Why You “Need” 3 Servings of Dairy For Strong Bones

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Why You "Need" 3 Servings of Dairy For Strong Bones

Why You “Need” 3 Servings of Dairy For Strong Bones

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Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 8.20.34 AMRaise your hand if you haven’t heard at some point in your life that you need 3 servings of dairy (or low fat dairy) to maintain strong bones. Let me guess, no hands.

Now, milk is a pretty decent food. It has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, both of which are good for your bones. As a bonus, (low fat) dairy consumption has also been associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and is associated with lower blood pressure. In addition, milk contains a mix of protein and carbohydrates that make it a good post workout recovery beverage (or part of one that includes added protein). 

But do you need to drink 3 cups (8 oz glasses) of it per day? No, you don’t. So where did that recommendation come from?

A Brief History of Milk In The US

Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, everyone drank whole milk. It went in cereal and accompanied dinner. But somewhere around the 1950’s and early 1960’s, people started hearing that whole milk was bad for your health. That it could increase your risk of heart disease. So people stopped drinking it. In the meantime, the Dairy Industry kept on producing at high numbers, creating a surplus. This lead to the formation of the Dairy Checkoff Program, which according to Dairy Management Inc. works in the following way”

Dairy farmers pay 15 cents and dairy importers pay 7.5 cents for every hundred pounds of milk (or the equivalent thereof) they sell or import into a generic dairy product promotion fund – familiarly called the “dairy checkoff” – that DMI manages along with state and regional promotion groups. That money – with USDA oversight – is used to fund programs aimed at promoting dairy consumption and protecting the good image of dairy farmers, dairy products and the dairy industry.”

So basically, the dairies pay the USDA, and the USDA promotes milk products for them. Totally legit, right? Now to be fair, it is recommended adults consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and a cup of milk has 305 mg. So while the 3 cups per day DOES meet those calcium needs, I think framing this in consumption of dairy alone (without more focus on other calcium containing foods) is underhanded. 

Now as educated adults, we might be able to figure this out and recognize that while dairy isn’t bad for us, we also don’t need to consume a gallon of milk a week per person, either. But not everyone knows this information. In addition, according to a new report called Whitewashed: How Industry And Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods:

  • About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
  • Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
  • 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.

For more see Eat Drink Politics.

So, the government is promoting all this dairy, and much of it is in the form of things like sugary Boston Cream Pie flavored yogurt, strawberry milk, and to accompany fruit loops. 

What Can We Do

My recommendation is to consume dairy as it fits into your life. I eat Nutty Nuggets cereal every morning, and on alternating weeks enjoy it with 2% milk or almond milk. I eat yogurt and cheese every now and again. But I don’t enjoy drinking milk, and I don’t add cheese or milk to most foods. I do, however, use Greek yogurt as a sub for mayonnaise in chicken or tuna salad. However, I know some people (ahem, Martin) drink a lot of milk regularly. And that’s fine too.

Here are my basic tips for dairy:

  • Choose milk that is grass-fed and from humanely raised cows.
  • Choose Whole or 2% milk or plain Greek yogurt. It’s actually pretty hard to have too much on a regular basis if you’re eating rich, plain dairy (at least I find).
  • Avoid ice cream, processed cheese, etc as primary sources of calcium.  The benefit of calcium from a box of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese is not worth the cost of what else is in the food.
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