Is Dairy Healthy and Do Humans Need it?
Drinking milk beyond weaning is neither natural nor healthy and the consumption of dairy products has been linked to a number of illnesses and diseases from acne to osteoporosis.
This page includes excerpts from our report, White Lies. Download the full report for more information.
Drinking milk is the most natural thing in the world – if you’re a baby and you’re suckling from your mum, that is. Like all 5,000 or so species of mammals on this planet, we have evolved to drink the milk of our mothers until weaned. But we are the only mammal to drink milk after weaning and certainly the only one to drink the milk of another species! If this sounds strange, think how you’d feel if your friend told you that they suckle from their pet dog or cat. Or even directly from a cow.
Cow’s milk: ideal for calves not humans
The composition of milk varies widely from animal to animal, providing the perfect first food for the young of that species. Cow’s milk is very different from human milk – which is why you mustn’t give off-the-shelf cow’s milk to a baby – it has to be changed into special infant formula which attempts to replicate the nutrient profile of human milk.
Cow’s milk is ‘designed’ to fuel rapid growth so that a calf can triple his or her weight within a year to a whopping 300-400 kilograms. It is perfect for a calf but can be very unhealthy and even harmful for humans.
Did you know that over 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant? For example, most people in China, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan are lactose intolerant. This simply means they can’t digest lactose – the sugar (lactose) in milk. Everyone has the ability to digest lactose when they are born, but most people lose this ability after weaning. If someone with lactose intolerance drinks milk, they may experience diarrhoea, a bloated and painful stomach and, on some occasions, nausea and vomiting. Even in the UK, lactose intolerance is the most common adverse reaction to cow’s milk among adolescents and adults.
Lactose intolerance is the normal state for most people – adult mammals (including humans) normally do not need to digest lactose as they don’t suckle beyond weaning. It’s only possible for some people due to genetic mutations that occurred a few thousand years ago. These mutations offered a selective advantage to populations using dairy products and can be traced back to a minority of pastoral tribes: the Tutsi and Hutu of Rwanda; the Fulani of West Africa; the Sindhi of North India; the Tuareg of West Africa and some European tribes.
Every hour is cocktail hour!
In a typical glass of milk or bite of cheese, there are over 30 hormones and growth factors, including: IGF-1, oestrogen, progesterone, adrenal, pituitary, hypothalamic and other hormones. Add to that the fact that, in the UK, two-thirds of milk is taken from pregnant cows, with the rest coming from animals who have recently given birth, levels may be sky-high. These hormones and growth factors carry important messages from mother to offspring directing the rapid growth needed by a young calf but not by an adult human.
Pus in milk
Another undesirable component of milk is pus! Milk containing up to 400 million pus (somatic) cells per litre is legally allowed to be sold for human consumption. Why so much? Because modern, intensive dairy farming ensures that 30 per cent of British dairy cows have mastitis – a painful infection of the udders – at any given time. Pus is a product of the cow’s almost constant fight against bacterial infection (made up of white blood cells, bacteria and dead udder tissue cells) and some of it finds its way into her milk.
Dairy damns ‘dem bones!
Worried about your bones? Don’t be, most peoples in the world don’t drink milk and their bones are strong while those who drink the most (in Northern Europe and the US) have the highest levels of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease). The World Health Organisation says that: “The paradox (that hip fracture rates are higher in developed countries where calcium intake is higher than in developing countries where calcium intake is lower) clearly calls for an explanation. To date, the accumulated data indicate that the adverse effect of protein, in particular animal (but not vegetable) protein, might outweigh the positive effect of calcium intake on calcium balance.”
Cow’s milk is not the best source of calcium; our bones benefit more from plant sources. Weight-bearing exercise (walking, running and dancing), is the most important factor for maintaining healthy bones, followed by improving diet (plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, seeds and nuts) and lifestyle. To protect your bones – use ‘em or lose ‘em!
Mending a broken heart
Heart and circulatory diseases cause around a quarter of all deaths in the UK, more than 160,000 deaths each year – one every three minutes. Heart disease occurs when arteries carrying blood to the heart become blocked. Gradually, they become furred with ‘plaques’ – a thick sludge formed from cholesterol and other substances. Unhealthy saturated fat found mainly in dairy (hard cheese, cream, ice cream, milk chocolate and butter), red and white meats and eggs, as well as hydrogenated fats in junk foods, raise ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease.
