Is milk bad for you?

Milk and vegetablesIn a New York Times column, “Got Milk? You Don’t Need It” Mark Bittman recently attacked the premise that drinking milk is healthy. After suffering a lifetime of acid reflux and heartburn, Bittman cured his problem in just 24 hours by going off dairy products.

But Bittman doesn’t just argue against dairy consumption by those who have heartburn. He goes on to attack the image of the bucolic milk cow and farmer, “Then, of course, there are our 9 million dairy cows, most of whom live tortured, miserable lives while making a significant contribution to greenhouse gases.” He argues against the idea that milk helps build strong bones, “In fact, the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine.” He also throws in a few grenades against big dairy and government subsidies.

The counter arguments have been flying and seem to concentrate on two areas — Bittman’s personal experience is hardly a legitimate medical test and his science is faulty. In The Huffington Post, Will Fertman has written a column titled “A Reply to Mark Bittman’s Milk Freak-Out, Part 1: Don’t Be a Weasel.” He leads off with the argument that “his [Bittman’s] column is filled with bad arguments about dairy, and milk in particular, propped up with some highly dubious ‘experts’.”

And, interestingly, today’s Wall Street Journal,  The New Science Behind Today’s Deadliest Diseases (subscription required), notes that research indicates, “Dairy foods may help ease inflammation in patients with a combination of risk factors.”

As with most things when it comes to food and science, particularly in the health sphere, it seems the final word has yet to be spoken. We’re pleased that Mr. Bittman has cured his acid reflux, but we remain skeptical that he should be advocating a wholesale stand against a primary food group based solely on his personal experience, his personal physician’s advice, and one scientific quote. As always, we feel that good food should be celebrated, not feared.


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  •  on  July 17, 2012

    Well said, Lindsay! That's my philosophy in a nutshell, there are way too many people blithely mouthing off on the 'food issue of the week' and not enough reasoned scholarship on the subject.

  • Lhardin  on  July 17, 2012

    I usually like Mark Bittman, but good grief! If he thinks dairy cows live miserable tortured lives he needs to visit my in laws dairy farm. The whole place is run for the convenience of the cows. They graze out in the field and milking is done when the COWS decide it's time – no matter how early or late. If it snows and food is covered, the humans take food to the cows. The baby calves are pampered. This is not a hobby farm or out of the norm. All the farms in the area do likewise. Dairy farmers have a harder life than the cows.

  • sir_ken_g  on  July 17, 2012

    Regrettably there are few areas that are more complex and confused that nutrition. The basic science is highly complex and there are all sorts of people and groups with agendas. Like medical information, a high percentage of the nutrition information on the web and in popular books is il-informed or purposely wrong . Is the American Dairy Association wrong? Having an agenda to sell milk is OK, but what about their advice? How about the cereal vendors? When I am looking for medical advice I assume that blogs are wrong period. If it is not from somewhere like FDA, or AMA, or CDC I ignore it. Nutrition is the same. Meanwhile those trade associations keep trying to make sure real information does not get on the packages – or is in micro-print.

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