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The great dairy debate: bovine vs bean

Written by Science, Science & Tech

Human beings are the only species on earth that continue drinking milk after infancy. From an early age we are taught that cow’s milk is an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet. You need calcium and proteins it contains in order to grow into a healthy adult. However, studies have found some serious concerns with having dairy in your diet, which has caused a dip in its general popularity. So, if you are consuming milk, is there a reason to be worried?

Let’s first have a look at the main reason why you might want to keep drinking milk: in addition to the nice, addictive taste it has various vitamins, minerals, and proteins in it. It contains, among other things, calcium, potassium, magnesium and iodine and is rich especially in vitamin B12.

You need the calcium to give you strong bones and good teeth and the iodine to keep your thyroid hormone production stable. Magnesium and potassium are good for your blood pressure and the proteins will help your cells to repair themselves.

But if milk does a body good, why are so many people lactose intolerant? It is not natural for the human body to ingest milk from another animal, especially not after infancy. As we grow older, the production of lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose) decreases, which then leads to lactose intolerance. In addition, the most common food allergy in children is milk allergy. It has similar symptoms to lactose intolerance (diarrhoea, nausea, bloated stomach and stomach cramps), but the cause is usually the inability to digest casein. Casein is a protein in milk that also releases opiates – so dairy products can be highly addictive.

And what about calcium and cow’s milk? Statistics show that countries with the highest milk consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Against the common belief, milk can actually make your bones weaker. The amount of calcium our bodies absorb from cow’s milk is pretty low and it actually increases the loss of bone strength. Milk (as well as any other animal protein) makes our body pH acid and to neutralize this effect, calcium is released from the bones. This calcium then leaves via urine, therefore leaving the body calcium deficient.

And in case this wasn’t enough, milk has also been linked with prostate and ovarian cancer as well as with hormonal imbalance and acne. Switching to plant-based milk is not only much better for you but also more ethical towards the animals and the environment, so you might seriously want to consider ditching dairy.

Aino Haavisto

The consumption of soya foods is rapidly increasing globally, and it’s not hard to see why.

Cow’s milk is the most common self-reported food allergen in the world, making soya milk not only a convenient and tasty dairy-free alternative for lactose intolerant consumers, it is also a great source of vitamins, potassium and all nine essential amino acids.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is little evidence that calcium in milk reduces the risk of bone fractures and soya actually contains almost as much protein as cow’s milk. Synthetic hormones are often artificially added to cow’s milk, which has been linked with increased cell growth rate. Admittedly, evidence suggests phytoestrogen found in soya can alter the body’s hormone balance but as long as unsweetened soya milk is consumed in moderation, it shouldn’t impact the body’s oestrogen levels. It’s also naturally free from cholesterol and low in saturated fats making it incredibly beneficial to people with heart conditions. However, it is worth mentioning that even unsweetened soya milk has a high calorie count. Once again, the key is in moderation.

If these health benefits of soya milk haven’t convinced you to ditch the dairy yet then remember that a shocking 32 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted by the global dairy industry per year, resulting in livestock agriculture being the largest contributor to worldwide climate change! And it’s not just the atmosphere the industry is damaging; ecologically important environments such as wetlands and forests are lost through the creation of agricultural land and vital water systems are continuously polluted by manure and fertiliser run-off. Although genetically modified soya is sometimes cultivated as feed for livestock, more protein can be produced by soya and other crops within the same area than milk from dairy cows, making it a more energy efficient and sustainable drink.

Therefore, the advantages  of organic soya milk seem to far outweigh the negatives – it can play a vital role in combating climate change whilst benefiting human health. Soya milk anyone?

Ellen Jones

Both authors seem to agree that “cow milk makes your bones strong” is just another myth fed to us by media and dairy corporations and not a scientific fact.

Last modified: 9th November 2015

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