Think back to when you were a kid and you’d sit down at breakfast to a bowl of cereal with milk. You’d go to school and have cheese and crackers as a snack. At lunch, the teacher would come around and pass out either white or chocolate milk. During dinner, your mom would encourage you to finish your glass of milk because it ‘builds strong bones’.
Fast-forward to 2018 and we know that the connection between bone health and dairy is not a strong one. Maybe you’ve even swapped your cow’s milk for almond milk, but do you know why? That’s why I’ve decided to write this article; to help you make an informed decision about what you decide to put in your body.
What’s in your dairy?
I know this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the not-so-great things hiding in our milk. Although the regulations in Canada are much more strict than in the US, there are still levels of growth hormones and antibiotics found in milk.1 As you can imagine, this does not contribute to hormonal health in our bodies. Like I’ve said many times before, our bodies are very smart and intricate systems which mean they like to keep a close eye on our hormone levels. If we start to add external hormones, our bodies get confused and stop producing their own.
Adding antibiotics (approved for cattle by the way) to our bodies won’t make our microbiome very happy either. An aspect of our gut microbiome, the estrobolome, metabolizes estrogen. If functioning properly (i.e. through a fiber-rich diet) the estrobolome contributes to balanced levels of estrogen circulating in the body. If not, you can get estrogen dominance. Antibiotics of any kind will interfere with all of our gut bacteria, contributing to hormonal imbalances and digestive concerns.
The insulin impact
Dairy is considered insulinotropic, meaning its consumption causes a spike in insulin. Normally you’d think it’s the lactose (sugar) content found in milk that causes insulin to be released. However, the whey protein profile is the component that causes the larger than expected insulin response.2,3
Why does this matter? Insulin is a fat storage hormone. If you are consuming a lot of low fat dairy products with the goal of weight loss then this is working against you. Through its insulin impact dairy also contributes to acne, facial hair growth, hair loss, period pain and in some women even infertility.
Alternatives to dairy milk?
When we’re talking about children, I suggest opting for raw, unpasteurized, grass-fed cow’s milk (if you can find it). Beyond that, you need to be looking for other alternatives. There are a number of companies making a variety of delicious nut milks with minimal ingredients so you don’t have to miss out on the creaminess of milk. If calcium is your concern, then keep in mind that most nut milk alternatives are fortified with calcium. I’ve also outlined a few of my favourite non-dairy calcium rich foods in the image below.
I know I sound like the dairy police right now, but the harm clearly outweighs any benefit. With so many options available for milk substitutes you definitely won’t miss putting cow’s milk in your smoothies or coffee. Diversifying your calcium sources also means diversifying the other nutrients found in those foods. I challenge you to try adding one new dairy substitute or calcium-containing food into your meals this week and let me know what you think!
- Eat Right Ontario. Hormones and Antibiotics in Food Production. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Farming-Food-production/Hormones-and-antibiotics-in-food-production.aspx. Published 2017.
- Nilsson M, Stenberg M, Frid AH, Holst JJ, Björck IME. Glycemia and insulinemia in healthy subjects after lactose-equivalent meals of milk and other food proteins: the role of plasma amino acids and incretins. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(5):1246-1253. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15531672. Accessed March 6, 2018.
- Frid AH, Nilsson M, Holst JJ, Björck IME. Effect of whey on blood glucose and insulin responses to composite breakfast and lunch meals in type 2 diabetic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):69-75. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16002802. Accessed March 6, 2018.