The Milk-Pushers: For Some, More Harm Than Good

Posted on July 10, 2012

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I love Mark Bittman’s 7 July column in the New York Times.  The upshot:  drinking oceans of milk, as recommended by the USDA, your doctor, your Mom, and your school cafeteria, is not for everyone.  Not only is it actually harmful to some people, it is unnecessary for most of us.  I feel vindicated!

I have never been able to stomach plain white milk.  I am not lactose intolerant.  I cook with it and enjoy it on my cereal; I enjoy cheese and ice cream and whipped cream and real butter.  I even like hot chocolate and chocolate milk.  I just think that drinking plain milk straight up is revolting, and it literally makes me gag.  No amount of USDA or doctor’s advice is going to change that.

Way back in about the third grade, we kids brought our lunches to school, but upon entering the cafeteria, we had to file through a line and each take a little glass of milk.  They were child-sized, probably no more than four or six ounces.  Usually, another student would actually want my milk, and I would gladly give it away.  But I recall getting “caught” at this at least once, and the teacher imperiously stood there and forced me to drink it down.  I was gagging, had tears in my eyes, and it very nearly came back up (I would have been mortified at the time, but looking back, I wish it had).  I know she had to see how horrible it was for me, and frankly, I have long considered this tantamount to child abuse.  It’s one thing to insist that a child try a few bites of a new food.  It’s quite another to force them to consume something that is about to make them actually vomit.  But of course, it was all justified in the name of strong bones and healthy teeth.

But  I had it easy compared to Mr. Bittman, who suffered lifelong gastrointestinal illness and ended up on prescription medications to control it… until he cut dairy out of his diet, and was miraculously “cured” within 24 hours.  Okay, it wasn’t really a cure, but removing the offending substances from his diet solved his problem.  Too bad that blind faith in the every-child-must-drink-milk mantra caused him to suffer for years before that.

The only thing that changed as I got older is that now, doctors rail at me to drink milk so that I won’t get osteoporosis (another variation on the everyone-must-drink-milk mantra).   They also want me to take calcium supplements.  I do neither, and as it turns out, calcium supplements may not be the best way to go, either.  The doctors are right about one thing, though:  calcium is best obtained from actual food sources.  However, milk is not the be-all-end-all.  Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cheese, and  yogurt are all rich in calcium, just to name a few foods.  In fact, a cup of collard greens has more calcium than a cup of milk, and a heck of a lot less fat and calories, too.  So I’m sticking with my cheese and greens, and getting my exercise and my moderate doses of sunlight for Vitamin D.  So far, so good.

For those who like milk, great.  Enjoy.  But I’d like to see some more flexible thinking, especially from school administrators and doctors, on the milk “requirement.”  In reality, it is not a requirement at all.  Just another example of overly simplistic official recommendations about what’s good for you or bad for you.

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