The Drama of Dairy (part two)

Shara and Mini Human #4, Easter Sunday.

Shara and Mini Human #4, Easter Sunday.

The Drama of Dairy continues…

This is the second post in a two-part series. You can read the first post here: The Drama of Dairy (part one). As mentioned in the first post, I invited two non-dairy dieticians to engage in conversation with me and to share their research; one of them declined and the other did not reply.

The below ramblings highlight my research from our family journey toward healthier eating and living.

Ramblings of a Dutch Aussie (aka: me)

You may assume that my research ended with the replies I received from The National Dairy Council. That’s not the case. I have continued to read, listen, ask questions and learn more. I interviewed the school nurse at the elementary school in which I work. I asked her how she feels about dairy. She doesn’t work for the milk industry so I knew she wouldn’t care one hoot about answering with any agenda.

She told me, “I think dairy is fine. Most parents feed their children a poor diet these days and that includes too much fat. So I always recommend that those parents give their kids low-fat dairy rather than the fatty products. The kids don’t need more fat but they could use the calcium and protein.” She went on to tell me that it bothers her to watch obese people drinking whole milk but that’s another matter altogether…she referred to herself at this time, letting me know that she blames her own obesity on unhealthy food choices – namely high fat and sugar intake. She is older now and looking back, she regrets her food choices and lack of exercise.

Back to my point…

I pushed her a little more: “I give my kids whole milk because I feel as though the healthy fat from milk is good for their brains. However, we eat a low fat diet in other areas and my kids eat a ton of fruits and veggies. They drink water all day long, in between having a glass of milk and eating cheese. They exercise non stop by playing outside, jumping on our trampoline, walking to the park and more. So they burn off the fat. I am not really worried about them getting too much fat from the milk. What do you think?” She answered, “Well, most parents are not like you. They don’t give their kids healthy food to begin with and they don’t have their kids exercise. Their kids are too busy watching TV and playing video games now and their foods are all processed. But yes. If you have your kids eat lots of healthy foods and exercise on a regular basis, the fat from the milk won’t bother them at all.”

My colleague Beth, from 411 Voices, wrote a post about dairy and one lady left a comment with a link to the following article: High fat dairy and breast cancer (Medical News Today). She stated that she believes her cancer was caused by dairy intake. I think it’s good to note that the study stated that people who already have the cancer need to stay away from high fat dairy. The study is clear that high fat is the primary issue:

The investigators found that a high-fat dairy diet was linked to a greater breast cancer death rate – no association was found in low-fat dairy products though. [Medical News Today, March 18, 2013]

One of my favorite posts, found while researching, is this one: How the Dutch stay slim. I am half Dutch and half Australian. My mother is full blooded Dutch. We grew up eating cheese and yogurt and drinking milk. My parents have always believed that dairy products assist with strong bone development and calcium intake. My mother began buying Tillamook Cheese during my childhood. I buy their cheese to this day. In fact, my father was hired by Tillamook to paint the murals on their restaurant walls throughout the Northwest. Unless they have been painted over…the murals stand as a testimony to my family’s history with the Tillamook brand. My father painted a picture of me onto one of those walls, as a child. I was standing beside a horse at the age of nine.

[And now – a short break of silence for a moment of nostalgia.]

And we’re back: growing up, we ate everything in moderation and watched our portion sizes. My mother allowed treats on Friday nights (licorice and chips) during family movie time and insisted that we all learn to eat in moderation. Otherwise, she kept sugar and junk food away from us. No one in my family is over-weight. We all believe in eating a healthy and balanced diet along with getting daily exercise. I love the article about “how the Dutch stay slim.” When I visited Holland as a child all of my relatives ate cheese sandwiches and drank milk. They believed in hard work, too, which tells me – they were burning off the fat they were eating.

There are those links again, eh?…Exercise. Moderation. Small portion sizes.

These things seem to matter. Very much.

Here’s another fun take on why the Dutch stay healthier than others, even with all that dairy consumption:

Did you enjoy that six full minutes of nothing but bike riding? Pretty riveting, I know.

