Brooke Miles, a former-dairy-fanatic-turned-vegan, is a humorous writer and a sought-after, award-winning speaker. This is her TEDx Talk titled “The Magnificent Milk Myth… Debunked“at TEDxWilmington. Following is the full text of the talk.
What if you discovered that something you’ve been taught since childhood was completely wrong? What if more than 5 billion people on earth could prove it?
Humankind has been a huge fan of milk and all things dairy for thousands of years. Of course, the caveman wasn’t milking cows, but when animal domestication came about, so did dairy.
We’re all taught the wonders of milk. Want strong bones? Drink milk. Want a great source of protein? Drink milk. Want something for dunking your Oreo cookies in – milk and cookies? Drink milk.
Besides, how can you dispel the advice from people like Martha Stewart, Heidi Klum, Taylor Swift, Wolverine, Austin Powers, Bart and Lisa Simpson, and hundreds of other real and fake celebrities who all wore milk mustaches?
Until about three years ago, I wore a nice, thick milk mustache too. As an on-again, off-again vegetarian since the age of 14, I relied heavily on dairy for my protein and, of course, calcium.
But for me, dairy was more than just nutrition, it was a full sensory experience. The creamy-mouth feel of whole milk on a bowl of crunchy raisin bran, the stretch of greasy mozzarella on New York-style pizza, and the occasional decadence of a full pint of chocolate Häagen-Dazs after a long day at work – occasional!
But on December 31, 2012, I vowed I would never eat dairy again. And, on that fateful day, I scarfed down with tears my last pint of chocolate Häagen-Dazs.
Why would I torture myself?
Well, a few months before that, a couple of vegans came into my life. Let’s call them Jennifer and Anna – because those are their names.
Now, vegans, just so we’re sure, don’t need anything that comes from animals. No meat, no dairy, no eggs, nothing. Naturally, I thought Jennifer and Anna were cuckoo for cocoa puffs, but I grilled them with questions.
And you know what? They convinced me I had to become vegan.
Now, to be completely transparent here, it wasn’t because of anything they said, but I just looked at them, and they were hot. And I say that platonically: I’m married but – I had just turned 40, and I wanted to be hot too.
Within three months of becoming vegan, I lost 15 pounds and required two fewer hours of sleep every night – that is without any physical exercise or other changes to my lifestyle.
The biggest change I made was wiping away my milk mustache.
Now, today I’m not here to push my vegan agenda on you –(whispering) – a little bit – but I am passionate about making sure you’re an advocate for your own health.
Let’s dispel some big myths about milk and look at the science behind it.
First, there’s calcium. We need calcium to survive. We need it for our bones, our muscles, our nerves, and thank goodness for cows, because for the longest time I thought calcium came from cows.
As a matter of fact, it should just be called “cowcium.” Okay, I was wrong. Calcium, it’s an element on the periodic table, it turns out, and it’s formed during supernova explosions in space. It’s also the fifth most abundant element on the earth’s crust.
Okay, so how do cows get calcium?
The calcium is in the soil, it goes up into the plant, the cow gets hungry, it eats the plant, the calcium goes to the bloodstream, through the mammary glands and squirts out as milk.
Okay, assume these are udders – it’s the closest I have. Sorry. Okay?
So, okay, in that case, so – the cow is actually the middleman, right? Why not just eat the plants? – Kind of makes sense. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of plant sources that are more calcium dense than milk.
For example, fresh and dried herbs like basil, parsley and thyme, sesame seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, almonds, tahini, tofu, garlic -yum! – Brazil nuts, blackstrap molasses, and also lots of dark leafy green vegetables.
Now, you have to look at more than just calcium levels: there’s also calcium absorption. And this is where the scientific findings totally depend on people’s agendas.
If you ask pretty much any vegan, and plenty of non-vegan nutritionists, they will say that calcium has much higher absorption rates when it comes through most plant sources. Dairy producers and others will say the opposite.
Whom do you believe? One thing is for sure. The countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption overall have the highest rates of osteoporosis, the highest. They include Finland, Sweden, England, and – woohoo! – the USA. Aren’t we proud!
The countries with the lowest rates of dairy consumption overall have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. Take China, for example. There are 1 billion people living there who are eating a virtually dairy-free diet, and you don’t see them walking away home every day and breaking bones. They seem to do okay, and they don’t have nearly the rates of osteoporosis that we have here in the United States.
To be fair, there are other factors that contribute to osteoporosis, such as your vitamin intake levels as well as physical activity. But let’s look at the worldwide trends.