Not cool for kids
Acne, asthma, colic, eczema, ear infections and obesity are all linked to dairy. So is childhood anaemia, caused by milk allergy-induced intestinal bleeding. Childhood diabetes (type 1) is increasing dramatically in younger children; early exposure to cow’s milk and infant formula is a recognised trigger. Type 2 diabetes is now a disease of our children. Lack of exercise and poor diets with high-fat dairy products are to blame. Four-cheese pizzas do us no favours!
Milk – the Wrong Stuff
Drinking milk is unnatural for us. Many humans find milk hard to digest, suffering from discomfort and pain. Despite relentless claims by the dairy industry, milk is neither the only nor the best source of calcium and can even increase your risk of bone fracture. Beans, lentils, broccoli, kale, watercress, nuts, seeds, soya and other plant foods are better and healthier sources.
Ditching dairy products has never been easier as supermarkets and other food shops now stock a wide selection of delicious and nutritious dairy-free alternatives to milk, yoghurt, ice cream, margarine and cheese!
Around three-quarters of the world’s population do not drink milk, but among those who do, the pattern of consumption varies widely between countries. Data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provides figures for the consumption of milk (excluding butter) in kilograms per person per year for over 170 countries.
The level of milk and dairy product consumption varies widely between countries. The highest levels of consumption are seen in Europe, led by Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The average amount of milk and dairy products consumed per person per year on a global scale is just 87.3 kilograms (up from 79.8 in 2002).
The lowest levels of consumption are seen in Africa and Asia with such low levels in some countries that it is reasonable to assume that many people in these countries do not consume any milk or milk products.
Most people in the world do not drink milk; their reasons may be cultural, economic, historical or biological. Despite this, many people continue to argue that milk is a fundamental component of a healthy diet when it so clearly is not.
Adverts for dairy products are very inventive but rarely tell you the actual facts. We all know milk contains calcium but what else is in it and how does it affect your health? Here are the facts.
The main component of milk is water- around 87 per cent and it’s even more in skim milk, over 90 per cent. Water is necessary for the newborn calf and also serves as a carrier for all the other ingredients in milk. When dairy proponents criticise plant milks for containing a lot of water, they’re conveniently forgetting that dairy milk shares that characteristic too!
Milk naturally contains sugar – lactose – about five grams per 100 millilitres. Lactose is a sugar that serves as the main source of energy for the newborn calf.
However, for lactose to be digested the enzyme lactase is necessary. All human babies have this enzyme but only a minority retain it after weaning. In fact, most of the world’s population (about two thirds!) are unable to digest lactose after infancy and are therefore described as lactose intolerant.
The amount of protein in cow’s whole milk is around 3.3 grams per 100 grams (3.4 grams in semi-skimmed milk) while it is only 1.3 grams per 100 grams in human milk. The proteins in milk can be divided into two categories – caseins and whey proteins. Caseins can be very difficult to digest, often cause cow’s milk allergy and have been linked to type 1 diabetes. Caseins are so tough they are even used as a basis of some glues! The ratio of caseins to whey proteins is 40:60 in human milk but it is 80:20 in cow’s milk.
Calves need extra protein because they need to grow fast. Human babies, on the other hand, need less protein and more fat.
Most of the fat in whole milk and many dairy products is the unhealthy saturated type. Even though low-fat milk products contain less fat overall, the fat in them is almost all saturated. This ‘bad’ fat is completely unnecessary for humans and increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and has been linked to several types of cancer. Some dairy products, such as cheese, are the biggest saturated fat contributors in Western diets and have been blamed for contributing to the current obesity epidemic.
Cow’s milk contains only a small amount of polyunsaturated fats that are not only essential for the human body but also have a whole range of beneficial properties (eg are anti-inflammatory). These are abundant in plant foods and some plant milks are also a good source.
Vitamins and minerals
Minerals found in cow’s milk include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and chloride, zinc, iron (although at extremely low levels), selenium, iodine and trace amounts of copper and manganese. Vitamins in cow’s milk include retinol, carotene, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, pantothenate, biotin, vitamin C and trace amounts of vitamin D. In the US, but not the UK, cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D; this leads to some confusion with industry pundits mistakenly saying that cow’s milk is a good source of vitamin D – it is not.
Although cow’s milk contains all these nutrients it is important to note that many are contained at low levels. Furthermore, the mineral content is so out of balance with human biochemistry that it is difficult for us to absorb the optimum amounts required for health.
