Olympic Athletes on Dairy

Olympic athletes have always been considered the pinnacle of sports. Being an Olympic athlete is usually the goal or even the highest dream of every athlete and it is normal for us to look up to them and, for athletes, to try to follow their steps. That is a well-known fact as well as milk being healthy, isn’t it? So, when a major advert stars a group of former Olympic athletes encouraging people to ditch dairy, it is not exactly a trifle. Read on to know what this commercial is all about and what is behind dairy products.


The advertising

During the PyeongChang Winter Olympics closing ceremony a commercial urging people to give up on dairy will screen across the United States. The stars of this advert are vegan former olympians who teamed up with Louie Psihoyos, American director and photographer known for the 2009 Oscar winning documentary The Cove (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cove_(film)), to debunk the myth that cow milk is an essential part of the diet of athletes.

The advert:



As you can see, the commercial promotes the #PlantMilkChallenge (https://www.facebook.com/groups/PlantMilkChallenge/about/) which is in turn part of a larger Switch4Good campaign led by silver medal-winning cyclist Dotsie Bausch.

It also works as a counterpart of the Milk Life campaign funded by U.S. milk companies which made its Olympic debut in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio to promote the milk intake.


The dream team

The commercial features six former Olympians talking about the benefits that they experienced when they switched to a plant-based or vegan diet (a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes, and that excludes animal products such as meat (including chicken and fish), eggs, and, of course, dairy products (Source: https://www.forksoverknives.com/plant-based-primer-beginners-guide-starting-plant-based-diet/).)

It starts with Kendrick Farris, a three-time Olympian and the only U.S. male weightlifter to qualify for the Rio games, who says “I did it, and I got stronger.” Then it features Rebecca Soni, six-time Olympic medalist in swimming; Malachi Davis, a 2004 Olympic sprinter who “did it to run faster” and “breathe better”; Kara Lang, a member of the 2008 U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team and member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame; Dotsie Bausch, a silver medal-winning cyclist; and Seba Johnson, the Olympics’ first black female skier in 1988.

Bausch herself gave an interview to the industry magazine Adweek (Source: http://www.adweek.com/creativity/former-olympians-to-air-regional-psa-during-closing-ceremonies-urging-athletes-to-give-up-milk/) to tell us more about her experience:


“I switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet about two and a half years before the 2012 Olympic games,” Bausch said. “I stood on the podium at 39 years old, the oldest competitor ever in my specific discipline. My diet change was the key factor in me being able to recover quicker, decrease inflammation and have all the stamina and energy I needed to compete against competitors 20 years my junior.”


She also added she did it to debunk false advertisements from milk companies. She said women who drink one glass of milk a day are three times more likely to get ovarian cancer and, according to her, if they happen to drink the recommended dose (two glasses of milk daily), the risk of fracturing a hip increases by 45 percent.

But if giving up on dairy is so beneficial, what is so bad with milk and why do we drink it?


Dairy products

Dairy products are a type of food produced from or containing milk, including cheese, yogurt, and butter. According to healthline (Source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-dairy-bad-or-good#section2), the main carbohydrate in dairy is lactose, which is the sugar component of milk or “milk sugar”; it is a disaccharide composed of the monosaccharides glucose and galactose (Source: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-lactose-1000969 ).

Now, to be able to digest lactose we need a naturally-ocurring enzyme: lactase. This enzyme breaks down lactose into its simpler forms of sugar (glucose and galactose) when secreted into the small intestine, so that we can easily absorb it and use it as energy. The thing is that our bodies produce lactase when we are infant, but many adults lose that ability because it is not longer needed to grow (Source: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.genet.37.110801.143820 ).

In fact, it just makes sense that one common argument against dairy products is that it is unnatural to consume them since humans are the only species that consumes the milk from another animal and does it even as an adult. And, needless to say, cow’s milk is supposed to be fed to rapidly growing calves. However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOstat), nearly 600 million tonnes of milk were produced every year to be consumed by humans (Source: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235182/Statistics-Dairy-cows.pdf ), being nine out of every ten glasses of milk consumed by people cow’s milk, as reported by the Washington Dairy Products Commission (Source: https://milk.procon.org/view.source.php?sourceID=002982 ).


Human milk vs. cow’s milk

That said, now we are going to compare our mothers’ milk (the only one that is genuinely made for human babies) and the milk from (and for) other species that we drink the most: cow’s milk.

Human mother’s milk and cow’s milk are completely different from each other. Each one offers the appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, and hormones required by their babies’ bodies. Although both types of milk contain a similar percentage of water, the relative amounts of all other elements such as carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, and mineral vary widely. (Source: https://www.viva.org.uk/white-lies/comparison-between-human-milk-and-cows-milk )


Image: https://www.viva.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/White-Lies-report-fig-2.jpg


As for protein, the protein content in 100g of cow’s milk (3.3g) is more than double that of human milk (1.3g). Protein in milk depends on growth rate of that particular species of animal. For instance, a calf doubles its birth weight after 40 days, but human infants have the slowest growth rate of all species and double their birth weight after 180 days. On one hand, calves need more protein to enable them to grow quickly. On the other hand, human babies need less protein and more fat for the brain, spinal cord and nerves development. The amount of cow’s milk in infant formula feeding significantly increases serum concentrations of leucine, insulin and IGF-1, which is one of the reasons why formula feeding is associated with overweight and obesity.


