1 July 2008

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Milk causes mucus (and other dairy myths)

Nicole Senior

Fact: Milk seems to attract more than its fair share of myths. This is unfortunate as it puts people off eating enough dairy foods when we know they are an important part of a healthy diet. One of the most common myths is that drinking milk causes mucus. When this has been studied in controlled conditions it has not stood up to scientific scrutiny. The thin coating you feel in your mouth is temporary and a result of the creamy texture. By the same faulty logic, chocolate and shortbread are “mucus-forming” yet no-one is blaming them. The other old chestnut is milk causes asthma, yet diet only affects 2.5% of people with asthma and milk is rarely the cause. The real triggers are allergens such as house pollen and dust-mite, respiratory infections and exercise.

It is also commonly believed that lactose intolerance is very common. In fact, an Australian review estimated that lactose maldigestion affects as few as few as 4% of adult Caucasians. But figures are thought to be higher among people of Chinese or Asian origin and Aboriginal people. African-Americans are also thought to have a greater prevalence. However even people with lactose intolerance can digest small amounts of lactose (like the amount in a glass of milk) without symptoms, especially if consumed as part of a meal. The amount of lactose in yoghurt is much lower because the bacterial cultures break-down the lactose. Hard cheese has negligible lactose. For the super-sensitive there are lactose-free milks and yoghurts available. Having said all this, there are those with milk allergy who must stay well-away from anything dairy-based or they become ill, however this unfortunate group makes up less than 1% of the adult population.

Milk and dairy foods are considered a core food – they even have their own food group. This is because they are nutrient dense and provide a package of nutrients that are not found in the same amounts in other foods. Dairy foods provide a bunch of essential nutrients including protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. They have a low GI and help lower blood pressure when consumed in a diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits. While whole milk, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese contain quite a whack of saturated fat, choosing reduced-fat and low-fat options gives you all the nutritional benefits without the clogged arteries. Most of us should aim for 2-3 serves a day as part of a healthy diet.


Nicole Senior is author of Heart Food and Eat to Beat Cholesterol available from www.greatideas.net.au
For more information on nutrition and heart health visit www.eattobeatcholesterol.com.au


Anonymous said...

Awesome article. I will review more about mucous.

Here are some comments:

1) A friend of mine as a child was dying of progressive asthma, hospitalized on a regular basis. He stopped all dairy, never had a breathing problem ever again. That was probably 20 years ago and he is still fine. This is a real case. You say it is rare and the data would have to be reviewed and i totally respect the data you have supplied. I have seen other cases where asthma is alleviated by eliminating dairy. It is not so rare I believe.

2) You are presuming everyone eats dairy and therefore this is a core nutrient. Does this mean that people that are vegan are not getting a core nutrient by eliminating dairy from their diets? This is a MYTH. This is absolutely not true and when you say core, there is nothing that can not be obtained from non-dairy sources to nourish the body. Myths around veganism are very prominent and I would be happy to dispel them all.

3) As for nourishing, human milk is much lower in protein than cows milk, and this makes sense, they need to build more mass and much more quickly. Over-intake of protein has been shown in many peer reviewed studies as well as the well-documentwed China Study by Colin Campbel, to instigatte cancer and clearly causes net bone loss and calcium loss. The calcium magnesium ration of cow milk is also detrimental to calcium absoroption. Cows milk is for cows, not baby humans.

Lastly, the outrageous suffering created by the dairy industry is another awesome reason for not eating dairy products.

Thanks for the opportunity for airing my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am an asthmatic. I was diagnosed when I was approx 18months old, and spent ALOT of time in the hospital during my childhood. The doctors recommended that my parents cut out dairy products. And they did. I have never been hospitalized for my asthma since. That was 22 years ago. I know that my lungs become severely congested, I cough up mucus and I have more asthma attacks if I eat dairy, especially ice cream or milk. As an adult, I have tested myself with taking different foods out of my diet and always reduce exposure to allergens to an absolute minimum. Please explain to me how this does not proove a link between asthma and dairy? I would love it if you could prove me wrong, I would love to be able to enjoy ice cream as every other woman does.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this article is superficial at best. Why no mention of the well-documented hazards of milk and dairy foods, like insulin-like growth factor-1(IGF-1) (which drives cancer) and the A1 beta casein protein (which drives heart disease)? The article seems intended more to persuade us to consume dairy products ("Most of us should aim for 2-3 serves a day as part of a healthy diet") than to inform us. Shame on you!

