Dairy is a somewhat controversial topic. This nutritious food group is correlated with certain types of cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. How we get our dairy products is also controversial for several reasons. Animal welfare and environmental impact are both serious concerns. Dairy cows consume a lot of grain and water, plus they produce a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. But a good chunk of the food industry and our economy depend on the dairy industry. All of these factors, regardless of how distant they seem from personal health, affect the way your body reacts to dairy products. Let’s examine what dairy really does to our bodies.
Those who can and those who can’t (drink milk)
Cow’s milk is produced to feed and nourish a calf. In one year, that calf gains hundreds of pounds, thanks to the nutrients in milk. Milk contains fats, sugars, minerals, and vitamins, all necessary for growth. Yet humans aren’t really built to drink milk into adulthood. This is why so much of the world is lactose intolerant.
But a handful of our ancestors acquired a mutation that made it possible for them to digest lactose (milk sugar). For these people and their descendants, being able to eat dairy products was a huge advantage, especially during wartime. Before the birth of the protein bar, cheese was the easiest and most transportable way to get some quick nutrients.
Bioaccumulation of chemicals in milk
With the advancement of technology, we’re now able to produce more and more milk. But this comes with some unintended consequences. Dairy cows now live in packed enclosures, and the pesticides used to grow more grain accumulate in the cows’ bodies. Meanwhile, antibiotic use, though crucial to keeping cattle alive and thus saving money, has led to an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Since milk is a high fat, super-concentrated cow product, it also tends to have the highest levels of pollutants.
That’s why recent studies have shown that drinking and consuming dairy products can exacerbate certain cancers or tumors. While that’s not exclusively an effect of cow’s milk, it could well be from all these pollutants. Everything from the pesticides in the grain, to the hormones the cows naturally produce, to trace amounts of antibiotics that are in the feed, make milk less safe for human consumption. Remember, these pollutants will accumulate in our own bodies over time!
Dairy in moderation, if appropriate
As mentioned above, dairy is a high-fat, nutrient-dense food. This means that if you consume too much of it, the fat will accumulate in your body. If it accumulates under your skin, then your jeans might not fit right. If it builds in your arteries, you may experience high blood pressure. And if it accumulates in your cells, you may develop Type 2 diabetes.
Still, if you’re young, active, and lactose tolerant, there’s probably no harm in consuming moderate amounts of dairy products. However, if you suffer from any heart, cardiovascular, or cholesterol issues, it may be wise to reduce or cut out dairy completely. There’s always oat milk!