Also, the amount of types of proteins in milk is different. Human milk contains caseins and whey proteins in a ratio of 40:60 respectively, while cow’s milk contain those in a 80:20 ratio. And since cow’s milk contain more than double total protein than human milk, it is clear that it also contains way more casein, which can be difficult to digest. Just consider it: casein is so dense that it is used as the basis of some glues! And it has been also linked to a range of diseases and allergies, including type 1 diabetes (Source: https://www.viva.org.uk/white-lies-part-two-dairy-consumption-and-health/diabetes ).



While the amount of fat contained in human and cow’s milk is similar (4.1g and 3,9g respectively), the types of fat vary. According to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), 100g of cow’s milk contains 2.5 saturated fat, 1.0g monounsaturated fat and 0.1g polyunsaturated fat, while human milk contains 1.8g saturated fat, 1.6g monounsaturated fat and 0.5g polyunsaturated fat.


Image: https://www.viva.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/White-Lies-report-fig-3.jpg


Human infants need a higher level of unsaturated fatty acids for the development of the brain, which develops rapidly during the first year of life, but cow’s milk is low in that type of fat and high in the body-building saturated fats that calves need to grow rapidly in size. Not to mention that we all know that saturated fatty acids are actually really bad for adults.


Minerals and vitamins:


Cow’s Milk (semi-skimmed, pasteurised) per 100g Human Milk (mature) per 100g
Sodium (mg) 43 15
Potassium (mg) 156 58
Calcium (mg) 120 34
Magnesium (mg) 11 3
Phosphorus (mg) 94 15
Iron (mg) 0.02 0.07
Copper (mg) Trace 0.04
Zinc (mg) 0.4 0.3
Chloride (mg) 87 42
Manganese (mg) Trace Trace
Selenium (ug) 1 1
Iodine (ug) 30 7
Retinol (ug) 19 58
Carotene (ug) 9 (24)
Vitamin D (ug) Trace Trace
Vitamin E (mg) 0.04 0.34
Thiamin (mg) 0.03 0.02
Riboflavin (mg) 0.24 0.03
Niacin (mg) 0.1 0.2
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.06 0.01
Vitamin B12 (ug) 0.9 Trace
Folate (ug) 9 5
Pantothenate (mg) 0.68 0.25
Biotin (ug) 3.0 0.7
Vitamin C (mg) 2 4

Table 2.0 Comparison of the mineral and vitamin components of cow’s milk and human milk.

() = estimated value. Source: FSA, 2002.


While cow’s milk has nearly four times more calcium (120mg per 100ml) than human milk (34mg per 100ml), we absorb more easily the calcium contained by human milk into the body. The amount of calcium in cow’s milk is specifically designed to feed calves, whose bodies can really absorb it. Much better sources of calcium for humans are all plant-based, such as ant based sources of calcium, since they do not contain saturated fat, cholesterol, allergenic proteins, and lactose sugar like milk, and also have many vitamins, minerals, and essential oils!


Here we have a whole table of those foods provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service: (Source: http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-calcium )



Calcium in Foods

(content in milligrams)

Broccoli (1 cup, boiled) 62
Brussels sprouts (1 cup, boiled) 56
Butternut squash (1 cup, baked) 84
Carrots (2 medium, raw) 40
Cauliflower (1 cup, boiled) 20
Collards (1 cup, boiled) 266
Kale (1 cup, boiled) 94
Sweet potato (1 cup, baked) 76
Black turtle beans (1 cup, boiled) 102
Chick peas (1 cup, boiled) 80
Great Northern beans (1 cup, boiled) 120
Kidney beans (1 cup, boiled) 62
Lentils (1 cup, boiled) 38
Navy beans (1 cup, boiled) 126
Pinto beans (1 cup, boiled) 79
Soybeans (1 cup, boiled) 175
Soymilk (1 cup, calcium-fortified) 368
Tofu (1/2 cup, raw, firm) 253
Vegetarian baked beans (1 cup) 86
White beans (1 cup, boiled) 161
Corn tortilla 42
Rice Milk (1 cup, enriched) 300
Wheat bread (1 slice) 26
Whole wheat flour (1 cup) 41
Dried figs (10 figs) 140
Naval orange (1 medium) 60
Orange juice (1 cup, calcium-fortified) 300*
Raisins (2/3 cup) 53


It is said that cow’s milk is a rich source of iron, but according to the FSA, it is false. Actually it is so low that to meet the reference nutrient intake (RNI) of 5.3mg of iron we would have to drink over 30 pints of cow’s milk per day! (of course we would not only be taking iron doing it, but also all that saturated fat and things we just mentioned). And that is not all: This study ( https://www.viva.org.uk/white-lies/comparison-between-human-milk-and-cows-milk ) indicates that “the high protein, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and chloride content of cow’s milk present what is called a high renal solute load; this means that the unabsorbed solutes from the diet must be excreted via the kidneys. This can place a strain on immature kidneys forcing them to draw water from the body thus increasing the risk of dehydration.”


This is why it is worldwide advised by many organisations not to introduce cow’s milk before the age of 12 months, and why about 75% of the world population has any kind of lactose intolerance (not being able to break down lactose as adults), which is perfectly natural considering it is a food is not considered to be taken by us. So maybe it is time to take a look at that #PlantBasedMilkChallenge and picking those milk alternatives like almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, and so on, which are popping up in grocery stores and convenience stores everywhere and are naturally fortified with the nutrients that we humans really need.