Cow’s milk naturally contains a cocktail of hormones and growth factors, including IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), oestrogen and progesterone, adrenal, pituitary, hypothalamic and other hormones. All these help a calf grow to adult size in just over one year but humans grow at a much slower rate – brain development is more important in the first year for a human baby. The hormones in cow’s milk have been linked to certain cancers.
IGF wot not?
IGF-1 stands for insulin-like growth factor 1. It is a growth hormone that controls growth and development in both cows and people but each species has very different rates of growth. Meat and dairy products are linked to raised levels of IGF-1, and higher IGF-1 levels are linked to a higher risk of various cancers including those of the lung, breast, bowel and prostate.
Vegans tend to have lower levels of IGF-1 in their blood. Compared with meat-eaters and vegetarians, vegan women had 13 per cent lower levels of IGF-1. Vegan men had IGF-1 levels nine per cent lower levels and this difference may be considered enough to significantly lower the risk of prostate cancer. The intake of animal protein was linked with elevated IGF-1 levels and diet explained most of the differences in IGF-1 concentration between the groups.
Somatic cells (pus)
Dairy cows are perhaps the hardest worked of all farmed animals, according to Professor John Webster, Emeritus Professor in Animal Husbandry at Bristol University. Their overworked bodies are prone to disease, and due to large numbers of cows on dairy farms and the intensity of production, diseases spread fast. Mastitis (inflammation of the udder) is very common among dairy cows with around one in three infected at any one time. It is caused by bacteria and leads to the whole udder or a part of it being inflamed, swollen and very painful. The cow’s body responds to the infection by producing white somatic cells to combat the infection. These cells, together with dead cells and waste products of the inflammation are components of pus and are inevitably excreted into the milk.
Milk containing up to 400 million somatic cells per litre can be legally sold in the UK. In the USA, the upper limit for somatic (pus) cells is 750 million and there’s pressure in the UK to raise the limit – with Brexit, this may happen.
The composition of milk varies widely from animal to animal, providing the perfect first food for the young of each particular species. A seal’s milk, for example, is extraordinarily fatty (50 per cent fat) so that seal pups can grow very quickly, depositing a thick layer of blubber that will protect them from the cold and sustain them as they learn to hunt for themselves. Just as we are different from seals, we are different from cows too! It won’t surprise you, then, that cow’s milk is very different from human milk – which is why you mustn’t give off-the-shelf cows’ milk to infants under the age of one and why cow’s milk is reformulated into infant formula, in an attempt to replicate human milk.
Ever wondered how dairy products and their plant-based counterparts compare? We’ve done all the hard work for you!
Sugar with your milk?
As you can see in the table below, cow’s milk contains more sugar than most plant milks. Milk sugar – lactose – is a natural component of mammalian milk. It’s a simple sugar, which means it breaks down quickly and is quickly absorbed by your body in the same way as table sugar.
On the other hand, unsweetened plant milks contain very little sugar and even the sweetened varieties are often sweetened with apple juice, which is absorbed more slowly.
The lowest in sugar: soya, almond and hemp milks
|Nutrient/100g||Cow's milk (semi-skimmed)||Soya milk||Almond milk||Oat milk||Hemp milk||Rice milk||Coconut milk|
|Polyunsaturated (essential) fats||0-0.1g||1g||0.3g||0.7g||2g||0.6g||0g|
Cow’s milk and dairy products contain saturated ‘bad’ fats which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. All other plant milks (with the exception of coconut milk) have a healthier fat profile. Hemp milk also comes with an extra dose of essential omega-3 fats, closely followed by soya. Rice, oat and almond milk have the lowest fat content.
Lowest in fat: soya, almond, oat, hemp and rice milk
Protein levels vary and although cow’s milk has about the same protein content as soya milk, cow’s milk proteins (whey and casein) are difficult to digest. Soya not only contains a good amount of protein but it’s healthier, it lowers cholesterol and may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Best for protein: soya milk
The amount of calcium you get from most fortified plant milks is the same as from cow’s milk. Not all plant milks are fortified though, so check the carton. The calcium in dairy milk is why we’ve been told to drink the white stuff but don’t forget that cow’s milk also packs a good dose of hormones and pus. No one needs that!
Best for calcium: all fortified plant milks
Roughage in your drink
All plant milks contain some fibre, which is essential to good health, whilst dairy milk never contains any. Fibre helps to keep your digestive tract healthy and can slow down sugar digestion. Soya, almond, hemp and oat milk are best for fibre but oat milk beats the others.
