bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: You’re drinking the wrong kind of milk

Just Mooching Around (geddit?)

A friend shared this article on twitter last week. While I can’t vouch for the science behind it (any readers able to?), I did find it very interesting. I know a number of people who have mentioned that they have “lactose intolerance” here, in North America, but when they travel overseas to places like France they have no trouble digesting any dairy products. I wonder if this could also help to explain the people who’ve told me that the local East Coast Organic milk is the only kind they can tolerate. Perhaps it has less to do with what the cows are eating, and more to do with the breed of cow. Something to chew on.


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Is organic milk really better than conventional milk?

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Last week it was all over the news that organic milk is nutritionally superior to conventional milk. Don’t you just hate that non-organic is commonly known as “conventional”? When did the use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and genetic modification become conventional anyway? I really think that we should have a more nefarious name for it. Anyway… I digress. The purpose of this post is not actually to bash non-organic farming. Nope, not today. Today I want to rant about this study.

First off, who sponsored the research? Oh, just CROPP, only the “nation’s largest and most successful organic farmer cooperative” according to their website. Oh sure, they had no influence over the design and results of the study but do you think it would have been published if it hadn’t found that organic milk was superior to non-organic milk? This is not unbiased research.

And let’s just talk about the finding that organic milk is much better for you than non-organic milk. The newspapers were reporting that organic milk contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids, and significantly fewer omega-6 fatty acids, than non-organic milk. So, we should all drink more full-fat organic milk to obtain our omega-3s. Now, scientific significance is a funny thing. In this case it showed that there was a bit more than twice as much omega-3 in the organic milk, and about 1/4 as much omega-6. Wow! That’s a HUGE difference! Is it though? When we’re comparing 0.0321 g of omega-3 in organic milk and 0.0198 g in non-organic milk (per 100 g). No, no it’s not. And when we read the small print at the bottom of the graph stating that the results were biased because unreported small values were entered as zero this could make for a comparatively large margin of error. Especially when the researchers reported that they obtained more samples of organic milk than non-organic. This could quite easily have skewed the results to make the values appear lower in the non-organic than in the organic.

As the researchers point out, there was a great deal of seasonal variability in the fat-profile of the organic milk. This indicated that the increased omega-3, and decreased omega-6, was more likely a result of consumption of a grass and forage based diet rather than a grain-based diet. Basically, the miniscule benefit from consuming organic milk is a result of the diet composition, not the fact that it was organic.

I’m a big supporter of organic food and products. However, from a nutritional standpoint, there is little reason to choose organic milk over non-organic. There may, however, be some reason to choose grass-fed dairy products over grain-fed dairy.


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Is chocolate milk essential to good nutrition?

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This article: Impact of milk consumption and nutrient intakes from eliminating flavored milk in elementary schools really got under my skin. According to the study of 49 elementary schools, milk sales dropped by 26% and there was an 11.4% increase in discarded milk, suggesting a 37.4% decrease in milk consumption at school when flavoured milks were no longer available. The researchers then calculated replacement of the lost nutrients and determined that 3-4 more foods would need to be consumed (increasing calorie and fat consumption) in order to replace the nutrients lost from the decrease in milk consumption. This would also result in an increase cost of $4, 600 per 100 students per school year.

Interestingly, a little Internet searching revealed that these “findings” were nothing new. In fact, pretty much identical findings were released back in 2009 in research funded by MilkPEP (Milk Processors Education Program). There was actually quite the proliferation of propaganda produced as “educational” tools for teachers, school principals, and health care professionals. Here are just a few links: The National Dairy Council, Milk Delivers, Healthy Eating (Milk Delivers alias apparently). All of these materials suggest that keeping flavoured milks in schools is essential to the health of the students. Are you kidding me??!

