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How the Dairy Lobby Convinced Americans that Cow’s Milk = The Best Source of Calcium


Why are so many people convinced that dairy is the best source of calcium? I’m betting on the remarkable marketing and lobbying work done by the dairy industry.

It’s long been known that bones consist largely of calcium. Literature from around 975 A.D. noted that plaster of paris, which is made of calcium sulphate, was a useful material in the setting of broken bones. In fact, 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies exists in our bones and teeth. It’s easy to assert that calcium = strong bones. Now, what about the assertion that dairy milk = the best source of calcium?

Way back when, during World War I, there was a dairy surplus, and the USDA Dairy Division began to market cow’s milk. They did this by creating educational milk campaigns, and were successful in their goal to increase demand. As far back as the 1940s, ads for dairy linked milk to bone health.

Dairy marketing has been in schools for a long time and still is today. When you start a habit young, it’s more likely to be a habit for life. Curriculum for 7th and 8th graders from the National Dairy Council promotes milk and other dairy products as the single best sources of calcium, stressing to children that vegetables just don’t cut it. But is this true? Do we even need as much calcium as they want us to believe?

Harvard notes that even with a high intake of calcium, your risk of osteoporosis may not even be lower. More isn’t always better, which is why the nutrition community calculates both lower and upper limits for recommended nutrient intakes.

Furthermore, a heck of a lot of people in this country are lactose intolerant (L.I.). In the U.S., about 25 percent of all people lose their ability to break down lactose after weaning. Worldwide, this stat is 75 percent!

And even when a food is high in certain nutrients, this does not mean that the nutrients will be easily absorbed by our bodies – it hinges somewhat the makeup of the food as a whole. For instance, spinach and chard are not optimal sources of calcium because they contain oxalic acid, a compound that prevents the absorption of calcium. Not to worry, vegans and L.I. folks alike, for Dr. Ginny Messina tells us that calcium is easily absorbed from the following plant foods “kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, fortified plant milks, fortified juices, and firm tofu made with calcium-sulfate.”

But getting back to dairy, the protein in milk (and in all animal products) appears to acidify the blood. One of the body’s main priorities is to keep the blood at a neutral pH. To buffer the acid in our blood, our bones release calcium. Drinking milk to get calcium seems a little bit counterproductive, wouldn’t you say? This phenomenon may explain why countries with high milk consumption have high rates of osteoporosis and countries with low milk intakes don’t seem to have problems with bone fractures.

All this goes to show, money is power. The dairy industry spends a significant amount of money on lobbying. By infiltrating schools with their products and “educational materials,” using medical professionals to advocate for them, running manipulative advertising campaigns that play on our fears (and are paid for by consumers), and influencing the government’s dietary guidelines, the dairy industry is shaping our food environment and the messages we receive about cow’s milk, which certainly influences our food choices.

Nice try, dairy lobby. You can get all the calcium you need from plants, without the moral consequences, the potentially health-threatening animal protein, the cholesterol, or the saturated fat.

For more information about the cleanest sources of plant-based calcium, check out our top picks here.

Image source: Michael Rhode / Flickr

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51 comments on “How the Dairy Lobby Convinced Americans that Cow’s Milk = The Best Source of Calcium”

Click to add comment
Bill Nyberg
4 Years Ago

cow milk is for calves

Sara Alexandra Skye
4 Years Ago

Pseudoscience. And you are spreading it.

Jeancarlos Janco Gomez Cabrera
4 Years Ago

That is true it is a myth that cow milk gives humans strong bones

Margaret Lilly
4 Years Ago

No one is meant to nor need to drink cows milk

Tim White
4 Years Ago

Almond milk rules. I put almonds in the blender with water and honey and make my own milk

Talia Whaitiri
4 Years Ago

Natarsha Parker Nick Matthews

Terrie Brewer
4 Years Ago

Healthy as can be since I dropped cow milk from my life, and also dropped soda, bread and meat... I just replaced them with fruits veggies almond milks. I have found myself tons happier inside & out...

Cyndie Brown Stees
4 Years Ago

Skim milk gives all benefits and no fat, simple

Josh Kathey
4 Years Ago

Best way to know if something is good for you or not... Listen to your body. Everybody's body is different, you can't promote milk is always good for you, but its definitely not BAD for you either. This article seems to promote you to become a vegan. Its the same thing as a corporation promoting drinking milk. Why can't people just leave people be without trying to convert others to their beliefs or habits?

Giselle Mehta
4 Years Ago

Sadly, myths such as these become incontestable truths, culprits become saviours.


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