Friday, February 27, 2009

why cow's milk isn't really good for you, and why soy milk isn't either

Greetings again dear friends,

I have a feeling lots of my vegetarian friends and also milk-drinking friends might not really like what I'm about to say, so before I begin, let me proclaim: don't kill the messenger. For clarification purposes I'm not trying to tell anyone to drink or not drink soymilk or cow's milk. I've consumed both these products myself at one time.* My only issue is that some things are being celebrated as health foods when they're not and that, as its title indicates, is what this blog is about.

So let's start with cow's milk. It's ubiquitous and people have been consuming it for ages. Where would a cereal breakfast be without it? And let's not even mention the humongous “Got milk?” campaign to get you to consume it even more. It's touted as a great source of calcium and is therefore good for your bones. Now that would be true if they also were to mention that the increased bone mineral density is a temporary phenomenon and that long-term overconsumption of calcium through cow's milk causes osteoporosisand does not prevent it. No, I'm not kidding and I know that that statement runs counterintuitive to all we've been “taught” about bone health and prevention, but it does explain why countries with the highest dairy consumption have the highest incidents of osteoporosis and hip fractures. If you have some time click on the link and read the whole article. Strictly speaking the data presented in regards to the countries is not causal, but rather correlational, but the correlation is very distinct. Additionally the article goes into the physiology of how the body treats excess calcium and why in the long run it becomes detrimental to bone health.

But that's really not the only beef with cow's milk (no pun intended). The large-scale production of cow's milk produces, what one controversial author in 1998 called poison. I didn't like his governmental conspiracy tone and wanted to draw on some more recent data so I'm not really using him as a source, but If you want to, check him out. His name is Robert Cohen and he wrote the book, Milk, the Deadly Poison. I cross-referenced my data and concluded that it's safe to say that in large-scale commercial milk production, due to the way the cows are confined in close proximity to each other they are given antibiotics to prevent an epidemic outbreak. We get these antibiotics in the milk. We also get the dead bacteria and viruses. Because cows naturally only give milk for the duration that the calf needs it, they are injected with often genetically engineered growth hormones to increase the milk production. We get these growth hormones in the milk. And pus from the udders because the excessive milking, now that they're producing excessive milk, rubs their flesh raw. But it gets better, ... that is, worse.

After the commercial farmer obtains this pathogen-loaded secretion, it needs to be processed to make it safe for consumption. One of the main steps therein is pasteurization and that ends up killing all bacteria in the milk (the bad and the good) so that the bacterias' cell membranes are broken open and all its “guts” are now in the milk. And those guts happen to be cyto-toxins which, as the name implies are toxic. Those bits and pieces of dead bacteria together with the cyto-toxins, once they enter your body, elicit a histamine response from your immune system (itching, asthma, inflammation, mucous production etc.). Another step of the processing is homogenization which destroys the butterfat clusters and is the reason why processed milk stays at an evenly distributed consistency instead of the fat separating from the milk. The problem with that is that the now destroyed fat-cells may cause some problems with your intestines. At the same time it yields a nutritionally poor product.

For a thorough explanation on milk processing here is a good video. This video also offers the only healthy alternative I could find anywhere if you want to be healthy, but staunchly don't want to give up cow's milk and insist on consuming the secretion of another animal. And that alternative is raw cow's milk. Because raw milk is absolutely unprocessed it can only come from grass-fed, healthy animals which are raised in free-range farms and it is subject to far stricter inspections. It contains all the nutrients that commercial processing kills and at the same time contains none of the pathogens. From personal experience, because this is the milk I grew up on, it tastes far better. The downside is that it's illegal in most states and the reasons for that are a subject unto itself that I won't cover here. And if you're lucky enough to live in a state where you can enjoy the benefits of raw milk, remember to still have it in moderation due to the excessive calcium-osteoporosis link.

Now let's go to soymilk that is often being touted as a great replacement for animal milk for people who are lactose intolerant (the majority of the world population) and for those who prefer to not consume animal products. There is one truth to this praise and that truth is that soy is a complete protein. This means that it contains all the amino acids that the human body needs for normal function and optimum health. I wasn't able to find whether it is the only plant that is a complete protein, but even if it isn't, it certainly is the most popular animal protein substitute around and a staple food of most vegetarian and vegan diets.

