You’ve seen it. Celebrities ranging from Beyonce and Angelina Jolie to Mario and Kermit the Frog have graced the pages of magazines bearing the distinctive milk moustache and a slogan saying “Got Milk?” You’d think all of these adults would have learned by now to not tip the glass back so far…
The real question, though, is why is milk so amazing that it deserves this huge, iconic marketing campaign? The simple answer – it’s not.
We’ve all heard of lactose intolerance. With a name like that, it sounds like an abnormality, but really, we humans were never meant to be lactose-tolerant. Let’s rewind back to when we were babies. At this age, our only source of food was our mother’s milk, so our bodies developed the enzyme lactase to help us digest it. Then we started eating other foods, and we no longer needed to consume lactose, so our bodies simply stopped producing the necessary enzymes. Thousands of years ago, this is how it was. But according to an article by Benjamin Phelan for Slate, “…around 10,000 B.C., this began to change. A genetic mutation appeared, somewhere near modern-day Turkey, that jammed the lactase-production gene permanently in the “on” position.” Now we were free to drink milk from other animals – goats, cows, whatever floats your boat – without having to suffer from deadly diarrhea.
In ancient times, when early agriculture meant unvaried diets, and newly emerging crowded urban areas were the perfect breeding space for disease, this new skill was a savior. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how, but drinking milk filled some nutritional need that allowed people to live longer than their lactose-intolerant counterparts, and thus continue spreading the genes.
This remnant of our ancestors can still be observed today. According to Genetics Home Reference, “Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy.” And in east Asia, communities can be up to 90% lactose-intolerant! So is it they who are lactose-intolerant, or us milk-guzzlers who are lactose-persistent?
If that’s not enough, the touting of low-fat or even *shudders* skim milk, has been a misstep, too. According to Washington Post, “Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.” And how many times has low-fat milk been pushed on us? None of it makes sense.
If you think about it though, the whole idea of milk doesn’t make sense. How is it that a liquid produced by another species and meant for another species could possibly be such a wonderful, essential health elixir for modern humans? Dr. Deepa Varma writes, “Cow’s milk contains on average about three times the amount of protein than human milk does, which creates metabolic disturbances in humans that have detrimental bone health consequences, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.”
Cow’s milk has been linked to a whole list of problems including acne, certain cancers, male reproductive disorders, early puberty, endometrial cancer, arthritis, kidney stones, etc. And if that’s not enough to gross you out, here’s a list of things that can be found in milk: pus cells, feces components (poop), bovine growth hormone, and antibiotics. Yum. How would you like that poured over your cereal?
Okay, okay, so you’re probably thinking, Stop, Beatrice, you’re going to make me throw up, so I’ll move on. Now that we’ve established that milk is just weird, why are we constantly being told to drink it? Because of the government’s dairy checkoff program.
A checkoff program is a program that collects money from producers of a certain type of food, and uses that money to research and promote that product. Which sounds all great and innocent until you dig a little deeper. The program works with companies like McDonald’s, Domino’s, and Taco Bell to make sure that they produce and promote products that are heavy in dairy (read: cheese, cheese, and more cheese, with a side of cholesterol). They have also worked to get pizzas and milk cartons into schools, making up claims like “Pizza is among the top four sources of calcium, protein and fiber in the U.S. diet” (affi.org). Ha, ha, ha. That’s a real knee-slapper right there.
Okay, so you’ve gotten to the end of this long (but fascinating) article, and you might want to know what my purpose is in writing this. I didn’t write this to make you stop drinking milk. That’s totally your choice. I wrote this because I want to make you think about what you eat. Milk is a staple in many American diets and often touted as a glorious drink worthy of fueling star athletes. After reading this I hope you’ve taken a moment to reconsider, and hopefully you will start to question some of the other foods you take for granted.
This article should also serve as a reminder that, sadly, the government does not care about your health. Need I remind you of that old food pyramid in which they placed grains under fruit and vegetables and made no distinction between processed grains and whole grains? They did that to make sure that people kept buying heavily subsidized grain products, but I’ll save that for another article.
Sources: ghr.nlm.nih.gov, slate.com, washingtonpost.com, synergistiqhealth.com, eatdrinkpolitics.com, affi.org
– Beatrice Naujalyte