Does Nicole Senior receive any sort of financial aid from the dairy industry? Directly or indirectly? How about asking your authors to disclose (to us) potential conflicts of interest?

GI Group said...

Re the anonymous comment that the article is 'superficial'.

You are entitled to your opinions. However, GI News is a newsletter that briefly covers a wide range of topics potentially of interest to our readers in each issue.

It is offensive to suggest that we use industry spokespersons.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of your claim that milk does not produce mucous, I know that when I have anything that has milk in it (milk,ice cream, cream sauces, etc.), within 15 minutes I begin to have mucous drainage in my throat. I do not have problems with yogurt, cheeses or anything cultured. I also know that any baby that has a cold will have more snotty nose problems if they are fed milk or orange juice. I don't have to have validation from random clinical studies to substantiate personal experience.

Anonymous said...

Re: "It is offensive to suggest that we use industry spokespersons:" I didn't use those words. I merely enquired, in the context of her enthusiastic "Most of us should aim for 2-3 serves a day", whether your author had any direct or indirect conflicts of interest. Surely that's a fair question?

For what it's worth, I'm a years-long user of the GI diet, and I recommend it to everyone who asks how I manage to maintain my weight. But your credibility would be enhanced if you both admitted to yourselves the pervasiveness of corporate "sponsorship" and did something to reassure your readers. Even the BMJ now has a "Competing interests:" section at the bottom of all their papers, because of scandals about researchers taking corporate money under the table. If you want a recent example, do a Google search for the NYT headline "Researchers Fail to Reveal Full Drug Pay".

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a comment of Dr. Neal Barnard on the article.

GI Group said...

Topics for GI News are chosen by the editor (a latte lover she confesses) to make each issue as interesting as possible. We try to cover subjects that will bring readers the latest evidence-based information about food and nutrition that's been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The links at the end of each story to our contributors' websites let readers follow up and find out more about the writers if they wish.

We appreciate that many of our readers may have different viewpoints on some topics and enjoy the lively debate that can follow our stories. In fact it often gives us leads to follow up. By the way, we are always interested in hearing about the topics our readers would like us to research for future issues.

Re Dr Barnard: There is a permanent link to his website in the right hand column of GI News under LINKS.

Unknown said...

GI Group has not responded to anonymous's question:
"Does Nicole Senior receive any sort of financial aid from the dairy industry? Directly or indirectly? How about asking your authors to disclose (to us) potential conflicts of interest?"

The answer can be simply 'tes' or 'no'. I would appreciate an answer. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nice lively debate here! Discussions on dairy products tend to be like that. We have become very wary of experts who recommend dairy because of the practice of the dairy industry world wide of using so-called "experts" to endorse their product. This practice has been very successful. I suggest that the the nutritional benefits of dairy do not justify the prominent role they play in food pyramids and other advice tools. For most people dairy is not a "bad" food like refined sugar or flour, but it is my opinion that its role in a healthy diet has been greatly exaggerated through powerful and effective lobbying.

There surely can be little doubt that dairy product do cause problems for some people and asthma sufferers in particular should have a good look at the amount of dairy in their diet.

Anonymous said...

Hey folks, take a grip. GI News is like any other printed material. Readers are entitled to form their opinion. Writers, be they specialist or not, are not twisting anyone's arm to listen. And my guess is they are not sales person either. If you don't like dairy products, don't take them ... SIMPLE. If you believe your opinion is correct, stop reading articles which do not agree with you. Take it easy on others and you'll feel so much better. Oh, do not have a go at me please. Be happy and enjoy life :D

Anonymous said...

Sure. Bias and accuracy don't matter. What we really need is that nobody talks back. So go back to sleep, everyone...

Anonymous said...

