, What Are You Eating?Mark Bittman For The NYT: Got Milk? You Don’t Need It

Mark Bittman For The NYT: Got Milk? You Don’t Need It

So…. this popped up on my radar, and I must say… it all sounds awfully familiar:

[…]So, three months ago, I decided to give up dairy products as a test. Twenty-four hours later, my heartburn was gone. Never, it seems, to return. In fact, I can devour linguine puttanesca (with anchovies) and go to bed an hour later; fellow heartburn sufferers will be impressed. Perhaps equally impressive is that I mentioned this to a friend who had the same problem, tried the same approach, and had the same results. Presto! No dairy, no heartburn! (A third had no success. Hey, it’s not a controlled double-blind experiment, but there is no downside to trying it.)

Conditions like mine are barely on the radar. Although treating heartburn is a business worth more than $10 billion a year, the solution may be as simple as laying off dairy. (Which, need I point out, is free.) What’s clear is that the widespread existence of lactose intolerance, says Dr. Baker, is “a pretty good sign that we’ve evolved to drink human milk when we’re babies but have no need for the milk of any animals. And no matter what you call a chronic dairy problem — milk allergy, milk intolerance, lactose intolerance — the action is the same: avoid all foods derived from milk for at least five days and see what happens.”

Adds Dr. Barnard, “It’s worth noting that milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are very credible links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and the most dangerous form of prostate cancer.” Then, of course, there are our 9 million dairy cows, most of whom live tortured, miserable lives while making a significant contribution to greenhouse gases.

But what about the bucolic cow on the family farm? What about bone density and osteoporosis? What about Mom, and apple pie?

Mom: Don’t know about yours, but mine’s doing pretty well. Apple pie (best made with one crust, plenty of apples) will be fine.

But the bucolic cow and family farm barely exist: “Given the Kafkaesque federal milk marketing order system, it’s impossible for anyone to make a living producing and selling milk,” says Anne Mendelson, author of “Milk.” “The exceptions are the very largest dairy farms, factory operations with anything from 10,000 to 30,000 cows, which can exploit the system, and the few small farmers who can opt out of it and sell directly to an assured market, and who can afford the luxury of treating the animals decently.”

Osteoporosis? You don’t need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. In fact, the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine. Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mother for almost all of human history, and fresh cow’s milk could not be routinely available to urbanites without industrial production. The federal government not only supports the milk industry by spending more money on dairy than any other item in the school lunch program, but by contributing free propaganda as well as subsidies amounting to well over $4 billion in the last 10 years.

There’s nothing un-American about re-evaluating those commitments with an eye toward sensibility. Meanwhile, pass the water. [source]

Bittman made a pretty spurious comparison in the beginning of the essay that I couldn’t rock with, and quotes an organization that gives me a bit of the heebie jeebies… so I cropped the first part out. Besides, I need to stop quoting whole articles, anyway.

He also talks about “getting vitamin D from sunshine,” which isn’t entirely accurate for those of us of the more melanin-infused persuasion… which is complicated since lots of versions of milk do, in fact, come “fortified” with vitamin D. But then again, the “Blacks and Vitamin D” argument isn’t solid, anyway, because I also know that air pollution – most prevalent in inner cities/urban environments, the places where most Blacks are located – can inhibit one’s ability to produce vitamin D from the sun, and this may have more to do with it and not some sort of inability that comes attached to being Black.

Moving right along… Fooducate, always awesome, followed that up with this:

Milk was in the news last week, following an opinion piece by well respected cookbook author and journalist Mark Bittman. Got Milk? Don’t Need It generated a lively discussion on the interwebs, and we thought we’d chime in with some of our thoughts as well.

1. Milk Allergy: Bittman recently stopped drinking milk and eating any dairy products because of a health problem he has had for years. Overnight his symptoms disappeared. Bittman concludes that everyone should follow course.

Our take: Lactose intolerance does affect certain ethnic groups and populations, but many Americans don’t have any problem breaking down dairy in the body. Statistics based on N=1 (me, you, your aunt, her neighbor, etc…) are meaningless.

2. Saturated Fat: Dairy is a major source of saturated fat, which should be limited. Hence we should not consume as many milk products as we do, especially cheese.

Our take: The same can be said of meat products as well. When it comes to milk and yogurt, we recommend low or non fat products. As for cheese, it should be consumed as a condiment. Buy the good stuff.

3. Factory Farms: Dairy cows are treated poorly says Bittman, so we shouldn’t be a part of that.

Our take: True. The entire food chain in modern society is not geared for animal welfare. So potentially any animal product is going to come from a mistreated being. If this is a concern to you, opt for organic milk or products from small local farms. Of course there is the growing vegetarian and vegan trend. If you don’t want to fully commit, you can try going plant based just one or two days a week.

4. Calcium and Vitamin D Scaremongering: The dairy industry claims dairy is a must because of our calcium and vitamin D needs. Without them, we’d all be developing osteoporosis and breaking bones. Bittman: “the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine.”

Our take: Milk is definitely not the only source of calcium in a diet, and vitamin D is actually added to milk, not naturally present. Sunshine is not always available, so some people may need to supplement vitamin D, or eat certain types of seafood. There are entire countries where dairy is not a part of the culture and people seem to have strong bones. The calcium argument may not be as strong as the milk industry would like us to believe.


