Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Does dairy cause osteoporosis?

A recent tweet in my feed caught my eye. It said “Populations that consume the most cow’s milk and other dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures in later life.” If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m no big fan of milk, nor of the inclusion of milk (and alternatives) as a food group in Canada’s Food Guide. Still, this statement irritated me. Association is not the same as causation. There could be any number of reasons for this alleged (I say alleged because I’m not sure what evidence this statement was based on) difference in osteoporosis and hip fracture rates between populations. Perhaps the dairy consuming population lives longer so they have more time to develop these issues. Perhaps they aren’t physically active enough to build and maintain good bone density. Perhaps they are more genetically prone to osteoporosis. After all, diet only contributes so much to the development of osteoporosis.

When I googled the tweet I found a whole lot of vegan propaganda. However, a google scholar search for “dairy + osteoporosis” yielded some interesting results. One article in particular caught my eye. it was a review of 58 studies “published on the relationship between milk, dairy products, or calcium intake and bone mineralization or fracture risk in children and young adults”. It found there was no evidence that dairy consumption increases bone mineralization in children and teens. Damn, all those years of suffering through the school milk program for nothing! Despite this lack of support for dairy in preventing osteoporosis I could find no legitimate evidence to support the claim that dairy consumption actually increases the risk of osteoporosis. Vegetarians and vegans do not appear to be any less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than omnivores (1).

It seems to me that there is no strong evidence to support either argument at the moment. There is no reason to believe that dairy consumers are at any greater (or lower) risk of developing osteoporosis than non-dairy consumers.

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The ethics of eating animals

The New York Times came out with a recent contest asking readers to tell them why eating meat is ethical. Not sure how I missed this when the contest came out (submissions were due in early April and apparently the winner has been announced although I haven’t seen any of the entries). My first reaction was “How could anyone argue that it’s ethical to eat meat?” As a sporadic meat eater I have no problem with eating meat but I didn’t see how it could possibly be construed as ethical. I decided to revisit the meaning of ethics. After reviewing a little Aristotle and checking out the definition of ethics I can now see how eating meat could be argued to be an ethical practice. If something is ethical because it serves to better mankind or increase happiness then certainly, for those who enjoy partaking, eating meat could be argued to be ethical. Eating meat betters me because it provides me with essential nutrients. Eating meat makes me happy because it tastes delicious. Of course, I think that vegetarians and vegans hold the higher moral ground here. But, as long as your morals don’t preclude killing other creatures then eating meat is not unethical.

After writing the above, I managed to find the winning entry here.


Is a vegan diet really healthy?

I have an issue with vegetables masquerading as meat. Now, I’m not a vegetarian, although I only eat meat infrequently. I have however, decided to become quasi-vegan for Lent. My reasons for doing this? 1. For the environment, animal products are far more detrimental to the environment than are plants, 2. For my health, plants are a lot better for my body than animals and their by-products, 3. Because my original avowal to take-up a vegetarian diet didn’t seem like enough of a challenge. I say “quasi” because I plan to allow myself to continue to eat fish and won’t be a huge stickler if I inadvertently consume a piece of bread or something that might have a little dairy or honey in it. I’m not quite sure why honey is a bad thing to consume. Anyway… I digress…

I’m fully supportive of primarily plant-based diets. What drives me nuts are all the processed foods that are now being marketed to vegetarians and vegans. Just check out the ingredient list for a popular veggie ground round: “Water, soy protein product, wheat protein product, onions, spices, canola oil, salt, evaporated cane juice, natural flavour, malt extract, torula yeast, lemon juice powder, guar gum, tapioca starch, vitamins and minerals (thiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamin, calcium pantothenate, reduced iron, zinc oxide, wheat starch). Contains soy and wheat.  May contain eggs.” For me, eating a plant-based diet is all about returning to a simpler way of eating and getting nutrients from whole foods. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that eating all these faux-meats defeats the whole point of going vegetarian or vegan. The more processing your food undergoes the fewer nutrients that are going to be left intact in it. There’s really very little difference between this sort of food and any other highly processed convenience food. Let vegetables and grains be proud to be themselves, don’t try to force them to be something that they’re not.