Got Milk?

25 10 2013

The truth about MILK

After writing my piece on soy a few days ago, I got a request to elaborate on my comments about milk:

“It’s funny that soy gets hammered for its phytoestrogen content, but another staple in the North American diet- dairy- provides 60-80% of the estrogens in the human diet. Drinking milk every day is far more likely to affect sex hormones than moderate amounts of soy.”

Now, before we get carried away, just remember: I love dairy. Milk is a wonderful blend of protein, fat and carbohydrate, has anabolic effects, is a great source of calcium, and is a much healthier choice (on the surface) than soda or a glass of juice. There have been times in my life when I was drinking a lot of milk, and I have seen friends use milk as a muscle/weight gainer with great success. With that being said, I have taken dairy out of my diet. Despite the macronutrient benefits of milk (which are especially beneficial to someone like myself who is trying to build muscle), this is my personal choice based on the information that I have at hand.

Sidebar: I continue to supplement with whey protein, which comes from milk, because it is arguably the best fuel for building muscle and I wouldn’t be able to get enough protein in my diet otherwise. Additionally, high levels of the amino acid cysteine in whey have demonstrated the ability to prevent the buildup of free radicals in the human body, decreasing cancer risk.

To start, let’s address the estrogen comment above. All milk, no matter the source, contains estrogen (and progesterone), as the milk comes from female cows which are most always pregnant. As I’ve mentioned before, estrogen is bad because it has fat-storing properties, not to mention that elevated levels of estrogen in men have been correlated to the incidence of prostate cancer in men; some studies also show a drop in testosterone in men consuming 2+ glasses of milk daily. These hormones could also affect the sexual maturation of children, delaying the process for boys and accelerating the process for girls. As far as I know, there’s no way to avoid ingesting these hormones in milk; if the milk comes from a cow, it contains these hormones.

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On to the next hot topic: cancer. From what I’ve seen, there are studies linking milk to increased rates of certain cancers, but decreased rates of others. For one, casein (milk protein) has been linked to an increased incidence of cancer. This claim comes from The China Study, which essentially tells us that eating animal protein will kill us. The thing about The China Study is that it was epidemiological in nature and can therefore not conclude cause and effect; the study essentially cherry-picked the results it wanted to find and neglected to write about the other possibilities. I could elaborate more, but if you want to read the details, check out this breakdown. If not, just understand that anything from The China Study should be ignored, as it is not fact.

There are other claims that cancer in humans can be caused by elevated levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) and Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). IGF-1 is a hormone that is important for cell growth. As such, it is important for developing children and for building muscle, but elevated levels increase cancer rates in humans (it accelerates the growth of cancer cells). Cows contain Bovine Growth Hormone naturally, but in the 80s they found a way to create rBGH to increase milk production in cattle. rBGH stimulates increased levels of IGF-1 in milk. This may slightly increase IGF-1 levels in humans, although studies show that ingesting IGF-1 leads to negligible increases in human IGF-1 levels, as it is digested much like other proteins. The bad news? rBGH tends to increase the number of udder infections in cattle, so the animals are given antibiotics, meaning that both pus and antibiotics can sometimes be found in milk. The good news? rBGH is only used in the US and is banned in Canada and other industrialized countries; it’s good to be Canadian!

And rBGH free!

And rBGH free!

Other notes?

  • Some studies link milk consumption in children to the development of type-1 diabetes. Other studies do not. It is however, in my opinion, just another reason to delay or completely prevent giving milk to children.
  • Milk does not necessarily give you strong bones. Adequate levels of vitamin D are far more important, as it is this vitamin that regulates calcium absorption; without vitamin D, calcium will not give you strong bones. Some milk is indeed fortified with vitamin D, but the amount is very, very low. As a matter of fact, the countries with the highest levels of osteoporosis and associated fractures are those that consume the most milk. Not coincidentally, these countries are located in northern countries and receive little-to-no vitamin D from the sun. Additionally, new studies have shown that excessive calcium levels can actually be detrimental to health, leading to heart disease and an increased mortality. Adequate calcium levels can be achieved through other sources like leafy greens and canned fish.

In the end, I’ve made a personal decision to limit dairy, and especially milk, in my diet. In my opinion, there are simply too many better options for things that I can put in my body. Additionally, I feel pretty strongly that children should consume very little milk; it’s certainly not a matter of life or death, but I don’t feel like taking the risk of altering the sexual development of my children… you know, the ones that I might someday have. For those out there who want to keep milk in the diet, it would be prudent to look for 3 things:

  1. rBGH-free – not an issue here in Canada, but Americans beware.
  2. Buy organic. Organic milk ensures that it comes from cows that have access to an open pasture, have not had infections/been treated with antibiotics, and eat organic feed that does not consist of any harmful pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, or genetically modified ingredients. Organic milk also has more beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins and comes from healthier animals.
  3. Choose raw milk from a local farmer. There are risks associated with drinking raw milk, but it has the best nutritional profile of any milk and poses the least threat to the development of human disease.

As with most things, a bit of dairy here and there likely won’t be an issue for most adults (unless lactose or casein intolerant), but unlike what we’ve been told our entire lives: milk is certainly not a necessary part of a complete diet.

For more information on milk or other nutrition advice, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.



Why I Love Dairy

1 03 2013


A few weeks ago a buddy of mine noted that I consumed a lot of dairy products in my diet. I never really thought about it before that moment, but I have slowly added more and more milk products to my diet over the past year. I plan my nutrition around my physical goals: be healthy, be strong, be lean. As it turns out, low-fat dairy products make this as easy as possible. Here are some reasons to love dairy:


Pretty much every milk product has a great taste: milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, etc. This fact makes it very easy to overconsume dairy, which can be a problem if you are not choosing low-fat options. Stick to low-fat options, control your portion sizes, and dairy will be an excellent staple in your diet!

