I don’t know Mark Hyman personally, nor have I read his
book, but I do subscribe to his e-mail listserv and he seems to know what he’s
talking about when I can follow his reasoning and the science behind it. At any
rate, it’s just plain fun to read a MD ream the agriculture industry, food
processing industry, medical research establishment (as if there is a such a
single unified entity as that) and U.S. government. (There’s a link to his blog at the end of the article, which is behind the cut).
These days, it seems like almost everybody does.
Celebrities, athletes, and even former president Clinton's
head of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, are all
proud to wear the white "milk mustache." After all, everyone
knows that you need milk to be healthy, right?
Sure, dairy is nature's perfect food -- but only if you're a
If that sounds shocking to you, it's because very few people
are willing to tell the truth about dairy. In fact,
criticizing milk in America is like taking on motherhood,
apple pie, or baseball.
But that's just what I'm about to do.
Based on the research and my experience practicing medicine,
I typically advise most of my patients to avoid dairy
I like ice cream just as much as the next person, but as a
scientist, I have to look honestly at what we know. In just
a second, I will explore the many documented ill-effects of
That advice flies in the face of the new, "up-to-date" food
pyramid from the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA). The USDA's pyramid recommends drinking 3 glasses of
milk a day.
What's wrong with that? Well, for one thing, it's not a
recommendation that's based on strict science. And some of
the "experts" who helped create the pyramid actually work
for the dairy industry -- not exactly the most unbiased
group of people!
In fact, Walter Willett, M.D., Ph.D -- the second-most-cited
scientist in all of clinical medicine and the head of
nutrition at Harvard's School of Public Health -- is one of
the pyramid's most vocal critics. He's even called its
guidelines "udderly [JC1]ridiculous."
That's not something a Harvard scientist says lightly.
But Dr. Willett is right.
The pyramid just isn't based on key scientific findings
about health. Just take a look at some of the pyramid's
recommendations -- and why I disagree with them.
1. Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic
food groups while staying within your body's energy needs.
Sounds sensible -- but which food groups? If you choose
dairy, meat, fats, and carbohydrates, the "perfect" meal
could be a cheeseburger, milkshake, and fries with ketchup
(potatoes and tomatoes are the two top vegetables consumed
in America). Generic advice like that is pretty meaningless
and potentially harmful.
2. Control your caloric intake to manage body weight.
Again, that sounds good, but as I wrote in my book
UltraMetabolism, even the best-trained nutritionists and
dietitians can't come close to correctly estimating their
own caloric intake in a day. And is it okay to consume all
of my calories from cola or ice cream as long as I stay
within my caloric needs? Of course not. So this is more
3. Increase intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains,
nonfat or low-fat milk products.
Well, fruits, veggies, and whole grains are great. Milk?
Not so much. I'll get back to that in a minute.
4. Choose carbohydrates wisely.
Who could argue with that? But how do they define "wisely"?
The real advice here should be to cut down sugar intake from
185 pounds per person per year (what we currently consume)
to less than a pound, avoid flour products (except as a
treat), and stick to whole-food carbohydrates like
vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
5. Choose to prepare food with little salt.
That's not bad advice. But what if most of what you eat is
packaged or processed foods that you don't actually prepare?
Like most Americans who eat half of their meals outside
their homes, this isn't helpful. A better recommendation
would be to avoid packaged, processed, canned, prepared, and
fast foods (unless you know exactly how they are made).
6. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
Sounds good - but if you're usually drinking two bottles of
wine a night, then one seems like moderation! I think a
better suggestion is to limit your alcohol consumption to
half a drink a day or 3 glasses a week (the amount that
seems to have the most health benefit).
7. Don't eat unsafe foods.
Of course you shouldn't leave your egg salad out in the hot
sun or toss your salad with hands that just handled raw
chicken coated with salmonella. But the food pyramid
guidelines don't mention pesticides, hormones, antibiotics,
or genetically modified foods, despite scientific evidence
of their harm. Shame on the USDA!
You can see now why I have big problems with the food
Mostly, its guidelines try to sound sensible -- while still
protecting the interests of the food industry, the
agriculture industry, and all of the lobbyists paying for
the elections of the Congress.
Everybody's happy, right?
Well, I'm not, you shouldn't be, either. The public just
isn't served by this watered down, confusing, and useless
Worse, some of the recommendations are downright harmful --
like the one to drink more milk and dairy products.