@ GI Group:
thanks for raising this "hot" issue, as this is a great way to get people to directly ask qualified dietitians who provide sound advice

@ bodyworkz & anonymous:

yes, it seems that many people get thick mucus after having dairy (i'm also one of them)... but i'm not sure if the milk is really the cause. as i have the same symptom with bananas (which also gives a "creamy"/thick texture), probably it's just the creaminess that causes the problem (as Nicole suggests).

these tests might be a good idea to see if the "milk" itself really causes the mucus:

- when you change the [full-fat] milk to skim milk (which is less creamy), do you still get the mucus?
- if you change it to a normal soy milk (which is also creamy), does the mucus disappear?

if the answer of at least one question is "no", then milk is NOT the cause.

bodyworkz' comment about the mucus secretion after having milk products probably has something to do with creamy texture. milk, ice cream, cream sauces are all creamy. but, as you don't have problems with fermented dairy products, you can still meet your needs for dairy from those foods. i wouldn't worry about not drinking milk if that's the case. i suppose the bottom line is that the "milk-related mucus" shouldn't prevent us from getting enough dairy (or its alternatives).

on the other hand, "rare" doesn't equate "none" - even if the prevalence of "milk-related" asthma were 0.001% worldwide, it still accounts for 60,000 people.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous (re dairy as a core group, as opposed to a vegan diet)

from your comment, it sounds like there has been lots of resistance or misunderstandings out there about veganism and the vegan diet... and that has irritated you. i (though not being a vegan) sympathise with you. i think that a balanced vegan diet has lots of health benefits, and while the dairy group is not in the diet, we can replace it with fortified soy milk and its products. they contain calcium too (as they are fortified), and have some added advantages such as phytoestrogens and the cholesterol lowering, omega-6 fatty acids.

also, i have even seen something like "sesame milk" powder at Asian shops (in Sydney) which is probably a good choice for vegans. i hope this sort of non-dairy milk will get fortified too.

GI Group said...

Thanks for all the interesting comments everyone. We are finding it a bit hard to keep up! But we are trying to. Currently everything posted to date has been forwarded to Nicole and she will cover off as many points as she can.

GI Group said...

Nicole has asked us to post some comments in reply to this lively debate. Over to Nicole:

'It’s great to have so much discussion. I wanted to say a couple of things in reply.

Although diet affects only 2.5% of people with asthma and milk is rarely the cause, we have some of these individuals as GI News subscribers. I wish you the best of health on your dairy-free path!

However some of the experiences you have shared I think may relate to food intolerance, but not in the way you might think. Food intolerance is poorly understood but is thought to occur when natural or added food chemicals irritate the nerve endings in different parts of the body, including the respiratory tract. These chemicals include amines, salicylates, amines, preservatives and glutamates – none of which are high in plain milk, but can be present in some milk products. Symptoms can include asthma, sinus trouble and runny nose. (Of course lactose intolerance is more clear-cut and quite a different mechanism – it is caused by low levels of lactase digestive enzyme). I’d like to share some information from a book that in the area of food allergy and intolerance: Friendly Food, by Dr Rob Loblay (immunologist), Dr Valencia Souter (paediatrician) and Dr Anne Swain (dietitian). This team has more than 20 years experience and research in this area. They say,

“There is a common belief that dairy products are bad for people with ‘allergies’. In fact, this is not usually so. If you feel better avoiding dairy it may be because you’ve cut out the natural amines in tasty cheeses and chocolates or the flavourings in yoghurt, ice cream and milk shakes. Milk or wheat can sometimes irritate the stomach and bowels in people with food intolerance, but this will often settle down after the relevant food chemicals have been identified and eliminated for a few weeks”.(From ‘Friendly Food’, Murdoch Books available at www.greatideas.net.au ).

If you think you have food intolerance, consult a dietitian with experience in this area for diagnosis and management through the use of an elimination diet and challenge protocol. There are no blood tests that identify food intolerance.

On the matter of A2 beta-casein predominant milk (produced by certain breeds of cow and marketed in Australia as A2 milk), the available evidence does not prove benefit from drinking A2 milk or indicate harm caused by the ingestion of regular milk containing predominantly A1 beta-casein protein. It is easy to base conclusions on a handful of studies, but this does ‘not good public health nutrition advice make’. I will await further research in this area. The Emeritus Professor of Human Nutrition at Sydney University, The Dietitians Association of Australia, New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) agree.

Some people very sensibly suggested if you cannot, or choose not to, eat dairy products there are alternatives such as soy milk with added calcium. I would add there are also soy yoghurts and custard (check these have added calcium), soy cheese, and fun foods like dairy-free frozen desserts too. Life can go on when you’re dairy-free, but it is a little more challenging to ensure your nutritional needs are met.

I do not currently, or have not in the past, worked for the dairy industry. My interest is purely the fun of busting food myths and flying the flag for evidence-based nutrition information.'