As I continued to read and learn I came upon multiple articles that stuck with me. Here’s an interesting post I found about the differences between organic and regular milk. A friend of mine had told me that there are no differences between organic milk and regular milk. This is not true. While visiting the farm we learned that organic cows are required to grass feed for at least 120 days per year. They are treated for illness by natural means unless they must have antibiotics for fear of death. If they are given antibiotics to keep them alive, they are moved to live with the regular cows and can never again be called “organic.” In addition, organic cows are given organic feed. After learning all of this, my family opts for the Shamrock Farms USDA Organic Milk. We also recently began buying the Shamrock Farms Organic Sour Cream. My one year old gets the Whole Milk (with the fat content – for her brain – pediatrician recommended) and the rest of us now drink the 1% or the 2% (we rotate).

promo-why-organicI had heard on the news that the milk industry wanted to use aspartame in their drinks. I went to and learned that the milk industry wishes to use aspartame in flavored milk only and they fully intend to label that on their products. Next, I wanted to know if aspartame is considered safe, scientifically speaking. I found a post at the National Cancer Institute that talked about artificial sweeteners. You can click over to learn more about what the National Cancer Institute has to say in regard to aspartame when used in tiny increments. Here’s my favorite line from the study:

In 2005, a laboratory study found more lymphomas and leukemias in rats fed very high doses of aspartame (equivalent to drinking 8 to 2,083 cans of diet soda daily).

Seriously folks, if you are drinking 8 to 2,083 cans of soda a day, I fully expect that you’ll get cancer. In fact, I think your gut will explode. You’ve been warned. You’re welcome.

Farmers, Miss Mollie & Matilda

I went on to read about farmers. I wanted to know, “Do farmers have a higher rate of cancer? Might that be caused by drinking milk?” I found a page on the site that talks about farmers and cancer. However, they basically only discuss the matter of pesticides and cancer – they don’t mention diary. I found it interesting to note that the studies indicate low rates of cancer among farmers, in general. I will venture to guess, once again, that hard work and exercise are factors here: most farmers work very hard and they spend lots of time in the sunshine (Vitamin D). I tell the kids in our class: “Work is good for you. Sunshine is good for your body and brain. Don’t sit around playing video games for hours on end – go PLAY!” Farmers know this, too: a sedentary lifestyle = an early death. Sitting now and again is fine. Making sitting your full-time lifestyle is bad.

While doing my research I emailed Mollie numerous times, from Dairy Management Inc, an organization funded by farmers. I met Mollie in California and thought she was swell. I enjoy chatting with Mollie and I put her in touch with my pal Matilda (mentioned in part one) so they can converse about all-things-dairy. Here’s a portion of Mollie’s email to Matilda:

It’s great that you ask questions and are truly interested in all sides of a topic. We need a stronger connection between farmer and consumer since most of us do not have a connection to farming anymore. I’ve worked for dairy farmers for 12 years but my prior work was in fund raising for non-profits including the Arthritis Foundation and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Growing up in a Midwestern suburb, I visited a farm maybe once a year.

A couple things I have learned are:

1) Cow care is a farmer’s highest priority. Comfortable, well-cared for animals provide nutritious, safe and wholesome milk. We deplore anyone who abuses animals; those who do are rare. We are constantly looking for ways to ensure the best care for our cows.

2) Misinformation is rampant. Hopefully the above links and comments below will clarify some topics.

Let me briefly comment on a couple specific issues. First, I’m glad you are aware of the risks in raw milk; but I want to assure you that the nutrition in milk is the same before and after pasteurization and homogenization. These techniques do not change the composition nor nutrition.

Second, from my experience in the non-profit world I learned the value of good research and judge the merit of current studies on food or medicine the same way. If research is backed up with an independent peer-review process, I put more faith in it. I learned that many times “industry” is the only place where money is available to conduct the research. The peer-review process helped me overcome my mistrust of industry funded research. To make sure it’s not a marketing ploy, any research we fund as the National Dairy Council is submitted for peer-review, even when a study’s results don’t support our hypothesis. We know it takes a long time to build a reputation but only a minute to lose it so we value and guard our credibility by following sound science guidelines.

Mollie linked over to an article at Men’s Health: Is milk really healthy for you? The National Dairy Council was not involved with these findings so the information can be viewed as impartial. Whew.

kids and cow mural

This is me, taking a photo of two of my kids, at the Shamrock Farms farm in Arizona.