Slow-digesting protein

The protein in milk is roughly 80% casein (and 20% whey, which is fast-releasing and serves as the basis for most protein powder supplements). It is casein protein that is used to make cheese (it is the part of milk that coagulates into a solid during processing), making the protein in cheese almost 100% casein. When ingested, casein essentially forms a gel in the stomach, slowing digestion and releasing amino acids into the bloodstream over the course of several hours.  This makes dairy products, especially any type of cheese, beneficial to eat as a last meal of the day, enabling your body to continue to release amino acids to your muscles while sleeping, preventing muscle wasting.

Macronutrient profile

Aside from some products that have been laced with sugar, most dairy products have an excellent macronutrient breakdown- lots or protein, varying degrees of fat, and few carbohydrates. Here are a few examples (per 250 mL):

Milk: 9 g protein, 0, 1 or 2 g fat, 12 g carbohydrate – great any time, but especially within the hours post-workout

Chocolate milk: 9 g protein, 2.5 or 5 g fat, 27 g carbohydrate – it is essentially milk + sugar, making it ideal post-workout nutrition

Cottage cheese: 28 g protein, 0, 2 or 4 g fat, 6 g carbohydrate – great choice any time, but especially for your last meal of the day

Whey protein supplement: 30 g protein, trace fat, trace carbohydrate – the best whey protein supplements contain little-to-no fats or carbs

Low-fat mozzarella (per 30 g serving): 9 g protein, 5 g fat, 0 g carbohydrate – great for a snack, especially last meal of the day

Plain greek yogurt: 25 g protein, 0 g fat, 10 g carbohydrate – flavoured versions can have upwards of 30 g of carbohydrate, so be mindful of added sugar

My latest obsession: Pressed dry cottage cheese: 45 g protein, 1 g fat, 6 g carbohydrate – pretty much perfect any time

Slow clap.

Slow clap.

Micronutrient profile

Dairy foods are loaded with many important vitamins and minerals including:

Calcium: important for bone and teeth health, and to repair muscle tissue

Two bonus facts on calcium:

1) Without adequate exercise and vitamin D, the body cannot benefit from calcium intake.

2) Studies show that women with PMS appear to have abnormalities in calcium metabolism. Taking 1000 to 1300 milligrams of calcium rich foods such as milk (along with supplemental vitamin D!) experience significant improvements in mood, behaviour, pain and bloating during the menstrual cycle.

Vitamin B12: important for the health and function of red blood cells

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): important for healthy skin

Vitamin A: important to maintain a healthy immune system

Phosphorus: again important for bone health and also critical for energy production in cells

Dairy is also often fortified with vitamin D, but the amount is negligible. However, drink your calcium-loaded milk with 4000 iu of supplemental vitamin D every day and BOOM. Best Teeth Ever.

NOTE: Milk will not give you gold-plated, diamond-studded teeth.

NOTE: Milk will not give you gold-plated, diamond-studded teeth.

Debunking Dairy Myths

Dairy leads to cardiovascular disease due to its high saturated fat content. False. If you eat a block of butter every day, sure, this can be true. However, if you are a reasonable human being, this is far from the truth. What have I told you about saturated fat??? There are low-fat or fat-free versions of most dairy products: milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. Even if you are consuming 2% milk or regular cheese, the positives (vitamins and minerals, protein, etc.) will outweigh the negatives; you’ll just have to watch your caloric intake and ensure that you are getting unsaturated fats from other dietary sources.

Dairy products are fattening. False. Some dairy products can be fattening- high-sugar ice creams and yogurt, butter, chocolate milk, cheese- but only if consumed in excessive amounts. Like anything else, portion control is a key factor in maintaining a healthy body weight and composition. Consume in moderation and reap the benefits.

NOTE: Butter is still light-years healthier than margarine. Naturally-churned butter vs. chemically-processed margarine… hmmm… think: trans fat.

Milk causes asthma. False. While infants with milk allergies are more likely to develop asthma later in life, there is no scientific proof that consuming dairy foods leads to asthma.

Dairy causes acne. False. Science does not support any link between acne and dairy foods. The importance of vitamins A and D in skin health is well-established.

Lactose Intolerance

It really sucks. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard of. If you are intolerant of lactose, please let me know- I will save a hug for the next time I see you.


Lactose intolerance (or hypolactasia, if you’re a fancy-pants) is the inability to digest lactose, a carbohydrate found in milk and some dairy products. Individuals with this unfortunate issue have insufficient levels of lactase, the enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of lactose molecules into glucose and galactose. Lactose intolerance is not actually an allergy because it is not an immune response, but rather a problem with digestion caused by lactase deficiency. A milk allergy is a separate condition, with distinct symptoms that occur when the presence of milk proteins trigger an immune reaction; this can involve anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. If you have a milk allergy, I will buy you a kitten.

NOTE: No kittens will be purchased.

Not all is lost with lactose intolerance however, as intolerance levels aren’t always super severe. Studies have found that many people with lactose intolerance can have up to 1 cup of milk daily without experiencing symptoms if it is consumed in the presence of other food throughout the day. Cheeses often contain very little lactose due to the way the cheese is made, so cheese is still an option for some individuals. Yogurt is also usually well tolerated, due to the digestion of some of the lactose by the live bacteria used to make yogurt.

In conclusion, I love dairy. It is delicious, nutritious, and makes an excellent dietary staple for those of us interested in building a healthy, strong, and lean body.

As always, for more information on nutrition, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Happy Friday!