Rumors are powerful. They can destroy careers, spread like wildfire, and, in the dairy industry’s case, make for a very profitable business model. From dairy’s supposed benefits to risks of forsaking it and outright lies on the way its products are made, let’s just say if you had a dime for every false information you’ve ever heard about dairy (or the warnings from those echoing them), you would have enough for a lifetime supply of soy milk. Here are some of the most notable rumors and misinformation big dairy wants you to believe:
1. You need milk for healthy and strong bones
Who doesn’t remember the ‘Got Milk?’ ads with just about every celebrity touting the wonders of milk for healthy bones? Citing how milk is rich in calcium and so it promotes good bone health, the campaign worked. Today the number one source of calcium in the American diet are dairy products. But there’s only one little problem: it’s not exactly right.
True, milk and dairy can be rich in calcium but according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, bone health has more to do with how much calcium you keep from leaving your body, than how much you take in. When you eat or drink dairy only 32 percent of the calcium is absorbed in your body. Meanwhile 52.6 percent of the calcium in broccoli is fully absorbed, 58.8 percent in kale and a whopping 63.8 percent in Brussel sprouts.
It’s no wonder then that a study published in Osteoporosis International concluded vegans had the same bone mineral density as omnivores.
2. If you don’t milk the cow for human consumption the cow will be in pain
Again, one of those not quite true statements.
Yes, if a cow is lactating and doesn’t get milked, she will be in pain, but that doesn’t apply to how milk is produced today.
Unlike popular belief, cows don’t naturally make milk year-round. Just like humans, they only lactate when they’re nursing so they can feed their calves. When it was just a cow and a farmer, the cow got pregnant, had her calf and it was ok for the farmer to take a little of the milk for himself while the calf took most of it to grow. Today, however, that’s not how the process goes. Milk is produced on a large industrialized scale where cows are impregnated and have their calves taken away after one day —they won’t need their mother’s milk since they’ll become veal— and the milk is then taken solely for human consumption. The process is done on repeat so that a cow is producing milk 305 days of the year.
3. Milk is essential for healthy development
“Consumption of milk and dairy products is associated with numerous health benefits,” touts the Dairy Council. Mothers have been feeding milk to their children hoping this magical elixir will allow them to grow healthy and strong, but new research suggests protein, calcium and vitamin D can be found in other foods without its side effects.
“Do kids really need milk? No, of course they don’t,” said Amy Lanou, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Asheville to LiveScience Magazine. “Most people in the world do not drink milk after they are weaned from breast milk, and yet still get adequate nutrition. If you actually feed a child three servings of cow’s milk, how are they going to have room for other healthful foods like those vegetables, legumes and lean proteins?”
Since getting kids to drink milk also usually involves throwing a good amount of sugar into it to make chocolate or strawberry flavors, milk consumption can also lead to childhood obesity.
4. Chocolate milk is good for concussions
Before you rush to the grocery store to stock up on chocolate milk for the high school or college football superstar, you should know this isn’t quite true either.
In 2015, a University of Maryland study claimed that chocolate milk—specifically a beverage called Fifth Quarter Fresh— could help athletes who had suffered concussions to recover faster. There’s a small detail that the press release promoting the study to the media forgot to mention, though: Fifth Quarter Fresh helped fund the study “through a program based at U-Md. that connects businesses with universities for product-development research,” the Washington Post reported.
When the newspaper asked a pediatrics professor and concussion expert at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York to look at the data, his opinion was that there was not enough data to draw conclusions.
5. Cows love being milked
Sure, maybe once upon a time they did when it was just her, the quiet farm and a nice farmer who took care of her, but today there’s nothing quiet about the indoor stall where they are milked, and that nice guy in overalls and a hat has been replaced with machines.
Footage of factory farms—which is how 86 percent of milk is produced in the U.S. according to Modern Farmer—show cows hooked to milking machines which electronically pull at their udders to milk them, not carefully and quietly but for quicker and more cost-effective production.
The conditions at the dairy farms are so unsanitary, there’s a 50/50 chance of the cow getting an udder infection—and, yes, the pus from that infection goes in the milk. To prevent those infections, many farmers have up to two-thirds of the cows’ tails surgically removed without painkillers although the effectiveness of the practice has been disproven. The cows’ horns are also burned off or cut without painkillers. Does that sound like a pleasurable experience?
6. Dairy cows aren’t slaughtered
Remember how cows are impregnated over and over to produce milk? Well, normally a cow would live up to 20 years but due to the stress and fatigue of continual impregnation and milking, dairy cows can only do that for three to five years. After that their bodies stop producing as much and they are often maimed so they are retired — to the meat industry where they become hamburgers.
7. Milk is a superfood
We already established that other foods have the same or more nutrients than milk and dairy but it’s not just the lack of vitamins that makes dairy unhealthy.
In order for the cows to produce more milk, many farmers give them growth hormones, which leads to today’s cows producing about 10 times more milk per day than they did a few decades ago.
Milk and dairy are also full of saturated fats, which leads to higher cholesterol and can clog your arteries leading to heart disease. According to Harvard’s school of public health’s “Top Food Sources of Saturated Fat in the U.S.” list, regular cheese, pizza and dairy desserts are in the top 5.
8. Nothing compares to the taste and texture of real dairy
Once upon a time soy was the only commercialized alternative to real milk, but today there’s no shortage of options: almond, hazelnut, hemp, rice and coconut are just some of the alternatives. Some are thicker, others are sweeter, creamier and nuttier and it’s really a personal choice on which one tastes best. And with major brands like Ben & Jerry’s jumping on the nondairy bandwagon, it’s easier than ever to eat well without real dairy.