Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Milk: an Essential Nutrient?

What a busy last couple weeks! My husband finally handed off the application to me for the priesthood, and Nicky decided to stop napping. This means I no longer had time to sit and write anything really, and I only had two weeks to write it all. Last week, my mom came for an awesome visit which both kept me from working and helped me work at the same time. Finally, everything was completed and turned in on Saturday. Nicky even went down for a nap yesterday and today to give me time to write this.
The dairy industry is a very powerful organization of farmers they pull a lot of money and have major influence in public opinion and and politics. Everyone remembers the "Got Milk" campaign of the 90s. Images of strong athletes and celebrities with milk mustaches encouraged children to enjoy white milk. The industry had some push-back particularly because chocolate milk became so prevalent in school lunches. On Jamie Oliver's show Food Revolution, he posed the question of why we must offer chocolate milk to our children. The defense was to get children to drink milk and more milk because they would not do so if it was not chocolate. Jamie Oliver asked "Can't we do better?" My mother and I asked, "How much milk do children really need?"
When I was pregnant, my doctor gave me a nutrition pamphlet. I read through the pamphlet and saw how many references there were to milk and other dairy products saying how essential it was that pregnant women drink milk. I found the suspicious, so I looked on the back and the pamphlet was produced by the Dairy Council of California. I promptly threw the pamphlet in the trash.
A few months ago I read that the milk companies we're trying to re-brand they were launching a campaign to make people aware of milk; make it a lifestyle. Yesterday on the VegNews website I read that the Milk Processor Education Program are launching a new campaign on social media. (Hey! Look what I found. http://milktruth.com/ Kinda creepy if you ask me.) They will be flooding Twitter and Facebook with information about the benefits of milk and and express suspicions of almond milk. Once again we need to ask ourselves how much milk do people really need if any at all.
Popularity of nondairy milk has risen over the last 20 years due to lactose intolerance, nutrition awareness, and the rise of veganism. I would say though that our falling population may have a small contribution to that drop however it is true that nondairy milk is growing in popularity. At our home, we drink almond milk mostly because my husband prefers the taste of almond milk instead of soy milk. I would say soymilk is more nutritious for you than almond milk but is perfectly fine to consume. (just watch out for those sneaky sweeteners.)
If milk is so good for us, what nutrients in milk make it the center for a balanced diet? According to the website of the Dairy Council of California, milk provides calcium, protein, vitamins D, A, and B12, potassium, magnesium, and riboflavin. I will demonstrate non-dairy alternatives to each of these nutrients proving definitively that as long as someone has a well-balanced plant-based diet, even a nursing mother has no need of milk.
First up, the most well-known benefit is calcium. Calcium is essential for bone health, teeth health, and nerve health. According to Health magazine website, there are 12 other foods that vegans and non-vegans can use to take in this essential nutrient. They include: collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, the infamous kale, edamame, bok choy, figs, oranges, white beans, okra, tofu, and finally almonds (also almond milk). Clearly, if a person consumes a good amount of these various foods, one should receive enough calcium without the dairy or cholesterol. (Fun fact! I took a calcium quiz on the Dairy Council of California website to check my calcium intake, and I exceed it without a single dairy product. Pwnd, dairy!)
The most common question a vegan or vegetarian is asked is, "Where do you get your protein?" Would you be surprised if I told you that all plants have protein? They do! Some have more than others, but even if I eat a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, I will receive as much protein as eating an egg. Nobody needs to drink milk in order to consume enough protein, especially if a person eats a diet rich in whole grains rather than refined grains.
I'm not even going to talk much about vitamin D because the only ways to receive vitamin D is to either be out in the sun, take a supplement, or consume a product fortified with vitamin D which plenty of vegan food is. Many doctors are concerned about peoples' vitamin D intake because we need sunscreen to protect our skin from the thinning ozone, but the sunscreen also blocks our vitamin D intake. Fortunately for me, I do not burn easily so a 20 minute walk around Disneyland with my son is enough for me to get vitamin D naturally.
Vitamin A is essential for eye, immunity, and reproductive health, according to Health magazine online. The highest concentration of Vitamin A is found in the beta carotene sweet potatoes. Baked sweet potato fries for everybody! Hooray! (Sweet potato fries are my fav.) It can also be found in carrots, winter squash, and spinach. I'd rather have sweet potatoes than milk any day, even before I was vegan.
Vitamin B12 is a little trickier for us vegans. I will admit that the best source of vitamin B12 is animal products, however, pretty much any animal product may be used to attain this vital nutrient, including but not limited to milk. Vegans get their B12 from nutritional yeast, algae, vegan yogurt, and supplements. Bacteria in meat products is how we humans get our vitamin B12, so vegans get their vitamin B12 from the source. B12 is essential for the formation of DNA and red blood cells and is important to guard against anemia. I took a blood test just before I got pregnant two and a half years ago, and I had healthy levels of vitamin B12, without a supplement.
Potassium is an electrolyte to regulate your body's energy. This and the protein is what makes milk a good post-workout beverage. I would say that chocolate soy protein drink is probably just as good for you. (And quite delicious.) Potassium can be found in sweet potatoes (whoo hoo! another nutrient for sweet potatoes), tomato paste, beets, greens, and regular potatoes. Who would have known that greens have so many nutrients that make milk so good for you. With fewer calories too!
Health magazine describes magnesium as a versatile nutrient that the body uses for more than 300 biochemical reactions including "maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones strong." Magnesium can be found in wheat bran, almonds, cashews, and green veggies such as spinach. Look at that, almonds and green veggies provide both magnesium and calcium. Who would have thought that plants were so good for you!
According to the Dieticians of Canada, riboflavin is a B2 that is essential for your cells to convert fat, carbs, and protein into energy. Nobody needs to consume more than 2 milligrams a day. Some foods for vegans that contain magnesium are mushrooms, spinach, corn flakes, muesli, pasta, soy milk (which actually has almost as much as dairy milk), tempeh (which does have more per serving than milk), almonds, soy nuts, and Vegemite. Plenty of sources of magnesium outside of dairy.
When you seen an ad for milk, ask yourself, does spinach need ads? What about almonds? (yes, I know there are ads for almond milk and soy milk) And when you hear somebody preaching the dairy gospel, ask yourself, what is their source of information? Ask yourself, do I really need milk with breakfast, cheese for lunch, and yogurt for dessert? Probably not. Ask yourself, should the people who have a financial stake in my consumption of milk be deciding what is necessary for good health? I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. Just beware the scary dairy propaganda!

VegNews: http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=6630&catId=1
Health Magazine: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20845429,00.html, http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20660118_1,00.html
Dairy Council of California: http://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Milk-Dairy.aspx
Dietitians of Canada: http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Riboflavin-%28Vitamin-B2%29.aspx

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