(image credit: cropped from jacqueline)
Recently questions about milk’s effect on bone density, coupled with fears about the real benefits of milk, have led people to stop drinking milk or switch to “alternatives” like coconut or almond milk.
According to the International Dairy Food Association US per capita consumption of whole milk sales fell to a record low in 2013, with per capita consumption of lowfat and nonfat milk falling too. Compare that to the rise of sales of milk alternatives: In 2013 they increased by 30 percent compared to 2011. Almond milk sales rose another 40% in 2014 compared to 2013.
But the real reason many people have stopped drinking dairy milk may have less to do with its actual nutritional value and more to do with a sneaky bogus argument that goes around the internet:
The reason NOT to stop drinking milk: Adults are (supposedly) not designed to drink milk.
In this article I won’t discuss the benefits of milk or its effect on bone density, osteoporosis, and hip fractures. I’m not going to give any dietary advice or talk about milk’s nutritional value.
Instead I’ll focus on debunking this particular “adults are not designed to drink milk” argument and its different sub-arguments:
- Cows’ milk was designed for calves, not humans.
- Other mammals stop drinking milk past infancy.
- Lactose intolerance is proof we are not designed to drink milk as we grow up.
- Paleolithic people didn’t drink milk past infancy, and hence our body is not designed for it.
- No other species feeds off another species’ milk.
Let’s examine those one by one.
1. Cow’s milk is designed for calves not humans.
Recently a friend of mine told me he decided to stop drinking milk. His rationale was that cows’ milk is meant for calves, not humans, so it’s only “logical” that cow’s milk is not good for adult humans.
Note that he didn’t talk about scientific studies or milk’s nutritional value, instead, he based his decision on a plausible argument.
It does sound like it makes sense, right? Cows’ milk is meant for calves, so why are we even drinking it?
Here’s the logical leap: Just because cow’s milk was designed for calves doesn’t mean that it’s bad for us, or that we shouldn’t drink it. Cow’s milk can be good for us and good for calves too. Just like goat’s milk can be good for us and good for baby goats as well. The fact that goat’s milk is really good for baby goats, doesn’t mean that it must be bad for us.
In some cases it does turn out the the milk of one species is not ideal for another. For example, cow’s milk could give a lactose overload to kittens. But that doesn’t mean we can jump to conclusions without having investigated the science first.
The milk police should probably arrest this dog for nursing kittens.
And then arrest this cat for nursing a puppy. Don’t they know cat’s milk is meant for kittens and hence definitely unsuitable for puppies?
(I have no idea if cat’s milk is good for puppies, or dog’s milk good for kittens. But without knowing the science, I cannot jump to arbitrary conclusions.)
2. Other mammals stop drinking milk past infancy.
Another plausible argument. Aren’t we supposed to stop drinking milk past infancy, just like all other mammals? Let’s think about it.
Should we stop creating computers or airplanes just because no other mammals do it? Should we stop cooking meat just because other mammals eat their food raw?
We were born with advanced analytical abilities compared to other species. This gives us the option to drink milk past infancy, an option other mammals don’t have.
Some of them though do benefit through our own advantage. Take cats for example. Have you ever given milk to an adult cat?
If yes, you might have noticed that they’ll be quick to take a sip.
Of course, just because adult cats may drink cow’s milk when provided with it, doesn’t mean that we should also be drinking it either. Just like the fact that other mammals don’t drink milk past infancy doesn’t mean that we should also stop drinking milk past infancy. Science should guide us on what to do, not plausible arguments.
3. Lactose intolerance is proof we’re not designed to drink milk as adults.
Yes, it’s true some people are lactose intolerant, i.e., they cannot easily digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. It’s also true that as we age we may become less tolerant to lactose. This depends on your genetic background with Northern Europeans less likely to experience it, while African and Asian populations being more likely to get it.
Lactose intolerance is a valid reason to stop drinking milk. However, assuming that we’re generally not meant to drink milk as adults just because some populations get lactose intolerance is a logical leap.
Oh, and please don’t get started that pasteurization makes it harder for us to digest milk, while raw milk is great. This is a raw milk myth.
Now, if you’re interested in learning more about lactose intolerance and its difference to transient lactose intolerance and milk allergies – stay tuned. Next week I’ll be releasing a new article on this very subject.
And a fun fact: Did you know that babies might also be born with lactose intolerance? It’s rare, but it happens.
4. Paleolithic people didn’t drink milk past infancy.
We like the idea that our body is designed to do or not do certain things. We are keen to believe it. The problem is we often don’t know what those things we can or cannot do are. We resort to assumptions to cover up this fact resulting in all sorts of misinformation.
Paleolithic people had some genetic traits. Maybe they could also digest milk as adults – it’s just that they didn’t have the option to do that back then.
But the fact that they didn’t have the option to consume dairy doesn’t mean our body, today, cannot consume dairy or that our body shouldn’t consume dairy.
Please bring up the milk police and let them chat with Biology Babe. She’ll put them to their place. Watch this video where she explains why as a biologist she hates paleo logic.
We may have gained traits, we may have lost traits, it’s hard to tell without testing. And some testing is impossible, since there are no paleolithic people around to put to the lab to learn what they were really capable of.
5. No other species feeds off another species’ milk.
Of course other animals don’t drink other animals’ milk. The reason though is not necessarily that they wouldn’t want to, or that they would not be designed for it, it’s mostly that they don’t have the option. It’s not as if cats can go buy dogs’ milk or that camels can purchase lions’ milk.
However, as the above pictures have already shown, when they do have the option to drink milk, even other animals’ milk, they indulge. Here’s a tell-all video directly from Dairy Carrie’s farm. This cat is super-keen to get cow’s milk directly from the source!
You’re lucky to have the option to choose, so choose wisely.
If you’re reading this I’m assuming you live in a place where you actually have food choices. This is awesome. All this variety to choose from is great! You’re more than welcome to drink or not drink milk. Lactose intolerance, taste preference, or just personal choices are all solid reasons to stop drinking milking, just like doctors’ guidelines or your specific dietary needs can also adjust your milk consumption.
However, if you’re gonna make the choice to stop or limit your dairy intake, then make sure you don’t do it because some plausible argument about what your body is or is not designed to do won you over.
Now leave a comment and let me know: Has any of the above reasons ever made you think you need to stop drinking milk? Are you currently drinking milk? Why, why not?