a different kind of coffee break with Gerry and Ray Coffey

Disease-Free Living Through Fitness and Nutrition


The Great Americal Milk Myth
By: Charles R. Attwood, M.D., F.A.A.P.

The mother of a 7 year-old boy handed me a note sent to her by the school dietician. "Billy’s diet has come to our attention," it read, "because he no longer drinks milk in the cafeteria." At my suggestion, he had given up milk because it worsened his asthma and eczema. The note’s concluding words were heavily underlined: "Milk is absolutely necessary for calcium and protein!" I knew the mother was worried and I knew why. Billy’s grandmothers and an aunt had osteoporosis.

Parents who want to reduce saturated fat and animal proteins in the family diet have understandable concerns. They’ve read that both may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers but worry about calcium deficiencies if milk is discontinued. I often find it necessary to reassure them that some bowing of their childn’s legs may be normal up to the age of three, and is not due to a calcium deficiency. Dental decay, during infancy and early childhood, cause the same concern. But ironicially, tooth decay can be caused by too frequent bathing of the teeth with milk.


Why is there so much fear about not drinking milk? The milk myth has been created and perpetuated by the dairy industry’s intense lobbying throughout the lifetimes of most adults. The fact is, during most of our kindergarten and grade school years, nutrition teaching aids were supplied by the National Dairy Council. As a (Page 3 of 4) result, Billy and everyone around him, from his parents and teachers, to his doctors, lawyers and Congressional representatives, grew up thinking that milk is wholesome and necessary for strong bones and teeth. Never mind that milk wasn’t consumed before the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, and still isn’t by 75% of the world population.

Further confusing the consumer are milk and infant formulas claiming to be fortified with Vitamin D, which is necessary for proper calcium absorption. Though vitamin D can be obtained by eating sardines, herring, salmon, tuna, egg yolk, and fish oils, none of these high-fat foods is really necessary. Anyone can get adequate amounts simply by being outside in the sunlight for as little as 10-15 minutes three times a week. Disabled children and others who cannot get out in the sun can avoid Vitamin D deficiencies and rickets by taking vitamin D supplements rather than fortified dairy products. Part II: "The Protein Problem" continued next month. (Reprinted from New Century Nutrition & HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES Newsletter 9/97)

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