Before I go into why soymilk is pretty bad for you and why soy in general is not a health food, let me establish that the data on this subject is so varied and so diverse that it was absolutely insane to find two articles that agreed on all the main points. If you have some data to add to what I'm about to say, please do. Because the soy industry is a multi-billion dollar giant, it seems hard to find straight-forward information on the effects of soy. Although I've looked at a good 20 sources, here is a very reader-friendly article on all things soy and it largely contains a conglomeration of main points that most nutritionists and scientists agree about.

Because the data was so contradictory, I've gone and looked at the actual original studies conducted about soy and here are the highlights: soy has anti-nutrients, in particular it has enzymes which inhibit protein digestion, iron, calcium and zinc absorption. It also has phyto-estrogens which are chemicals resembling the human hormone estrogen. Excessive consumption of this has been linked to everything from male infertility, to thyroid gland problems, to female risk of breast cancer. Pretty much 85% of the sources say to keep soy away from children and to not give them soy-infant formula (if you have babies and this is of interest to you, check it out and let me know what you find). 60-70% of all soy available to us is genetically modified and has a higher concentration of the infertility-inducing components. There is soy in 60% of all products around us (seriously, pick up any ingredient list at hand and I'll bet you'll find some soy part in it. It's even in chewing gum.) Because this list can really go on and on and on, I suggest just google “antinutrients in soy.”

In regards to the original studies on soy, there is

Now that's you've read all of these studies and their depictions of soy as a practical poison, there is one thing you should be wondering and that is namely, how did people in Asia manage to eat this stuff for thousands of years? No, it's got nothing to do with genetics, though that's also a theory that's out there. Here are some good news if you want to be healthy and don't want to give up soy (and because you already read the long first article I presented you already know what I'm about to say, right?). If soy is processed correctly, namely fermented for 18 months (not a typo, months it is) the way it is in Asia, you can enjoy the benefits of its fiber and protein without taking in its anti-nutrients. Traditional products that are safe and healthy due to this processing include tempeh, natto, miso and shogu, which is a type of soysauce. Edamame are also safe to eat because they're not yet mature and their isoflavones/phytoestrogens are not bioactive and seem to not impair your biochemistry. If you do eat them though, make sure you get the organic ones and not the genetically modified ones. Note: soymilk and tofu are typically not fermented soy products and contain all the harmful substances found naturally in soy. For a very simple down-to-earth look at what soy to eat and not to eat, here is a brief article.

All right, that pretty much sums up my dabbling with this topic. In the next blog I will tackle the equally contradictory subject of the fats. Trans fats, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated? What's their deal. So tune in next Friday!

Till then ...

"The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend." -- Benjamin Disraeli

* If you'd like to know why I quit drinking both of these, it's actually not because of their nutritional value, or lack thereof. I reduced my cow's milk consumption when I moved here from Europe. The milk here tasted just awful (and now I finally know why) and we had to find the whole organic milk for me to drink it because that at least came close to the milk I had grown up on. When I started college and my mom didn't do my grocery shopping for me anymore, I just quit cow's milk because the organic kind was expensive and hard to find at the supermarket. I switched over to soymilk because I thought it was good for me and it was easier to find in stores and had a far longer expiration date. I quit soymilk because I quit eating cereals and that was the only time I even had any of it because it didn't taste good in any other way. And finally, I quit eating cereals because I had become a bit more nutritionally literate and realized there were better breakfast alternatives, but that'll be the blog on sugar.


  1. I ate some prepackaged food that I heated up at work last week, and it told me there was a ton of calcium in it, and that concerned me because it didn't seem like the type of food that would have calcium.

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  2. hey tina! thanks for all of this information. I had heard that soymilk has negative effects for women, that it might be linked to breast cancer. The data was so confusing though. The article said that if women are prone to get breast cancer it exacerbates that, but if not prone, it decreases their chances? I was confused, and I like soymilk and veggie burgers, so I just decided to pretend that I hadn't read the article.
    What about almond and rice milk? I have been using those instead of soymilk sometimes.
    Also, do you know anything about seitan (wheat gluten)? Is it a good substitute for soy? It's hard for me to give up meat replacement products, because my culture has taught me that a meal isn't complete without a "main idea" (a big chunk of protein, be it meat or a soy fake chicken patty). I think being a vegetarian would be a much bigger sacrifice for me without those products.

