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The Down-Low on Dairy

By Steve Edwards

Milk: Does it really do a body good? Most of us are familiar with this advertising catchphrase. It's also one of the most parodied slogans in history. A quick headline search reveals a slew of send-ups, ranging from sarcastically simple "Milk: It does a body bad" to the even more straightforward "" Whether or not we should consume dairy products is one of the most common dietary issues in the news, yet there still doesn't seem to be a definitive answer. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of dairy and hopefully help you shed a little light on whether or not you want it as a part of your diet.

Woman Drinking Milk


I didn't accidentally paste the end of the article into the second paragraph; I just thought it would be best to get this out of the way right up front. Whether or not humans should consume dairy—specifically cow's milk and all its byproducts—is, as you might surmise from the intro, a volatile issue. Opinions tend to be black or white and served up with heaping scoops of passion. But passion tends to come from emotion, not science, and a lot of dairy lore seems to be based on anecdotal conjecture rather than investigation and analysis.

This doesn't mean that there's no science involved in the debate—far from it. A search of the National Library of Medicine shows that more than 25,000 studies have been done on dairy, apparently none of which can give us any sort of consensus on its health effects in humans. What all these studies do show is that dairy products are neither going to kill us or help us live forever. We can consume them and be healthy, but we also don't need to consume them to be healthy.

Dairy can be a fine addition to one's diet, but that doesn't mean it's right for your diet. You certainly don't need as much as the National Dairy Council recommends, but dairy also needn't be vilified more than any other type of food. As with most foods these days, there are issues, particularly when it comes to the way humankind seems compelled to continually "improve" them. But there are also individual considerations that should be assessed, and this article will address them.

The Bottom Line

In keeping with our reordered approach to the dairy story, let's look at the most simple aspect of dairy: its nutrient profile. Of course, this varies according to product, but most dairy-based foods are a good source of protein. Some, like yogurt and milk, have carbohydrates. And in their natural states, all dairy products contain fat and are great sources of enzymes. Most dairy products, especially those with the fat removed, would appear to be a fine source of nutrition.

CheeseThere is little reputable science to dispute that the dairy proteins casein and whey have excellent biological value profiles. Dairy fats are generally unhealthy, have high percentages of saturated fats, and should be limited in a healthy diet. But some dairy fats, mainly from certain cheeses, contain enzymes that make them a potentially beneficial part of a healthy diet, if consumed in moderation. Dairy's carbohydrate source, lactose, has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny, but appears to be fine for most people, especially in its natural form. As we go on, we'll examine the potential benefits and pitfalls of dairy consumption.

The Issues

Too much fat. As stated above, dairy products contain a lot of fat. Your diet should consist of around 20 to 35 percent fat, but very little of this should come from animal sources. The anti-dairy movement claims an association between consuming dairy and heart disease as a reason to steer clear, but it makes little sense to single out dairy as opposed to, say, meat—or pretty much anything you can buy at your corner 7-Eleven®. Most dairy products are available in low- or no-fat options where the fat is reduced or removed. Anyone for whom dairy products provide a major percentage of their daily calorie intake should definitely switch from full-fat to reduced-fat or nonfat dairy products. There are some concerns regarding protein-to-fat ratio and calcium utilization, though—read on.

Aren't most of us lactose intolerant? Some people have problems digesting dairy products, which can lead to an unpleasant gastric condition usually referred to as lactose intolerance. The exact definition of lactose intolerance, as well as its specific details, remain under debate, but the condition appears to result from the pasteurization of dairy products, which kills the enzymes that aid the body's digestion process. Milk and yogurt in raw form don't seem to cause lactose intolerance. Regardless, the numbers here are skewed; anti-dairy pundits will often claim that the percentage of people who suffer from lactose intolerance is actually a majority of the population. Other studies seem to peg the number at closer to 20 percent. One constant is that those from cultures who have historically consumed a lot of dairy are not affected as much as those who aren't.

Lactose intolerance isn't a dangerous condition, but it can cause considerable discomfort. If you do suffer from the condition, you might be interested to know that millions (if not billions) of people worldwide are perfectly healthy without consuming any dairy at all. Just be wary of replacing all the dairy in your diet with any other single food source, especially soy. Many dairy substitutes are soy based, and too much soy in your diet can be problematic. (Refer to Denis Faye's article "Soy: Magic Bean or Tragic Bean?" elsewhere in this newsletter.)

Does dairy cause a loss or gain of calcium? This is one of the more interesting controversies. The dairy industry champions itself as a leading provider of calcium. The anti-dairy folks say that exactly the opposite is true. Which (if either) is right?

