Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Part 3: Dairy

Part 3:  Dairy Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

The dairy section is almost always hard to get to and not accidentally. Stores normally put these foods in remote places against the back walls. This makes it easier for their employees to stock the refrigerated cases, but the more important reason is to force you to walk past shelves of other products on your way there and to pick up a few impulse buys along the way. Trying to study the effects of dairy foods on health is especially difficult for one reason: the dairy industry is large and united and is diligent in exerting influence over anything that might affect production, marketing, and sales. Most Americans eat dairy foods and the industry sells more than 20 billion worth of milk a year. Furthermore, dairy farms are located in all 50 states and every state has 2 senators who eagerly accept campaign contributions from dairy donors and can be expected to listen attentively when called upon for assistance. As a result, dairy producers are largely exempt from the usual free market rules of supply and demand. For decades dairy producers have been protected by a system of government price supports and marketing payments so entrenched and so incomprehensible to anyone other than a lobbyist that any attempt to get rid of the system is doomed from the start. The result is that as a consumer, you pay for dairy in at least 3 ways: directly at the supermarket, indirectly through taxes that support subsidies to farmers who raise dairy cows, and also indirectly through tax supported subsidies to the producers of commodities like corn and soybeans that are used for cattle feed. The dairy council works hard to encourage nutritionists and federal agencies to take actions favorable to the industry. It supports advice to increase calcium intake. It supports efforts to encourage lactose intolerant/sensitive people to consume as much dairy food as they can tolerate. It opposes advice to restrict dietary fat (from animals). It strongly opposes advice to substitute soy products for milk. And of course it promotes advice to eat more dairy foods. Such efforts are often successful, particularly when it comes to federal recommendations about diet and health. Dairy foods are complex fixtures; they have some components that promote calcium retention and others that promote its excretion. The amount of calcium needed to balance losses is hard to know. Bones are not just made of calcium they are built on a protein scaffold and need practically all of the other required nutrients. When studies examine the effects of one nutrient at a time they show that some nutrients, like  magnesium, potassium, vitamin d, and lactose, promote calcium retention. Others like protein, phosphorus, and sodium promote calcium excretion. So calcium retention and the strength of your bones may depend much more on everything else you are eating and how active you are than on how much calcium you take in. Lactose is the sugar in milk and an 8oz glass of milk contains about 1 tablespoon of lactose. Lactose is a double sugar made of glucose and galactose linked together. Double sugars are too big to be absorbed into your body from the intestinal tract. To use lactose, your body has to split the link between glucose and galactose and release the single sugars that are easily absorbed. The enzyme that does the splitting is called lactase. By age 5 most children stop making lactase since it is no longer needed to ingest and digest breastmilk. Evolutionally, there is no longer a need. This is why so many people become lactose intolerant as they age. Overall, the fact that so much milk is produced and by such a strong industry cannot help but raise suspicions that commerce rather than health gets the last word in the dairy debates. The author takes on the current state of science that if milk does increase health risks these have to be small. The science also suggests that if there are health benefits to milk those too are small. Milk is just food. There isn't anything special about it. Cow's milk is not necessary and it is not perfect (for humans) but it's also not a poison. Yes, it is high in fat and saturated fat but you can just choose non-fat. You can also take lactaid if you still want to have dairy without the consequences. Yes, milk is sometimes produced in ways that are hard on cows, using hormones and other substances that you would avoid, but the dairy industry has even found a way for you to deal with those unattractive production issues: buy organic. You do not have to drink milk to be healthy, but if you like drinking it you can do so and also stay healthy. Then we have another dairy product, yogurt. With yogurt, the predominant flavor is sweet. Sweet sells and nearly all yogurts are sweetened in the most artificially imaginative ways: anything you could dream up they have a flavor for it. Yogurts are sweetened with added sugar, but also with honey, molasses, lactose, fructose, fruit concentrate, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, fructose syrup, high fructose syrup, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners. As part of the health theme, you can get yogurt sugared and flavored with every conceivable choice of fruit. Some fruit flavored yogurts actually have fruit in them, but most have more sugar than fruit and many have no fruit in them at all just fruit juice concentrates, added colors to make them look fruitier and thickeners like flour, cornstarch, pectin, and carrageenan to hold them together. Yogurt has performed a marketing miracle, a fast selling dairy dessert with the aura of a health food. Yogurt's healthful mystique depends on its bacteria. For most foods, ensuring safety and palatability means getting rid of bad bacteria, but each of those little yogurt containers is supposed to have hundreds of millions of good bacteria, all alive, active, and ready to multiply as soon as the temperature warms up. The mere thought makes you want to add sugar. The starting point for yogurt is milk that is first pasteurized to kill off unwanted bacteria. Into it go two or more kinds of friendly bacteria of the lacto and bifidus species. Yogurt makers refer to these bacteria as cultures because they are cultured–cultivated, fed, and grown–on nutrients in the milk. Whatever the type, all of these bacteria go to work fermenting the nutrients in milk while producing lactic acid and other substances that curdle and flavor it. Most of the lactose gets used up which is why yogurt is tolerable to many people who otherwise cannot eat dairy products.