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

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

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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?

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Cole July 16, 2012 - 11:58 AM

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.

curlsz July 16, 2012 - 12:16 PM

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.

Jame (@jameane) July 16, 2012 - 12:43 PM

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.

BBCath July 16, 2012 - 12:48 PM


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.

Greg Kuhn July 16, 2012 - 3:17 PM

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! 😉

Echidiime July 16, 2012 - 3:55 PM

@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 - 4:24 PM

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.

Annette July 16, 2012 - 5:17 PM

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.

Shannon July 16, 2012 - 8:21 PM

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

natalie July 17, 2012 - 10:59 AM

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.

ty247 July 19, 2012 - 2:37 PM

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?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 21, 2012 - 6:47 PM

Are you referring to “mylks?” (Almond/cashew/etc?)

Kristen July 21, 2012 - 12:43 PM

I stopped dairy and wheat products two years ago and noticed a HUGE difference in back and joint pain. The wheat (gluten) really affects me w/r/t back pain and stiffness, and dairy seems to affect my smaller joints more: aching, sore ankles, wrists and thumbs!

I’ve never really had digestive problems, but have had tons of headaches (migraines) and allergy issues. These are markedly reduced when I stay way from dairy. Those ugly “allergic shiners” under my eyes come back the next morning if I *indulge*, and my husband can’t sleep because I snore so much!! Dairy definitely doesn’t work for me!

soulsentwined July 24, 2012 - 2:58 PM

For the past 4 years I’ve been suffering from acne issues. I was getting blemishes more often and on my cheek and jaw line. Before I only got maybe 1 a month on my T zone before my period. After trying different hair products, skin products, and changing my pillow case several times a week nothing helped. I decided to google Acne and diet. I found some studies linking acne with dairy. I realized that I have been eating cheese more often, both as a snack and a condiment, mostly mozzarella and cheddar. I gave up cheese and my skin cleared up immediately. I’ve never been lactose intolerant, I even worked at an ice cream parlor in high school. A little cream in my coffee doesn’t seem to be bad but my face cannot stand cheese. I don’t buy cheese anymore. Sometimes in public I’ll indulge in cheese and wake up with a large blemish the next day. I drink soy or almond milk.

Renee H. December 3, 2012 - 9:27 AM

What about chocolate milk as a post workout recovery drink? I don’t drink milk at all. But it looks like there is some science behind it.

Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports.
Pritchett K, Pritchett R.
Department of Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Wash., USA.
An optimal post-exercise nutrition regimen is fundamental for ensuring recovery. Therefore, research has aimed to examine post-exercise nutritional strategies for enhanced training stimuli. Chocolate milk has become an affordable recovery beverage for many athletes, taking the place of more expensive commercially available recovery beverages. Low-fat chocolate milk consists of a 4:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio (similar to many commercial recovery beverages) and provides fluids and sodium to aid in post-workout recovery. Consuming chocolate milk (1.0-1.5•g•kg(-1) h(-1)) immediately after exercise and again at 2 h post-exercise appears to be optimal for exercise recovery and may attenuate indices of muscle damage. Future research should examine the optimal amount, timing, and frequency of ingestion of chocolate milk on post-exercise recovery measures including performance, indices of muscle damage, and muscle glycogen resynthesis.
Copyright © 2012 S. Karger AG, Basel.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 3, 2012 - 11:00 AM

The science behind it, IMO, is basically that there’s an optimal ratio for post-workout nutrition, and chocolate milk has that.

You know what else has it? A good post-workout recovery MEAL. ROFL

Highly sensationalized, highly suspect. Not really a big deal at all.

Renee H. December 3, 2012 - 11:28 AM

LOL!! Oh yeah…FOOD!!

Jennifer December 3, 2012 - 10:30 AM

Smh at this article because we as Americans love to pick and prod at our food. We have become a nation of such picky eaters flip flopping on what is good and what is bad for us to eat. So much conflicting “science” out there about our food and food systems. All one can really do is take care of threre own body.If your body rejects somethings like meat or milk listen to it and move on, but don’t go on a crusade to tell others that its the only way to live. I truly believe that all of these allergies and such popping up these days are a result of what we are doing to the food and not nessisarily the food its self. Milk is not as bad as people are trying to make it out to be. Its getting the evil eye because its a staple in the American diet. No one can seem to pinpoint why we are becomming fatter and sicker so we go on a witch hunt picking on popular foods until we have something to blame. The elephant in the room however is US. We have removed our connection to our food away and have given it to manufacters.That is modern civilizations greatest problem with our food. While advancing to make our lives eaiser we forgot that it has its drawbacks. As an African American, I have no issues with digesting milk. I know plenty of others who are the same.

Black Beauty on a Budget January 29, 2013 - 6:52 AM

Something that resonates with me is people using terms like “witch hunt” regarding milk… MILK!!… An inanimate substance… The topic of emotional eating is often discussed in this forum, and I think this speaks to a certain component of that… People are so attached to a food, ie memories of milk at the table as a kid, that they turn a blind eye to reason and/or personify food items… I love when Erika says, “take what is for you, and leave the rest…” If you feel some kind of way about this post/quoted articles, then you’re not ready to embrace a new ideal… That’s ok… But to automatically call out being given insight and knowledge as a “witch hunt” goes too far… If you drink milk bc you like it and [beliebe you] suffer no adverse affects, then say that… But if you believe you NEED it as a dietary staple despite humans thriving without it in various countries and/or for millenniums well, I’ve got some swamp land in Texas to sell you

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2013 - 1:35 PM


Black Beauty on a Budget January 30, 2013 - 12:41 PM

I feel like a ROCK STAR to get a cosign from ms bgg2lw herself!!… I love and respect you Erika… Oh and let me tell you that your grammar, varied vocab, and writing panache are the cherry on top of this blog!!… The info is great, but your command of written language is EVERYTHING!!…

Erika Nicole Kendall January 30, 2013 - 8:18 PM

Aw, that totally made my day. Wowzers. <3

junglebabe March 14, 2013 - 11:14 PM

The milk dispute has been around a long time. I don’t have any noticeable issues when I eat dairy or not, unless I eat too much cheese. I’ve been told by medical people that bodies can’t process cheese and they’ve seen it in autopsies etc.:(( Unfortunately i love lots of cheese. Milk is ok but i drink less of it. I learned a long time ago that dairy is not the best source of calcium, especially without vitamin d with it. You can just eat leafy greens like the cows do. So mainly I think my benefit of dairy is taste, and real butter instead of transfat margarines. And oh, I read also that in the mid-latitudes, we do not get enough sun exposure for vitamin d anyway. I don’t know. I definitely use sun screen to avoid sunburn in the summer, and I still tan or burn on hot outdoor days.

Karen March 28, 2014 - 11:39 AM

On the vitamin D argument…I dont have the article but it was published last year in a medical that the test for Vitamin D in blood which is used to say whether you are deficient or not, does not work for darker skins. Basically we are being told we are being deficient in something based on a test that cant prove it. The test looks for a chemical in the blood and because darker skinned people have little of the chemical it was assumed they are vitamin d deficient. However the study showed that the absorption rates in dark skins was different… the chemical isnt stored, its used as needed in darker skins. Wish I had saved it now. Hopefully someone will find it

Karen March 28, 2014 - 11:44 AM

here is a small part, cant access new england journal website for full article

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