Anonymous said...

thanks Nicole!

Anonymous said...

Your eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that Nicole Senior's response ("I do not currently, or have not in the past, worked for the dairy industry") does not answer my question ("Does Nicole Senior receive any sort of financial aid from the dairy industry? Directly or indirectly?") Have you wondered why?

(For the record, I have never noticed Ms Senior's name before this issue came up, and so I knew nothing about her. But the style of her piece on dairy products was a red flag, and I have become so disgusted by the evasions from both Ms Senior and GI News ever since my first post, that I finally did some research.)

Perhaps this is why. Google reveals that:

(1) Ms Senior was a "Facilitator" at a 3-day DAA "Improving Nutrition" conference that started 29 May 2008, and that was "Proudly sponsored by Dairy Australia," among other industrial food companies. See www.tourhosts.com.au/dietitians2008/pdf/Conference_Program.pdf . (DAA is the Dietary Association of Australia.)

(2) Ms Senior was a speaker at the October 2007 "Re-Energise 07" conference where Dairy Australia was one of two named sponsors that received "A big thank you" from the conference organizers. See www.smartshape.com.au/a/854.html .

(3) An October 2002 article describes Ms Senior as being "an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the DAA." See http://www.mydr.com.au/default.asp?article=3793 .

Another URL (do a Google search for +"dietary association of australia" +sponsors -- this is out of a book) describes the DAA as one of a "proliferation of industry-funded organisations such as trade associations, think tanks, and advocacy groups [that] have sought to influence both policy and consumer choice through shadowy means under guise of independent scholarship, opinion, and fact. Some act merely as fronts to public relations exercises. .... To see an example pertinent to the issue of nutrition one has only to look at the coalescence of industry and the Dietary Association of Australia... [whose] sponsors include:" Kellogg's, Meat and Livestock Australia, Nestle, Unilever, and -- surprise, surprise, Dairy Australia. (Please that page for yourselves to check that I haven't twisted what it says!)

In short, the DAA is "sponsored" (a euphemism for "funded") by industrial food companies, including Dairy Australia. The DAA presumably pays Ms. Senior to be their facilitator, speaker, and spokesperson, using money from, among others, Dairy Australia. So it seems likely that, with DAA as the conduit, some of Dairy Australia's money has indeed wound up in Ms. Senior's wallet.

Dear readers, ask yourselves this question. In the light of Ms. Senior's years-long and mutually beneficial association with Dairy Australia (which definitely looks like a conflict of interest to me), what is your confidence level that her writings about the virtues of dairy food are objective and unbiased?

Personally, I read GI News in the hope of finding objective and unbiased (i.e. scientific) assessments of foods, not to read corporate sales pitches disguised as science. I think generally your readers feel the same way I do. GI News's response -- or lack of response -- to our concerns is damaging its credibility.

GI Group said...

DAA is the Dietitians Association of Australia -- the national association of the dietitian profession here. It represents approximately 3300 members throughout Australia.

The Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) Program was introduced to maintain standards of practice by the profession. The equivalent program in the US is the Registered Dietitian (RD) program.

For further information on DAA, check out www.daa.asn.au. It is all there on their website.

The equivalent organisation to DAA in the US is the highly respected American Dietetic Association with around 68,000 members. Like many organisations today including DAA, it too has a corporate sponsorship program for specific projects. Check out their website: www.eatright.org. It is all there.

Nicole is not sponsored or funded by DAA. But yes, she participated in the annual DAA conference as did many of her colleagues.

We are absolutely delighted that you read GI News 'in the hope of finding objective and unbiased (i.e. scientific) assessments of foods'. That's what we aim to do. The milk story was not a corporate sales pitch. But clearly we are never going to change your mind on this one. And of course it concerns us that you feel we have let you down. We hope you will come back next month.

Now, I think it's time we all drew a line under this one.

James Krieger said...

Wow, a lot of conspiracy theorists here. I find it comical how people here are claiming that Nicole Senior is somehow in cahoots with the dairy industry just because she said something they don't agree with or that challenges their thinking.

And to the poster who tried to claim milk is harmful because it contains IGF-I....IGF-I is a protein hormone and would never make it through the digestive tract and into the blood intact. Hormones like IGF-I or growth hormone must be injected to have any biological effect in adult humans.

