We all know that someone drinks milk with every meal… Maybe you are that person. Nothing like cold chocolate milk to wash down your dinner, spaghetti and 2%. Every glass of milk has a story, which usually starts with a cow. But at the very end of this story, you will find a conclusion: you should not drink milk.
It goes beyond small disagreements. Drinking cow’s milk carries a series of negative health risks and environmental consequences, with little or no irreplaceable benefits.
Humans are not supposed to drink the milk of other animals, especially after breastfeeding age. The human body typically begins to lose its ability to digest lactose after infancy in a process known as lactose malabsorption. This is due to a decrease in the availability of the enzyme lactase which allows your small intestine to break down lactose. In fact, researchers estimate that around 68% of the world’s population experiences this malabsorption, often leading to some level of lactose intolerance.
Studies have shown that milk is linked to a number of other cancers and diseases, such as breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Saturated fat in milk and other dairy products is also the number one source of saturated fat in the United States, which contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Many people are also concerned about the health effects of the hormones in their milk. There are a variety of studies on this topic, but steroid hormones exhibit the “most profound biological effects” (Malekinejad, H., & Rezabakhsh, A., 2015). Milk cannot be produced without hormones. This is the biological reality for humans, goats and any other lactating animal. Pregnancy-like hormones, such as estrogen, must be present for a mammal to produce milk. Cows are not milk machines, they cannot constantly nurse without any stimulation. They must either be impregnated, usually by artificial insemination, or given hormones.
In addition, cows must endure the harsh and often arduous conditions of dairy farms. According to a 2014 USDA study, 20% of cattle on US dairy farms are raised in “free stalls with no outdoor access”. Cows often have to endure the mental stress of transport, poor quality of life and early maternal separation.
This brings us to environmental concerns. Livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock being the main agricultural source of these emissions. This is mainly due to the methane they release, which is 28 times more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In addition to this, a cow needs a large amount of food, water and other resources to live. With over 1.5 billion cows on the planet, the environmental pressure is evident.
And we haven’t even mentioned government cheese. (Wonder if you read that right? You did.) It started during the Great Depression, when farmers struggled to produce food for the country. Government laws were passed to help farmers and stabilize prices during World War II. In the 1970s, as another recession hit the United States, the Carter administration established a new policy to help farmers. This gave the dairy industry $2 billion in about four years. Farmers produced as much milk as possible to receive government benefits, and the government purchased surplus milk to continue supporting this industry. With no way to store the milk for long periods of time, the government turned it into cheese, butter and other dairy products. In the 1980s, the government had over 500 million pounds of product stockpiled across the country.
And why is all this important? The surplus of dairy products held by the US government continued to be a problem. They donated cheese to shelters and schools, but the dairy industry feared losing the profits at its current rate of production. The solution: get Americans to consume more dairy products. In subsequent years (and with the help of the Dairy Act and the Fluid Milk Act), campaigns like “Got Milk? appeared to encourage the consumption of dairy products beyond a necessary and healthy level. Milk consumption is advertised as the best way for children to grow and strengthen their bones; one of the most unique and recognizable features of American elementary school canteens is the small milk cartons.
What next? The good news is that there are plenty of replacements. Oat milk and soy milk are excellent substitutes. The non-dairy market continues to evolve, with soy-based cheeses and vegan ice cream hitting the shelves. Although the alternatives have their own flaws, their benefits outweigh the negatives – unlike cow’s milk. I’m not here to shame you. Personally, I can’t go a day without ice cream. But while the thought of completely eliminating dairy from your diet may seem daunting, intense, and often polarizing, it is possible to cut back on your intake.