Here are a few tips from the Men’s Health post that I found especially interesting:

  • The researchers discovered that calcium supplements didn’t work as well as milk. Why? They believe that while calcium may increase the rate at which your body burns fat, other active compounds in dairy products (such as milk proteins) provide an additional fat-burning effect.
  • In fact, milk is one of the best muscle foods on the planet. You see, the protein in milk is about 20 percent whey and 80 percent casein. Both are high-quality proteins, but whey is known as a “fast protein” because it’s quickly broken down into amino acids and absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Unlike steroid hormones, which can be taken orally, rBGH and IGF must be injected to have any effect. That’s because the process of digestion destroys these “protein” hormones. So drinking milk from hormone-treated cows doesn’t transfer the active form of these chemicals to your body.
  • Some scientists argue that milk from cows given antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance in humans, making these types of drugs less effective when you take them for an infection. But this finding has never been proven.
  • The bottom line: Drinking two to three glasses of milk a day, whether it’s skim, 2 percent, or whole, lowers the likelihood of both heart attack and stroke—a finding confirmed by British scientists.
[Men’s Health, May 7, 2013]

This & That

In a comment section under one of the articles I read, I saw this note:

N.B. For those doubting whether the inclusion of milk in the diet has any evidence for improving body composition and helping with fat loss, please look up the work of Professor Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada who has published extensively on this subject. By way of example, please read the following article: Body composition and strength changes in women drinking milk. Josse AR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jun;42(6):1122-30.

I Googled this Professor Stuart Phillips fellow. You can read up on him if you wish to know more about his findings related to dairy. He is not related to the National Dairy Council so you can assume his findings were impartial.

This is a photo that I swiped from Wendy's Facebook wall.

This is a photo that I swiped from Wendy’s Facebook wall.

Wendy Woman

Meet Wendy. She runs a site called Kidlutions. Wendy is one of my go-to people for anything related to parenting, social emotional development, emotional intelligence and education. I wanted to know her opinion on dairy products. I trust Wendy more than most humans in this world and she always tells-me-like-it-is. She doesn’t beat around the bush with me or protect me with sugar talk. I know I can trust her to be honest and ethical and I know she researches topics as much as I do. So I went to Wendy for her opinion. Wendy is a source of truth in my world and I would trust her with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back.

Here was her reply to me:

As a Child and Family therapist, I am concerned with my young clients from a holistic stance. Intake evaluations always include a section on feeding/nutrition. Nutritional deficits and poor eating habits can have a huge impact on behavior. At times, some parents are referred to their local physician, dietician or nutritionist for further analysis and evaluation. This can be a critical factor in returning some youth to optimal functioning, or at the very least, improving symptoms, including behavioral problems.

Proteins, minerals and vitamins are the building blocks of a well-functioning brain. We would never dream of putting anything other than fuel in our gas tank, yet our kids are often allowed to eat things that have no nutritional value whatsoever. This serves to crowd out the good foods that make the human brain and body a well-oiled machine. I like to help kids understand this, too. It is true that foods can heal. It is also true that the wrong kinds of foods can cause disease. The more we stick to “whole foods”, the more nutrition we will get.

Short of having a milk allergy, I see dairy as an incredible source of nutrition. But don’t take it from me, see what a Registered Dietician has to say about it. Cheryl Orlansky, RD, LD, CDE, states that milk is close to nutritionally perfect. In her words, “Dairy Delivers.”

On a personal note, as a mom of three athletes, I rely on dairy on a daily basis in my own home. My kids’ standard go-to after a grueling hockey game is chocolate milk. It’s better for them than sports drinks. While fueling the body, dairy also helps build muscle and bone. We have it, in one of its various forms, at every meal.

I have seen photos of Wendy’s three children (teens). They are all lean and healthy, actively involved in the sport of hockey (I find hockey scary but Wendy assures me it’s awesome). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wendy.

Here are 10 conclusions I have come to at this point in my food research (in no particular order):

1. We learned, while visiting the Shamrock Farms farm, that dairy is the most regulated food source in America. Dairy is more regulated than seafood, poultry, produce or beef. It goes through numerous safety tests before it’s allowed to sell on the store shelf.

2. Eat all food in moderation. Watch your portion sizes. Gluttony is bad. Food discipline is good. (Short sentences are funny.)

3. A balanced diet can include dairy (we prefer organic), whole grains, some meat (we prefer grass-fed), organic snacks (we enjoy the CADIA brand, Kettle Chips, Annie’s and Mary’s Gone Crackers) and occasional treats (I eat yogurt covered raisins when I’m in the mood for ‘candy’). We also enjoy organic chocolate but sadly, it’s dang expensive. “Dear organic chocolate people: I’ll buy more of your goods if you lower the prices. Thank you very much. That is all.”

4. Stay away from fast food unless it’s a healthier option. I like Greek food, when I feel the need to splurge, as they use fresh vegetables in their products. They also use olive oil. We eat Greek food a few times per year, nothing more.