According to Dr. Willett, who has done many studies and
reviewed the research on this topic, there are many reasons
to pass up milk, including:
1) Milk doesn't reduce fractures.
Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy products has never
been shown to reduce fracture risk -- but dairy may increase
risk of fractures by 50 percent (according to the large
Nurses' Health Study)!
2) Less dairy, better bones.
Countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption
(like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of
3) Calcium isn't as bone-protective as we thought.
Studies of calcium supplementation have showed no benefit in
reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D appears to be much more
important than calcium in preventing fractures.
4) Calcium may raise cancer risk.
Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy
products may increase a man's risk of prostate cancer by 30
to 50 percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body's
level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) -- a known
5) Calcium has benefits that dairy doesn't.
Calcium supplements, but not dairy products, may reduce the
risk of colon cancer.
6) Not everyone can stomach dairy.
About 75 percent of the world's population is genetically
unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products -- a
problem called lactose intolerance.
Based on such findings, Dr. Willet has come to some
* Everybody needs calcium -- but probably not as much as our
government's recommended daily allowance (RDA).
* Calcium probably doesn't prevent broken bones. Few people
in this country are likely to reduce their fracture risk by
getting more calcium.
* Men may not want to take calcium supplements. Supplements
of calcium and vitamin D may reasonable for women.
* Dairy may be unhealthy. Advocating dairy consumption may
have negative effects on health.
If all that isn't enough to swear you off milk, there are a
few other scientific findings worth noting.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently asked the UDSA
to look into the scientific basis of the claims made in the
"milk mustache" ads. Their panel of scientists stated the
* Milk doesn't benefit sports performance.
* There's no evidence that dairy is good for your bones or
prevents osteoporosis -- in fact, the animal protein it
contains may help cause bone loss!
* Dairy is linked to prostate cancer.
* It's full of saturated fat and is linked to heart disease.
* Dairy causes digestive problems for the 75 percent of
people with lactose intolerance.
* Dairy aggravates irritable bowel syndrome.
Simply put, the FTC asked the dairy industry, "Got Proof?" -
- and the answer was NO!
Plus, dairy may contribute to even more health problems,
* Sinus problems
* Ear infections
* Type 1 diabetes
* Chronic constipation
* Anemia (in children)
But what about raw milk?
Isn't that a healthier form of dairy?
Yes, raw, whole, organic milk eliminates concerns like
pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the effects of
homogenization and pasteurization -- but to me, these
benefits don't outweigh dairy's potential risks.
From an evolutionary point of view, milk is a strange food
for humans. Until 10,000 years ago we didn't domesticate
animals and weren't able to drink milk (unless some brave
hunter-gather milked a wild tiger or buffalo!).
If you don't believe that then consider this: the majority
of humans naturally stop producing significant amounts of
lactase - the enzyme needed to properly metabolize lactose,
the sugar in milk - sometime between the ages of two and
In fact, for most mammals, the normal condition is to stop
producing the enzymes needed to properly digest and
metabolize milk after they have been weaned.
Our bodies just weren't made to digest milk on a regular
Instead, most scientists agree that it's better for us to
get calcium, potassium, protein, and fats from other food
sources, like whole plant foods -- vegetables, fruits,
beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seaweed.
Here's my advice for dealing with dairy:
* If you want healthy bones, get plenty of exercise and
supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily -- don't rely on
* Get your calcium from dark green leafy vegetables, sesame
tahini, sea vegetables, and sardines or salmon with the
* Try giving up all dairy -- that means milk, cheese,
yogurt, and ice cream for two weeks and see if you feel
better. You should notice improvements with your sinuses,
post-nasal drip, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome,
energy, and weight. Then start eating dairy again and see
how you feel. If you feel worse, you should try to give it
up for life.
* If you can tolerate dairy, then use only raw, organic
dairy products, preferably fermented products like
unsweetened yogurt and kefir, occasionally.
* If you have to feed your child formula from milk, don't
worry. The milk in infant formula is hydrolyzed or broken
down and easier to digest (although it can still cause
allergies). Once your child is a year old, switch him or her
to real food and almond milk.
Still got milk?
I hope not!
Remember, dairy is not crucial for good health.
I encourage you to go dairy-free and see what it does for
Now I'd love to hear from you: Do you agree or disagree
that dairy is bad for you? Have you experienced any
problems consuming dairy? Or, more importantly, what
changes - for better or worse - have you experienced if
you've tried eliminating dairy?
Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment to my
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD