https://nationalpost.com/

Friedman, D. Food Sanity. How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. Turner Publishing Company, 2018.

Hyman, M. (2010, June 24) Dairy: 6 reasons you should avoid it at all costs. Retrieved from https://drhyman.com/blog/

Hyman, M. Food. What the Heck Should I Eat? Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

Maynard, M. (2016, Sept 14) 10 of the most memorable milk campaigns throughout the ages. Retrieved from https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/

Swidey, N. (2013, July 28) Walter Willett’s Food Fight. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/

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