The pro side is simple: They say dairy products contain a lot of calcium, and numerous studies show the importance of calcium in our diets. The con side is more complex. Some science suggests that the high protein-to-fat ratio of nonfat dairy sources, along with an abundance of vitamin A, somehow reduces the body's ability to utilize calcium. This isn't exactly confirmed by the said studies, which actually showed "no decrease in instances of osteoporosis."

Person With Back PainDoes dairy cause osteoporosis? This is a fairly common claim cited by a wide variety of Internet sources. Most of these sources cite rather dated research, including a Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health 'way back in 1997, which claimed a correlation between female milk drinkers and hip fractures. However, newer research, such a study in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, found no connection at all between dairy consumption and hip fractures.

While neither study bodes well for the dairy lobby, it seems a bit odd to make any assumptions based on one dietary staple, considering that the largest piece of this puzzle is being left out altogether: exercise. In the last couple of decades, caloric increase across the U.S. has risen only around 3 percent, whereas the amount of exercise we get has dropped a whopping 20 to 25 percent. When you consider that the primary reason elderly people break their hips in routine falls is due to loss of muscle that protects the bones, it doesn't take a MENSA member to suspect that lack of exercise might be a culprit.

Dairy helps you burn body fat. From the flip side of weird science came a 2003 study out of the University of Tennessee that got a lot of publicity; it showed that those who consumed dairy products lost more body fat than those who supplemented with other types of calcium. But before you decide that yogurt should suffice for all of your calcium needs, consider that the study didn't involve an even playing field. The subjects were on a reduced-calorie diet and the dairy group was given twice the amount of calcium the supplement group received. The study was funded by Yoplait®; feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Regardless, two conclusions you could draw are that calcium is beneficial to your diet, and that you can use the type of calcium you get from dairy products to satisfy your body's need for calcium.

Dairy causes cancer. Much of the concern over dairy and its potential to cause cancer comes from the book The China Study by T. Collin Campbell. In it, Campbell cites studies in which casein protein caused tumors in rats. While this is valid research, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, given that humans and rodents have very different physiologies and these studies administered massive, concentrated amounts of the substance—far more than a human would ever consume in a day.

Dairy is filled with hormones. This is a major, well-documented issue involving how our nation's dairy cows are raised. The FDA assures us that dairy farmers are only allowed to "dope" cows with safe drugs. Many people and organizations disagree with this statement. This is a subject that is too broad to cover adequately in one short article. It's a debate that colors nearly every food-related decision most people make. It's important to know that on the subject of dairy, we do have choices. We can choose organic options, or buy our dairy products from a local farm or farmer.

Which is better: raw or pasteurized? Nearly all pro-pasteurization literature comes from the National Dairy Council or U.S. regulatory agencies. On the other side, there's a passel of independent information that cites the virtues of raw dairy products.

CowDairy, in its raw form, is healthier (provided it comes from healthy cows). In fact, most raw-dairy advocates claim that lactose intolerance is a nonissue for consumers of raw dairy products because the lactose in these items is broken down by the enzyme lactase, which is killed during pasteurization process—a process raw dairy products don't go through. Another issue is that cows aren't always healthy. When cows are unhealthy, it's common for deadly bacteria, including E. coli, to show up in the dairy products produced from their milk. Since pasteurization kills both bad and good bacteria while preserving much of the nutrient value, it's championed as the better alternative by government agencies charged with safeguarding public health—and promoting dairy consumption.

Is organic better? Again, nearly all of the anti-organic literature comes from the National Dairy Council or U.S. regulatory agencies. This is, of course, because it's their job to ensure us that all dairy is healthy and safe to begin with. And again, there are plenty of studies supporting organic as being preferable.

The verdict can again come down to some common sense. Organic standards require that cows live in better conditions and eat better food. We know that when we live better and eat healthier food, we are healthier. We can suppose that this is also true about cows. The next assumption would be that eating food produced by a healthier organism would be healthier. If this makes sense, it's logical to conclude that organic is better.

There are many healthy societies and cultures that don't use dairy. This isn't exactly true. Yes, there are many healthy people who don't consume dairy, but dairy (when you include all animals, not just cows) has been consumed by most cultures since ancient times. The most commonly cited cultures that don't consume dairy are in the East, mainly China, but historically, much of China was heavily dependent upon dairy. In fact, the northern regions and Mongolia have used yogurt as a nutritional mainstay for centuries.

An analysis of the cultures that currently use little or no dairy yields mainly a list of poorer and less well-nourished cultures. And due to the socioeconomic climate of these regions, it seems unfair to cite lack of dairy as a reason for these cultures being malnourished. There are many examples of healthy, well-educated individuals who are perfectly healthy without dairy, and many decidedly healthy cultures, such as the Japanese, use much less dairy than those in Western Europe and the United States.

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Steve EdwardsQuestions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, April 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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Soy: Magic Bean or Tragic Bean?