5. For everything you read, saying something is good for you, another report will say that it’s bad for you. For instance, Harvard Health wrote a post about good fat vs bad fat. They list whole milk as bad along with coconut oil. If you read recent posts from Naturalists they will often mention using coconut oil in cooking because they consider it far healthier than other oils, being GMO-free. In fact, some people believe that coconut oil helps our brains so much that it can be viewed as a cure for Alzheimers. If some folks believe that the fat from coconut oil helps with brain function and memory, perhaps the same can be said about milk. My husband mentioned this the other day, in fact. He told me, “I am starting to wonder if more people have Alzheimers now because so many of us cut out fat from our diets long ago.” After watching the video about coconut oil, it certainly makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It also makes us wonder about milk…According to The Globe and Mail:

Breakfast foods such as cereal, toast, waffles, fruit, milk and yogurt raise blood glucose levels, supplying the brain with the food it needs to power morning activities. Some breakfasts are better than others when it comes to helping kids learn. In a study of elementary-school children, those who ate oatmeal for breakfast scored much better on certain memory tests than kids who were given a low-fibre, refined cereal or no breakfast at all.

Both milk and yogurt are mentioned here as being good breakfast foods, to get the brain powered up.

6. Drink water. I was told that Spring Water is best but I can’t prove it. Maybe you can. I’m all ears. We currently drink filtered tap water and Arrowhead Spring Water.

7. Don’t drink soda. Soda is the devil in a can. The new Pepsi ad from Beyonce makes me laugh: LIVE FOR NOW. Well, yes, that is precisely what you are doing if you drink soda on a regular basis. You are living for NOW rather than thinking of your long term health. True enough, Pepsi. Good tag line.

After all of my reading, I believe that sugar and obesity (aka – lack of exercise) are the leading causes of many American cancers. If you shove sugar and bad fat down your pie hole daily and then sit for 6 hours, watching the tellie – you’re gonna regret it. If you do want soda, switch to a brand like Hansen’s. It’s sweetened with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. But remember…everything in moderation. Unless you want all of your teeth to fall out because you think toothless people are sexy. Then by all means – drink it daily.

8. Exercise every single day. Go for walks, limit your TV watching and game playing and GET OFF YOUR BOOTY. Don’t grumble or complain about moving around. Don’t make excuses. Don’t settle for a sedentary schedule if you wish to live a long and healthy life. Do exercises in your own room, at a gym, by walking around the block, with your entire family as an evening routine – it doesn’t matter how you do it – just do it.

9. I recently started walking every day. I’ve been walking daily for about 10 weeks now. People are saying, “You have lost weight! You look skinny!” I have four kids and I remained a size 2 until my third baby. After that, it was more difficult for me to drop the pounds. I’m now wearing a size 4 again and it feels great to have people notice the effort I’ve been making. Our family tossed out most of the junky snacks in our home and we moved toward organic foods. We cut out almost all of our sugar intake and guess what? My son’s ADHD-prone behavior improved! (Read: Rude? Bad Mood? It Could Be the Food!) There’s something we kept in our diets, though. Yep. Dairy. The other day my daughter said, “Mom, can I please have some of that licorice you got from the Natural store?” I replied, “Not now, babe. You already had some sugar earlier.” She said, “Okay, FINE! Can I just have a piece of smoked Gouda then?” LOL. Sure…

10. I have learned that just about everything could cause cancer, eventually: the air, polluted water, cleaning supplies, tainted seafood, tainted soil, licking the bottom of your shoes after walking through the school I work in (haha – gross), an over-consumption of food and more…We are basically living in a cancer war zone and it’s up to you to figure out what you’ll do to hold it at bay. Here’s a tip: spend more time MOVING than you do SITTING. See here: Common questions about diet and cancer [read under “Physical activity”]

My final summary, thus far:

Diary may not be the right choice for your family but as for mine – I see improved behavior and focus in my kids when they eat a diet of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, water (we buy Arrowhead Spring Water), milk (we buy Shamrock organic), cheese (we buy Gouda and Tillamook), yogurt (we buy organic), kale, hummus, GMO-free snacks, nuts, beans, almond butter, fish (wild), eggs (we prefer free range organic brown eggs) and grass-fed beef (limited – we buy it from Costco). We’re all doing great and feeling better than ever. The primary thing we have cut out?

High fructose corn syrup.

So there you have it. Sugar. It does a body bad. Dairy? You decide.

More reading (if I haven’t fried your brain already):


Disclaimer: I have been contracted by the National Dairy Council through 411 Voices to generate dialog and conversation related to dairy consumption and production. All personal opinions expressed are my own.


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