Best for fibre: oat milk
It takes 1,020 litres of water to produce one litre of cow’s milk. To produce the same amount of soya milk, you need just 297 litres of water – and even less for other crops such as oats! Almonds drink a bit more but they’re certainly not the culprit behind California’s water crises, as some tabloids claimed. Almonds may not be as environmentally friendly as the vast majority of plant foods, but they still have a lower environmental impact than meat and dairy. See the environmental impacts of different milks here.
And the winner is?
It’s impossible to pick which plant milk is the best. Ultimately, it comes down to taste because you’re most likely to stick with something you enjoy drinking! The fact is, all plant milks are not just more ethical and sustainable than cow’s milk, they’re also healthier.
Dairy yoghurt vs soya yoghurt
When it comes to yoghurt, soya ones are by far the best – providing good amounts of protein, calcium, healthy fat and fibre:
|Nutrient/100g||Plain low-fat dairy yoghurt||Alpro plain soya/ soya-almond yoghurt|
|Polyunsaturated (essential) fats||0.044g||1.4g|
The only thing to watch when it comes to non-dairy yoghurts are some coconut ones which can have a high fat content. They are OK for an occasional treat but try not to eat the too often.
Dairy consumption has been linked to many health problems, illnesses and diseases ranging from acne and asthma to certain cancers and diabetes.
Here we explain why dairy is the culprit in many of these diseases. Click on each health condition below to read how and why it’s linked to milk and dairy products or for detailed and referenced information, scroll down to the White Lies report.
Being dairy-free is a natural and healthy choice. All the nutrients in milk are easily found in plant-based foods that will make you thrive and you won’t miss a thing!
Many of us have been brought up with the idea that we need milk for calcium but it’s nothing more than a successful ploy by the dairy industry. They provide ‘educational’ materials to schools, lobby the Government, organise lectures for healthcare professionals, sponsor research and pay millions for advertising to encourage people to think that we ‘need’ milk. Yet no one needs milk after weaning and no one needs the milk of another species. There’s nothing in cow’s milk that you can’t find in plants, except all the bad fats, hormones and gluey protein!
Calcium is an important mineral that we need for healthy bones, muscle function, numerous metabolic reactions and hormonal balance – adults need about 700 milligrams per day, children a bit less, adolescents and lactating women slightly more (see here for the recommended amounts). And we can get more than enough from non-dairy sources as long as we eat a varied, healthy vegan diet.
The National Osteoporosis Society agrees:
“If you don’t eat dairy products, you will need to include lots of other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruit, pulses, fortified soya drinks and soya protein (tofu) in your diet. A vegetarian diet is not a risk factor for osteoporosis and vegetarians and vegans do not appear to have poorer bone health than the rest of the population.”
Get your calcium from:
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste used in many recipes)
- Pulses: peas, beans, lentils, soya and calcium-set tofu
- Green leafy vegetables: broccoli, kale, spring greens, cabbage, watercress, parsley
- Dried fruit: figs, apricots
- Fortified products: plant milks (soya, almond, oat, hemp, rice, coconut), soya yoghurts
Calcium-Rich Foods Poster
Get our calcium-rich foods poster as a reminder of all the great plant sources of calcium!
It has an extendable section with sample portion sizes and the amount of calcium they contain.
Our bones need a healthy diet and lifestyle to be strong. Cow’s milk is not just unnecessary for healthy bones – studies show that high intakes may even increase the risk of bone fracture!
Calcium is important for bone health and easy to get from the foods listed above. Another nutrient crucial to maintaining healthy bones is vitamin D. It’s produced in your skin when exposed to the sun in the summer but during the winter months (or if you always protect your skin from sunlight), you might need to take a supplement regardless of your diet (this advice applies to everyone in the UK).
However, we need more than just calcium and vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones. Nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper, boron, iron, vitamin K, vitamin C, B group, beta carotene (vitamin A) are also necessary but don’t panic! Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, pulses and wholegrains are the best sources and are packed with these important nutrients.
One last thing – bone adapts to the weight and pressure applied to it and it needs this stimulation to stay strong. There’s no need to sweat your socks off but moderate, weight-bearing exercise is a must. This means walking, carrying shopping bags, dancing, gardening, ball games, jogging, yoga, weight-lifting exercise and so on.
More on healthy bones here.