By Denis Faye

This just in: Soy prevents cancer. Soy lowers "bad" cholesterol. Soy prevents osteoporosis. Hooray! Bring on the tofu!

Wait! More breaking news: Soy suppresses thyroid function. Soy hinders testosterone. Soy causes cancer. Oh, no! Looks like it's back to beef burgers for me.


Welcome to the food wars. On one side, Big Business tells us what to eat. On the other side, watchdog groups tell us we're being poisoned. From the wings, the media screams about the battle at the top of its lungs. In the middle stands our poor diet, constantly scrutinized. Sooner or later, everything we eat is either branded the next superfood fad or the devil incarnate. Every now and then, a food comes along that gets to be both. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you soy.

Then and now

The soybean, which comes from East Asia, made its way to the United States in 1804. Through the 1930s, its primary use was as livestock feed. But in the last 70 years, things have changed. America is now the world's foremost soybean producer, and from an economical standpoint, soybeans are one of the world's most important legumes.

In much the same way one of America's other big crops, corn, has found its way into just about every packaged food in the country in the form of high fructose corn syrup, the food industry has come up with all kinds of inventive uses for soy. It's used to make paints, glues, bug sprays, and food. And we're not just talking tofu here. From soy milk to cereals to protein bars to meat substitutes, the stuff is everywhere.

The good news and the bad news

TofuBecause the soybean is such an economic powerhouse, it's often in the spotlight. The FDA states that soy is a "complete protein," meaning that it's just as good as meat, eggs, and dairy in fulfilling your amino acid needs. Is this true, or has the soybean lobby just leaned on the FDA to say that? And what of the "miracle food" claims—are they true?

Of course, these positive claims are followed by crusaders who are attempting to bring down the soy monolith. How can these opposing claims also be true? After all, scientific studies are infallible, right?

Not so much. It's an incredibly difficult topic to get the straight dope on, and an incredibly easy topic to manipulate. So trying as best as possible not to buy into any hype, let's take a look at soy.

The Asian argument

The first argument out from the pro-soy lobby is, "Look at Asia! They've been eating soy for centuries and they're super-healthy!"

Generalizations aside, this is true, except Asian cultures don't go all Coneheads on the stuff, consuming vast quantities. A 1990 study from Cornell University concluded that the average Chinese diet consisted of between 0 and 58 grams of soy a day, with the average being 13 grams—or about half an ounce.

In much the same way that the French can pull off eating creamy cheeses and chocolate and remain thin, the secret to eating anything, healthy or decadent, is moderation.


Above and beyond any claims that soy is a miracle cure for anything, it's important to remember that its primary function in most people's diets is to provide a lean, meat-free protein. How well does it do this? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization (FAO/WHO), it does just fine.

In 1989, the FAO/WHO developed the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score, a method of measuring protein values in human nutrition. Eggs, milk, and soy all score a 1.0, the best possible. Beef scores .92 and peanuts score .52.

So purely from a macronutrient standpoint, soy looks to be good stuff. Yet for some reason we seem determined to ruin it. Sure, the protein is still there in soy sausage or fake bacon or faux chicken, but now there's also sodium, plus the huge laundry list of chemicals it took to morph the soy into resembling the food it's trying to imitate or replace. A tolerable soy burger has 230 milligrams of sodium—10 percent of the recommended daily allowance. An even saltier option, like the 2.5-ounce Boca Burger® All American Classic, has 500 milligrams. By way of comparison, a 2.5-ounce beef patty only has about 55 milligrams of sodium.

Soybeans and MilkSo if you're looking for protein, stick to soybeans, tofu, and soy milk and leave the meat substitutes alone.


Soybeans are also one of the very few nonanimal sources (along with flax and canola) of omega-3 fatty acids, which help the body with brain function, as well as growth and development. So especially for vegetarians, consuming soy to get your omega-3s is worth considering.

Fermentation celebration

There's also a school of thought that believes fermented soy, such as that found in miso, natto, tempeh, and pickled tofu, is nutritionally superior to unfermented soy. Notable research includes a 2010 study out of the Korean Food Research Institute showing that fermented soy has positive effects in combating type 2 diabetes. However, the notion that fermented soy is more easily digestible than regular soy is unfounded. If you want to include fermented soy—much of which can be an acquired taste—in your diet, that's great, but choosing to choke down a bowl of natto instead of a bowl of edamame isn't going to be that much more healthful, so don't do it if you don't want to.

Miracles and scares

Most of soy's miracle claims and scares are based on rather flimsy studies. For example, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that among 24,403 postmenopausal Chinese women, those who ate soy-heavy diets had a 37 percent lower risk of broken bones. That's good news until you look at the findings in a cultural context, as the watchdog group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) pointed out in their newsletter, Nutrition Action. American women consume considerably more dairy than Chinese women, which has a huge influence on their relative bone strength. Furthermore, according to the University of Washington Medical Center, Caucasian women are historically more prone to hip fractures than Asian women, so the CSPI study is pretty much moot.