  3. Cat! Thanks for reading. =)
    Well, it seems that as long as the soy is correctly prepared it's quite good for you. But of course it's up to you to double-check which soy is well-prepared which one isn't. Like already said above, miso and such are pretty much safe.

    I haven't checked anything regarding almond milk, but I can't find anything negative about ricemilk (aside from the sugar content if you want to have a low-sugar diet). I'm sure almond milk isn't bad either.

    And I have not even heard of seitan. I'll look it up and let you know what I find. =)

  4. I stopped drinking milk after seeing a chiropractor who showed me some info and asking me one simple question " have you ever had the urge to just run up to a cow and just start nursing from it" and of course my answer was no. The reason you don't need milk (not just us all milk raised animals) after weening is because that's what milk is for, the young. Thats WHY it's called weening,and also why the mother stops producing milk until the next pregnancy, so the young can start eating solid foods and fend for itself

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  6. Excellent information, easy to follow. I've understood soy and cow's milk to be bad for you.. for some time... it makes me feel toxic just thinking how much of it i've consumed in my life. I'm only 19 though, so at least i'm learning this now. The tough thing about this information is that it is so hard to find an alternative. When I walk into the supermarket I feel lost! I wish I were a deer that could live off of the grass growing in my backyard. That would simplify this whole thing!

  7. I'm just starting to learn about how bad cows milk is, and I'm not liking what I'm hearing. I am definitely not going to be drinking anymore cows milk unless I can find it raw (I'm already not a big milk drinker, so this isn't a problem) but now I just need to convince my husband of all this.

  8. I was looking up some information on why milk is bad because when I heard it, I thought it was crazy, which I still think it is. That study you linked about osteoporosis levels being high in countries with high levels of milk consumption is logically absurd. For instance, to quote:

    "If osteoporosis was about a lack of exercise, all healthy but physical inactive people would have osteoporosis, which is not the case. That is why bone-loss with age cannot be explained by declining physical activity levels."
    That statement seems to suggest that exercise ALONE? cause osteoporosis, which, no one in their right mind would suggest it does. The next statement of "that is why" does not even logically follow the previous statement.

    I don't understand what is so hard for normal people to comprehend, necessary versus sufficient conditions.

    Calcium alone is not the contributing factor to osteoporosis, but neither is lack of exercise or ANYTHING ALONE for that matter. Everything contributes to it, the reason why Americans get osteoporosis is because they don't exercise, they eat a lot of sodium, they drink a lot of coffee. If you do not look at every single factor across the board, or if you do not actually carry out a properly conducted experiment, isolating one variable at a time with a proper control, I would not trust the experiment nor the results let alone the final analysis.

    So good luck to all you logically challenged people, keep believing milk is bad for you (which the hormones and antibacterial injections are, but I'm pretty suree you not eating any calcium is way worse for your body).

    People need to understand that we are omnivores for a reason, but I guess in today's age, monkeys and apes are smarter than humans. Vegans need to learn the difference between carnivores and omnivores, the latter of which naturally leads to a healthy life. Both herbivores and carnivores are not the natural way to live.

  9. @ Margaret "That statement seems to suggest that exercise ALONE? cause osteoporosis, which, no one in their right mind would suggest it does. The next statement of "that is why" does not even logically follow the previous statement."

    That is some pretty illogical grammar.

    Which may explain why you come to some rather naive and illogical conclusions. If you assume that calcium can only be derived from ingesting cows milk then you have a lot more 'looking up' to do.

  10. Great article! I have been considering boy clotting cows milk. Now to convence my husband. What is your opinion on organic goats milk? Any good research or articles?

  11. Very long but wonderful! Is there any substitute for cow's milk that is good for you? What's the best milk for you to drink then?

  12. I have read that Almond Milk is very good and very good for you. Some say it is the closest taste to dairy milk. Cost is a factor. About twice that of cow milk (as of 4/29/12 Almond milk is $1.99 for 32 oz at Whole Foods. Any opinions or info on this?