Carm said...

I am a Nutritional Consultant. I also have a history of chronic ear infections, ear tubes and tonsilitis as an ADULT. Over the years I was taught that milk is mucous forming....but I never followed that myself until I had a child who seemed to have a cold constantly. My naturopath convinced me to eliminate milk from his diet. During that period, to be fair, I also removed milk from my diet. Within two weeks all fluid problems with my ears, asthma symptoms, bloatedness and water retention ALL vanished!!! My son no longer had cold symptoms and was no longer constipated. It truly was amazing!!! But we also have to keep in mind that there are many who can tolerate dairy....while not losing the fact there are many of us who can't!!! Food sensitivity is an individual thing!

Anonymous said...

Nicole has not provided an unbiased objective view...it is clear when she boldly states we should aim to have 2-3 portions a day as part of a 'healthy' diet.

The healthiest cows milk you can find is full of steroids, protein growth hormones, immunoglobins, pus (somantic cells, bacteria, white blood cells), animal fat and more. Milk is a huge industry, is it no wonder there are people like Nicole trying to protect it? if everyone realised all the bad impacts of milk our entire economy would crash.

I have a question: does drinking human breast milk sound appealing? or would you rathar consume the breast milk of a big fat grass eating cow? cows milk is designed to meet the nutritional needs of cows...baby cows. We are the only creatures who continue to consume milk after infancy..and cows milk at that!

There is 'scientific' evidence to prove that 100% of people are allergic to the proteins found in milk, casein in particular....casein being the same substance to make glue....yum yum. Some people are more allergic than others, but pretty much everyone I know reports that after consuming diary, particularly in its purest form milk (skimmed, full fat,whichever) they feel bloated and mucus starts to form in their throats....thats your body trying to deal with the crap you just swallowed

Robert Cohen from NOTMILK.COM states that "Eighty percent of milk
protein is casein. Casein triggers histamine production,
which in turn, triggers mucus production."

In addition cows stomachs are made up of 4 compartments (people say they have 4 stomachs)...they need that to break down the food they eat...grass and milk included. Calves need to gain hundreds of pounds within a short period of time...cows milk is designed for that purpose and build up the nutrition of a cow. There is a reason why cows milk contains so much more protein than human milk!! we do not need all this excess protein and it is actually bad for us causing kidney problems and osteoporosis (the irony!!!)...this is beause milk although rich in calcium is so high in aminal protein it has been shown to create calcium deficiency.

oh and milk consuming countries have the highest rates of osteoporosis. yipee.

Oh and for your reference I do not consider myself lactose intolerant. I still eat diary products (I cant help it when chocolate tastes so good), but everytime I consume dairy I cough up mucus and get breakouts the next day (dairy is also linked to acne) and my whole immune system generally feels weaker. I would never however in a million years, 'recommend' that people consume diary as part of a healthy diet. I feel that you probably can argue good points for milk (you have to dig a little) but you can equally (and probably more easily)argue bad points for milk.

All i have left to say is that these articles are supposed to inform us in an UNBIASED manner and above all, not recommend something that has such strong links to cancer, heart disease, allergies etc. Nicole might as well have recommended smoking...

Anonymous said...

Hi. I would be very interested in doing my own research into the bad apsects of milk, could anyone help with some sites.


Anonymous said...

Please refer to the Australian Dietary Guidelines - which clearly states the milk, yoghurt and cheese requirements for the Australian population. If these foods are not consumed, a suitable substitute needs to be (fortified soy or rice milk, fish with bones, calcium supplements etc). Other foods contain calcium in much smaller amounts and a large volume is required to obtain the required amount.
Refer to section 1.4
Also attached is the Nutrient Reference Values stating the required amount of calcium http://www.nrv.gov.au/Nutrients.aspx?code=5540006
With an ageing population, we need to be wary of the burden of osteoporosis on the population. Anyone who wishes not to eat dairy or cannot eat dairy should seek the advice of an accredited practising dietitian for assessment and discussion regarding suitable alternatives.
NB. I have never received payment from Dairy Australia.

Anonymous said...

this is very interesting. indeed, milk is one of the issues that often generate hot (even fierce) debates. even when the author started out discussing the nutritional aspect only, the debate will invariably grow to something humanistic or values or vegetarianism etc. Anyway, i think it was great that you guys have made a lively discussion about milk! :)