First of all, why the heck should we be letting young children “choose” chocolate and strawberry milk? They are children they do not have the decision-making ability to determine that chocolate milk is not a healthy choice. As adults we have a responsibility to provide children with the best nutrition possible. Lost profits for the milk industry should not be a factor in determining what type(s) of milk are made available to students. Nor should the threat of increased costs for school cafeterias. Let them have good old-fashioned white milk or an unsweetened fortified milk alternative. Secondly, school is not the only place that these children are eating. Alleged lost nutrients from the decrease in milk consumption at school don’t necessarily have to be compensated for at school. Children should be eating breakfast and supper, as well as another snack or two, outside of school hours. Sufficient nutrients should easily be obtained throughout the day. Lastly, there are plenty of foods other than milk that provide children (and adults) with the nutrients present in milk. Milk is not the be all and end all for protein, calcium, and vitamin D that the dairy industry would have you believe. There are other dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir which can provide superior nutrition to milk. There are also many other foods that contain protein (e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, etc.) and many other foods that contain calcium (e.g. canned salmon with the bone-in, yoghurt, almonds, figs, cherries, some tofu, fortified milk alternatives, etc.). As for vitamin D, it’s not naturally occurring in many foods (it’s added to milk) and even with milk consumption it can be difficult to meet the recommended intake. It’s present in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk and milk alternatives, and other fortified foods such as cereals and yoghurt.

Eliminating flavoured milks from schools is not going to cause children to become malnourished. We shouldn’t pander to the industry and allow them to convince us that children will only drink their milk if it’s full of added sugar (really, is their product so bad that it’s unpalatable without added sugar and flavour?). Nor should we believe that milk is an essential food for adequate nutrition. Don’t fall for propaganda masquerading as research.


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Will drinking low-fat milk make kids fat?

A recent study was reported as finding that switching to skim milk won’t prevent obesity among toddlers. These results are surprising, as health care providers (including dietitians) suggest consumption of low-fat milk after 2-years-of-age.

A closer look at the actual study left me questioning this reporting. The first thing that puzzled me was the grouping of milk-types. “Low-fat” milk included skim and 0.1%, while “high-fat” milk included 2% and whole. It was always my understanding that low-fat milk encompassed 2% milk. This grouping also meant that very few children were included in the low-fat milk group (only 14% at the initial 2-year assessment and 19% at the 4-year follow-up). The researchers stated that the low-fat milk drinkers had “higher odds” of being overweight or obese but did not state precisely what these odds were. I wish that I had the ability and the tools to determine if the findings would change if the 2% milk drinkers were incorporated into the low-fat milk group. I suspect that the odds of overweight and obesity might be different then.

Another major drawback of this study (which the researchers mention) is that they don’t examine the rest of the diet. That’s right, all they assessed was beverage consumption (milk, juice, and sugar-sweetened beverages… oddly, no mention of water). Without knowledge of the rest of the food that children were consuming, there is no way we can say with any certainty that consuming low-fat milk contributes to overweight and obesity.

Beverage consumption was also reported by the parents, not observed. Thus, there could have been inaccuracies in the reporting which contributed to the findings. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if parents of overweight children were concerned about being judged and fudged the beverage consumption they reported to make themselves appear in a more positive light for providing their children with low-fat milk, and possibly, fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. Of course, this is just speculation. However, there are many reasons why self-reports of behaviours may be inaccurate and a number of those reasons may confound the results.

While these findings seem to contradict the widespread belief that low-fat milk is healthier for children than full-fat milk, as you can see there are a number of reasons why these results may also be meaningless. Don’t switch your child from 1% to full-fat milk on the basis of reports such as this. The whole diet and lifestyle is far more important in determining your child’s weight and health than the type of milk consumed.


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Aspartame in milk: sweet or bitter drink to swallow?

By now you’ve probably heard about the dairy industry in the US petitioning the FDA to allow them to use artificial (or non-nutritive) sweeteners in flavoured milks. The current legislation will not allow artificially sweetened beverages to be called milk. The dairy industry feels that milk is falling victim to low-cal beverages and in order to remain popular with school children believes that they need to change the added sugar to a low or no-calorie option.

A part of me think “good” we don’t need sugar sweetened milk. We consume far too much sugar as a society anyway. Another part of me is concerned about the dairy industry’s desire to not make the non-nutritive sweetener visible of the front of the label. However, presumably, the ingredients would have to be listed as usual on the packaging. It’s not like the change in sweetener would be hidden from the consumer.

Another part of me thinks that none of these beverages should be available in schools anyway. School kids shouldn’t be given milk sweetened with sugar or non-nutritive sweetener. They also shouldn’t be sold pop, sports drinks, or even juice. Why do we need to teach our kids that beverages can only be enjoyed if they’re sweet?

I think that making milk sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners is actually a pretty great idea for adults to choose at the grocery store. Yes, personally, I’m not a fan of these sweeteners, but I think that it would be a better option than diet pop for many people. I don’t think that any flavoured milks should be being pushed on children at school.

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