“Throughout our schools children are taught that milk products are an essential part of a balanced diet.”
On this website, milk will have an identity crisis. After all, milk is accustomed to preferential treatment, given its own food group by the Food Guide; so, out of respect, I will devote some time talking about the huge place milk has in the North American diet.
Throughout our schools children are taught that milk products are an essential part of a balanced diet. Walk into any school and you will find posters, cow balloons, giant milk cartons and sports celebrities donning tall white glasses of frothy milk, all generously supplied by the Dairy Board. There is even a National Dairy Awareness Week to celebrate how much milk is a part of our North American culture. In my little country school, chocolate milk is sold every day by students, the proceeds going toward the grade eight graduation trip. Kids line up with cash in hand, believing this thick brown drink is healthy, promoting strong bones and teeth. Milk is like Grandma’s apple pie: Milk, the most perfect food.—Or is it?
When accompanied by phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins A, C and D, calcium is the mortar the body uses for constructing and maintaining bones and teeth. It is a vital mineral in regulating heartbeat, developing muscles, preventing muscle cramps, protecting against blood clotting, defending against colon cancer, helping in the transmission of nerve impulses, and contributing to enzyme function. It inhibits the absorption of lead into bones and teeth, eases restless sleep and regulates the passage of nutrients through the cell wall. But don’t forget this last point; calcium is used in balancing pH in the body.
Calcium is in all whole foods. There are actually foods that are higher in calcium than our beloved milk. Little sesame seeds do not have the backing of a massive Dairy Board to advertise their nutritional quality yet a cup of these seeds contains 2,200 mg. of calcium compared with the 280 mg. of calcium in a cup of milk. All green leafy vegetables, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, collards, brewer’s yeast, dulse, figs, oats, prunes, soy products, blackstrap molasses and Sucanat, to mention only a few, contain generous amounts of this essential mineral. All life on earth contains calcium.
Considering that there is such an intense fear of calcium deficiency in North America, you would think that it is a difficult mineral to find. You would pity generations before us that have not had the luxury of the abundant dairy products we enjoy in our North American diet, picturing peoples and cultures with rotting teeth and brittle bones—yet nothing is further from the truth.
On Pitcairn Island in the Pacific, people tried unsuccessfully to introduce the dairy cow. The attempt failed because of the Island’s rough terrain. You might wonder if the lack of dairy had any impact on health; if they were sick or weak from the missing nutrients in milk. A visiting physician declared that it would be difficult to find a comparable population anywhere in the world as healthy, robust, and physically fit as these people.
How can this be true? The message children hear all through school is to drink their milk for strong bones and teeth, yet there is a significant piece of information missing in understanding calcium needs in the human diet.
Calcium is used in balancing pH in the body. Determining your calcium need is like trying to figure out how much water it takes to fill a five-gallon pail with holes. Our acid-forming North American diet is the holes in the pail. Coffee, tea, table salt, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, pop, bread, and junk food all force the body to produce copious amounts of digestive acid. Calcium is then needed to neutralize strong stomach acids. It is the active ingredient used in antacid pills to relieve stomach pain caused by acid indigestion. Our blood can function only at a specific pH level. If the blood acid level moves up or down, the body goes into an alarmed state. Calcium is secreted to alkalize strong digestive acids when they enter the bloodstream.
Here is the key. Strong stomach acids are needed to break down animal foods like beef, chicken and pork. The liver turns excess protein into urea, which stimulates a diuretic action in the kidney, leaching minerals, including calcium, out through the urine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a long-term study observing a diet consisting of 75 grams of protein per day, along with 1,400 mg. of calcium. It was discovered that a greater amount of calcium was lost through urine than was being absorbed into the body, creating a negative calcium balance. This study confirmed what many health specialists suspected. Over-consumption of protein has the greatest impact on calcium depletion of the bones, even greater than the level of calcium intake through diet. Drinking more milk is not the answer, but increasing whole foods like green vegetables and reducing animal foods will plug the holes in the bucket, something our children are not being taught.
Osteoporosis has been a rising concern, especially for women. As the disease progresses, calcium leaches from the bones. They become brittle, breaking or cracking with even the slightest impact. One in three women will have serious bone loss in their lifetime, causing an annual death rate of 200,000 in the U.S. At present, the National Dairy Council proposes eating and drinking more dairy products to increase dietary calcium as the solution to osteoporosis. The theory is seriously flawed. In one study, conducted by the Dairy Council, women who drank three eight-ounce glasses of low-fat milk daily for a year showed no improvement in their calcium balance. Resistance training while reducing acid-forming foods like meat can actually reverse bone loss.
While we are being told of the dangers of not getting enough calcium, the rest of the world is living healthily on one half of the amount that we are told we need. Countries consuming the greatest amount of calcium through milk products are suffering the most from calcium deficiencies, and have the highest incidence of osteoporosis. How can this be?
Milk’s available calcium is cut in half through the process of pasteurization. Low-fat milk makes calcium less absorbable because fat is an essential part of the transportation and absorption of calcium. Refined sugar increases the amount of calcium lost through urine. The absorption of calcium in the intestine is diminished with the presence of sugar. Salt has been shown to increase calcium levels in the urine. The countries that are drinking the most milk are also eating acid-forming foods like meat and processed foods and the less alkaline type foods like vegetables and fruits. Wealthy countries eat richer foods and are paying the price in premature aging.
Related Article: Milk Allergies