Milk products are ubiquitous in the western diet - in our cereal, blended drinks, on crackers, pizza, and a long list of other foods - the culmination of an agrarian trend that began over 6,000 years ago. But despite the long legacy of dairy products being used for human consumption, the biological fact remains that humans were never genetically engineered to to consume bovine milk and it continues to cause health problems for an overwhelming majority of people worldwide.
Many people will vehemently reject the notion that dairy products are bad for us, primarily because they are so delicious. And who can disagree? A piping hot slice of brick oven baked New York thin crust or Chicago deep dish pizza is one of the most mouthwateringly delicious foods on planet earth. But despite everything that government food agencies would have you believe, there are some critical facts that everyone should know about dairy products which reveal compelling reasons to eliminate them from most diets.
Milk is meant for cows, not people. This should be the first no-brainer and obvious red flag: humans are literally the only species of animal on Earth that ingests another animal’s milk, also making us the only animal that is never weaned off milk. Human breast milk and bovine milk have very similar ingredients in their raw forms, but the proportions of these ingredients are drastically different. Milk’s purpose in mammal biology is to provide our infantile selves with vital nutrients when we are too weak to find them ourselves. This means delivering Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFs) for brain development and protein for muscle growth.
The kicker: an adult cow can weigh over a ton, with a brain that weighs proportionately 3x less than a human’s! It’s no surprise then, that human breast milk contains a higher percentage of fat and a lower percentage of protein to develop our smaller bodies and larger brains. While this might sound like great news for bodybuilders, the caveat is that the extra protein (nearly 80%) in cow milk is Casein, which has the defining property of forming globs and clots in the stomach - great if you have multiple stomachs like a cow, but not so great if you’re a human with just one. Casein intolerance is one of the other primary reasons so many people worldwide have intestinal problems related to consuming dairy products. Fun fact: Casein’s main use? Not dairy, but as a binding agent in paint, glue, and plastics.
Lactose Intolerance: Lactose intolerance (the absence of Lactase, the enzyme that processes the sugar Lactose) afflicts between 60% and 75% of the global population, which is unfortunately not a coincidence. As infants, we all produce Lactase which helps metabolize milk. However, production of Lactase sharply declines in most people after childhood. The ability to produce Lactose through adulthood is actually a microevolutionary genetic mutation which developed simultaneously in a few geographic regions several thousand years ago during the agricultural revolution, most notably Northern Europe and a select few other regions that developed dairy farming early. For the rest of us, however, the lack of Lactase in our system means that the sugar in milk remains undigested and does what sugar does best: ferment, leading to bloating, gastric discomfort, and the other classic symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Milk Mythbusting: A century of cooperation between agribusiness, government interests, and mass marketing has created widely held nutritional dogma related to exactly how healthy milk is for us. Fortunately, thanks to modern medical science, we now know that the purported nutritional benefits of milk are highly exaggerated.
Got Milk? Shockingly, studies have proven that there is no statistically sufficient connection between increased calcium intake and reduced risk of osteoporotic fractures (stronger bones). In fact, daily calcium retention is subject to diminishing returns past about 50%, meaning that humans actually need to intake less calcium than government sources claim. The fact that bones are indeed made of calcium has been consistently extrapolated to mean that more calcium = stronger bones in the popular “if a little is good, than more is better” fallacy.
On the bright side, it turns out that there is a long list of dark green vegetables that are excellent viable sources of calcium and are much lower in calories, sugar, fat, and of course lactose.
Does this mean that everyone should stop consuming dairy products altogether? Not necessarily. Despite that consuming milk after childhood is diametrically opposed to natural human biology, causes us to consume unnatural additive byproducts of industrial production, and has negative health implications for a large majority of the world's population, milk does still remain a source of whey protein, fat, and calcium. While there are far better sources of those essential nutrients that won't cause your stomach to gurgle and bloat, many people, particularly in European countries, find dairy products to be delicious and indeed central to their regions' culinary legacies.