Bottom line: Milk and dairy products have been a part of human diets for generations. They obviously work at sustaining entire populations. But a large portion of humanity never consumed milk or dairy products and somehow managed to thrive. Each family needs to figure out for itself if dairy does it good or not. The nutrients from milk are available elsewhere.

Ahhh… I love the smell of vindication in the morning. Thoughts?

By | 2017-06-10T11:21:55+00:00 December 4th, 2014|Did You Know, What Are You Eating?|25 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Cole July 16, 2012 at 11:58 AM - Reply

    I don’t think dermatologists are really crazy about the sun/vitamin D claims especially with melanoma cases in young people on the rise. A supplement would have been a more responsible suggestion. Also, I think African Americans have been exposed to dairy long enough to to be able to drink it without complications. Yes, several people have milk allergies and intolerance but such a blanket statement is very inaccurate. I think he just needed something to rant about.

  2. curlsz July 16, 2012 at 12:16 PM - Reply

    I’ve never given up dairy, but I have given up milk as a test, I felt no different. There are plenty of vitamins and nutrients from all kinds of sources – so I don’t think living without dairy will hurt you – I also don’t think living with it will hurt you – just my personal opinion. If you test it out and you feel a lot better – then great, if you feel the same then why bother. It bothers me to demonize real food. At this point there is a witch hunt on dairy, eggs, red meat, fruit and grains! Its too much.

  3. Jame (@jameane) July 16, 2012 at 12:43 PM - Reply

    I used to have issues with milk as a kid. I thought I was lactose intolerant. Now it isn’t a problem. Maybe it was the rsbt hormone that caused me problems? Now I pretty much only drink milk from local dairies (about 50% organic). I only have milk when I am out pretty much, I buy the nut milks for home use since they last longer. (Most of my local coffee shops use local milk, all use rsbt free milks, and many use organic milk)

    Every time I see an article about getting vitamin D from the sun, I feel like adding a huge asterix that says, this advice only works for white people. Supplement if you are olive or darker.

  4. BBCath July 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM - Reply


    Not the same milk-is-bad argument again. I read a lot about that before I started my new eating plan. And just like Fooducate said, I realized what works best for me and that was my greek yogurt for breakfast and a small amount of cheese as a snack.

  5. Greg Kuhn July 16, 2012 at 3:17 PM - Reply

    I have often wondered why we drink so much milk. I’ve always discouraged it in my household (as a “thirst-quencher, for sure). And I’ve never felt good about drinking it either – hence I stay away from it. Don’t know if milk works for others in their weight-loss efforts, but not drinking it is serving me just fine!

    But we should be careful about getting on the milk lobby’s bad side – they’re pretty powerful! 😉

  6. Echidiime July 16, 2012 at 3:55 PM - Reply

    @cole – not so. It takes alot more time for such changes to take place. Data is out the that shows that African Americans are more likely to still be intolerant of milk. Evolutionarily, 400 years plus is not a long time.
    I am generally intolerant of milk but I can handle yogurt. I save milk for when I am constipated and need to have things moving. Yogurt contains benign bacteria that has already started digesting the lactose – which is why I can manage it. The good thing about being lactose intolerant is that it makes ice cream to be a less enjoyable experience.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall July 16, 2012 at 4:24 PM - Reply

      Couldn’t agree more on the “evolution” point.

      Furthermore, there’s some research that talks about the fact that the way greek yogurt is made allows for people who are otherwise lactose intolerant to partake safely. Something about the filtering process removes the irritant. I don’t have time to look it up now, but I know I recall reading that somewhere.

  7. Annette July 16, 2012 at 5:17 PM - Reply

    Totally agree with you Erica. Gave up dairy and some of my digestive problems went away. We live in a capitalistic society trying to sell things that are already in the food we eat. As someone said to me do cows drink milk they eat nutritious green grass if they are lucky. Most of the cows are corn feed. I loved cheese and crackers, cheese in salads. That was hard to give up but I love myself even more.

    It just caused too much stomach pain and indigestion. Don’t miss it there are other healthy substitutes. It makes me question so much of what we are told is a must for our diet. How much of it is to support certain businesses.

  8. Shannon July 16, 2012 at 8:21 PM - Reply

    HIs take on “the family farm” leaves a lot to be desired also. I live less than 20 miles from a local dairy farm in our county. I would say that supports the call to “buy fresh, buy local.” smh

  9. natalie July 17, 2012 at 10:59 AM - Reply

    Everything in moderation. But if milk is your go-to for calcium I would be careful because cow’s milk tends to leach calcium from our bodies. There is a reason many milk drinkers have osteoporosis later in life 🙁 I just don’t think, otherwise, milk is the devil. Just try to buy organic, research what can go into our milk supply and you will see the importance of organic.

  10. ty247 July 19, 2012 at 2:37 PM - Reply

    I have a question about this: Is this an anti-dairy milk post or an anti-any milk product post? I can’t quite tell if the issue is using an animal’s milk or if the issue is “milk” itself. Your thoughts Erika?

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