Cow’s milk and dairy products do contain protein but it’s certainly not good for us! Casein (the protein in milk) is notoriously hard to digest and it’s so tough that it can be used to make furniture glue. Research suggests that casein encourages prostate cancer to grow. Whey protein (another protein found in cow’s milk) has been linked to acne in teenagers and bodybuilders.
Milk protein can also cause milk allergy and intestinal bleeding in babies – it’s the most common cause of infant anaemia.
There’s an abundance of protein in plant-based diets and it comes in a much healthier package! Among vegan protein heroes are: pulses (beans, lentils, soya, peas, chickpeas), nuts, seeds, wholegrains and ready-made products such as mock meats, hummus, falafel, soya yoghurts and more!
Being dairy-free is the natural state for adults. When you decide to go dairy-free, you’ll most likely experience some immediate health benefits but you can expect many long-term benefits too!
Many people notice positive health changes when they cut dairy out of their diet, such as clearer skin, improved breathing and better digestion. It’s no coincidence! A large body of evidence reveals the many different health benefits people experience. Find out more here.
The hormones in milk and dairy products can make your skin more prone to acne. Teenagers who consume dairy tend to have worse acne than those who don’t drink/eat it and bodybuilders who use whey protein powders often suffer from bad skin too.
This is what the world-famous actor Woody Harrelson had to say on the subject in an interview with Maxim magazine:
“I was about 24 years old and I had tons of acne and mucus. I met some random girl on a bus who told me to quit dairy and all those symptoms would go away three days later. By God she was right.”
Ditching dairy can make your skin clearer but for best results also limit your sugar, fried food and alcohol intake and make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Dairy is often the cause of indigestion, several inflammatory bowel conditions, constipation and stomach pains. When you cut out cow’s milk and dairy products, your digestion will very likely improve even if you don’t suffer from any serious conditions. Simply by not eating dairy foods that are high in saturated fat, lactose and lacking any fibre, and replacing them with plant foods (rich in fibre, healthy carbohydrates and antioxidants), your digestive tract will become happier and healthier!
Better bone health without milk? Yes! Sounds counterintuitive thanks to decades of the dairy industry’s brainwashing but it’s true. Research shows that high intakes of cow’s milk and dairy products don’t help your bones but may actually have an adverse effect on them. Countries with the highest dairy intake also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
Your bones need a range of different minerals and vitamins to be strong, all of which are abundant in plant foods. The best sources of calcium, are: nuts and seeds (almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds and tahini – sesame seed paste), pulses (peas, beans, lentils, soya and calcium-set tofu), green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, spring greens, cabbage, watercress, parsley), dried fruit (figs, apricots) and fortified plant milks (soya, almond, oat, hemp, rice, coconut) and soya yoghurts.
And what’s more, plant protein has beneficial effects on bone health whilst animal protein (from dairy, meat and eggs) has been repeatedly shown to have negative effects and even to contribute to calcium losses from bones due to its acid-producing nature.
A healthy vegan diet, active lifestyle (to stimulate bones), sufficient vitamin D intake and low or no alcohol intake is all you need to have healthy bones.
By avoiding dairy you’ll be leaving a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol out of your diet and that’s a great step for a healthier heart and the whole circulation system. Saturated fat, in particular, is a risk factor for heart disease and it can contribute to artery-clogging plaques. Butter is definitely not back – most health experts agree that avoiding saturated fats is one of the best things you can do for your heart health.
A plant-based diet with healthy, unsaturated fats is what your heart needs and the many antioxidants in plants help to protect your blood vessel walls from damage.
Lower risk of some cancers
Cow’s milk and dairy products contain over 30 different hormones and growth factors and dairy consumption also increases your body’s production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 can fuel cancer cell growth and people with high IGF-1 levels are at an increased risk of cancers of the lung, prostate, breast and bowel.
For ovarian cancer, cow’s milk consumption may also be a risk factor due to the milk sugar lactose. Women consuming it on a regular basis (in a range of dairy products) appear to have an increased risk of the disease.
When you go dairy-free, you stop consuming all these hormones and lactose. Studies also show that vegans have lower levels of IGF-1 in their bloodstream lowering your risk of several cancers and if you make your diet healthy with plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds, you’re lowering your chances of developing cancer even more.
Going dairy-free is great for your health but thanks to decades of the dairy industry’s aggressive marketing, many people are worried about making that step. Here we answer the most frequently asked questions about dairy, your health and dairy-free diets.