As for studies indicating that soy can lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels, a 2005 review sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research Quality showed that to see a measly 3 percent reduction in LDL, one had to eat a pound of tofu a day.

As for the scares, the much-ballyhooed 1985 USDA Trypsin Inhibitor Study showed that rats on a primarily soy diet had an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. It's all really scary until you learn that a rat's pancreas has a sensitivity to dietary protease inhibitors, a substance in soy that inhibits digestion of proteins. Humans have no such sensitivity. In other words, rat pancreases and human pancreases are different enough to call the study into question.

As you can see, for every source that seems to support one side of the pro-soy/anti-soy debate, there seems to be an equal and opposite source that refutes its claims.

Isoflavone of the month

One thing everyone agrees on is that soy is loaded with isoflavones, an organic compound that is thought by some experts to be an important element in helping to fight cancer. There have been studies that suggest the isoflavones in soy may help prevent prostate cancer, hot flashes, osteoporosis, and brain aging. So why not consume as many isoflavones as you can? Well, there's also a downside.

Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, a plant-produced chemical that acts like estrogen when introduced into animals' bodies. Although studies in 2001 and 2006 suggest that women with a high risk of breast cancer should be mindful about the amount of soy they consume, a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Florida, in April 2011, which compiled data from 18,000 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, found no difference in terms of recurrence and death between women who consumed a lot of soy and women who consumed very little. If anything, those who consumed greater amounts of soy had, statistically, an insignificantly lower risk either of recurrence or of succumbing to their disease.

There are also several studies that suggest it's a bad idea to give infants soy formula because of the isoflavones—but before anyone freaks out, there are also several studies that say soy formula isn't a problem at all.

How much is too much?

SoybeansBefore giving up on soy completely because you just can't be bothered with the data, consider this alternative: moderation. The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests limiting soy consumption so you ingest about 50 to 70 milligrams of isoflavones a day. That's one or two cups of soy milk or 6 to 9 ounces of tofu. That should be enough to tap the benefits without overdoing it.

But also keep in mind that because the soy industry has become so huge in the United States, food manufacturers can acquire it cheaply, so they're looking to find ways of using it in as many different products as possible. Whenever you're buying some kind of processed food, make sure to read the ingredients. You're probably eating more soy than you realize.

Even if there weren't concerns about soy, the amounts I just specified—1 to 2 cups of soy milk or 6 to 9 ounces of tofu per day—would still be good numbers to shoot for. Regardless of whether or not a food is the miracle nutrient of the moment, eating excessive amounts of anything is pretty much never a good idea. If you focus on one thing too much, you're neglecting myriad of other important nutrients—the balance of which will make for great health.

Related Articles
"Vegetarianism: An Easy Guide to Meat-Free Eating"
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Denis FayeQuestions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, April 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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Elena's INSANE Results!

Elena was so depressed about her weight she would cry herself to sleep at night. But her life was about to change in an INSANE way. Check out her inspirational story and see what she looks like now—55 pounds later!

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Recipe: Soba Salad with Asian Vegetables and Golden Tofu

Soba Salad with Asian Vegetables and Golden Tofu

Here's an Eastern-inspired salad you can make a meal of. Lots of yummy veggies, protein-rich tofu, and a delicious ginger-sesame-soy dressing. It requires a little extra prep, but it's totally worth it.

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger root, peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

  • 4 oz. soba or whole wheat spaghetti, uncooked
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 10-oz. package frozen baby peas
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 lb. firm tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
  • 2 cups diced fresh cucumber (with peel)
  • 1 15-oz. can baby corn, drained
  • 1 8-oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 4 cups shredded purple cabbage

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add noodles and cook 4 minutes. Add broccoli and cook 4 more minutes. Add peas, stir, take pan off heat, and drain immediately. Spread noodle mixture in a large flat serving dish or roasting pan (to help speed cooling process) and place in refrigerator to cool. While it's cooling, whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl; cover and refrigerate.

Heat 2 teaspoons of sesame oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu and sauté 3 to 5 minutes per side or until golden, using chopsticks or tongs to turn tofu.

When noodle mixture has cooled, place in a large bowl, then add cucumber, corn, and water chestnuts. Add 2/3 of dressing and toss gently to mix.

Place 1/4 of cabbage on each of 4 large plates to form a bed. Top each with 1/4 of soba salad and 1/4 of tofu. Drizzle each salad with remaining dressing. Makes 4 servings.

Total Preparation Time: 1 hour

Nutritional Information (per serving)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
480 24 grams 11 grams 73 grams 15 grams 2 grams

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