by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Aug 3 2022

Ancient humans drank milk even when lactose intolerant

I’ve long been mystified by why the Chinese government promotes milk consumption so strongly and why Chinese grocery stores, like this one I saw in Beijing, devote so much space to selling dairy foods, when they can’t comfortably digest the lactose in milk.

Asian and many other populations stop making the enzyme that digests lactose sugar a few years after early childhood and become intolerant to that sugar.  So why continue to consume dairy products?

Nature has a new article shedding some light on the question of whether lactose tolerance is inducible.  Do people who eat dairy products develop tolerance?  Or is it just that people who can eat dairy do eat dairy?

  • Dairying, diseases and the evolution of lactase persistence in EuropeHere we provide detailed distributions of milk exploitation across Europe over the past 9,000 years using around 7,000 pottery fat residues from more than 550 archaeological sites. European milk use was widespread from the Neolithic period onwards but varied spatially and temporally in intensity…In the UK Biobank cohort of 500,000 contemporary Europeans, LP [lactose persistence] genotype was only weakly associated with milk consumption and did not show consistent associations with improved fitness or health indicators.

The authors propose:

  • Lactose intolerant people drank milk when it became available.
  • Under conditions of famine or exposure to diarrhea-inducing pathogens, consuming lactose made the diarrhea worse.
  • This acted as a selection pressure for continuing production of the lactase enzyme.
  • But population fluctuations, settlement density and wild animal exploitation are better explanations for the persistence of the enzyme than the extent of milk usage.

An editorial expands on these ideas.

  • The mystery of early milk consumption in Europe:  The authors propose instead two alternative evolutionary avenues to explain the rise in prevalence of alleles for LP, related to [1] shortages of food or [2] the consequences of increased exposure to disease-causing agents (in relation to animals, crops or from living in close proximity to others without proper sanitation). In either situation, or in a combination of both scenarios, an individual’s ability to diversify their diet away from crops and meat, which might be affected by shortages, and to take advantage of the hydration and calories afforded by dairy products, could be extremely beneficial.

Or you can listen to a podcast:

  • How humans adapted to digest lactose — after thousands of years of milk drinking:  Humans have been drinking milk for thousands of years, but it seems that they were doing so long before the ability to digest it became prevalent. Then, around 2,000 years ago, this ability became common in Europe, presenting a mystery to researchers — why then? Now, by analysing health data, ancient DNA and fats residues from thousands of ancient pots, scientists have worked out what caused this trait to suddenly spread throughout Europe.

And take a look at a Nature article from 2019:

  • Early Europeans bottle-fed babies with animal milk: Writing in Nature, Dunne et al. describe an analysis of spouted vessels found in ancient graves of infants in Germany that indicates that these artefacts contained animal milk. This evidence suggests that such vessels were used to feed animal milk to children, providing crucial insight into the diet of developing infants in prehistoric human populations.

The dairy industry says a little lactose is harmless to people who are lactose intolerant, and milk’s nutritional benefits outweigh its risks.  Early Europeans—and today’s Chinese—must think so too.

And sorry, but I can’t resist:

Q.  Why do cows have hooves?

A.  Because they lactose.

Jul 14 2022

On a lighter note (we need this)

Here are three announcements I received this week.

I.  Pringles shoots for spider history The Kidney Garden Spider bears an uncanny resemblance to the Pringles logo – sparking a mission to get the arachnid community to officially recognise it as the Pringles Spider…. Read more

II.  Milk cows listening to music are more relaxed.  Musical enrichment of the environment was done using recorded-tape of flute and sitar was played in yamen raga at 40-60 (dB) decibel intensity.   [Thanks to Stephan van Vliet for this one].

III.  Dating for diet followers: The Filteroff dating app is hosting an online speed dating event for followers of the Paleo and Keto diets.  You can learn more about the speed dating event (and sign up if single) here.  [Thanks to Michelle Miller of Filteroff for the emailed invitation].

Feb 23 2022

The plight of small dairy farmers: a difficult dilemma

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a dairy farmer and lawyer who works with small dairies in Herkimer County, NY, is a frequent correspondent.  I am always happy to hear from her because I learn a lot from her and respect her knowledge about small dairies and passion for doing something to help them.  With her permission, here is what she wrote me.

Is there really any hope for the region’s dairy farmers for the future?  It seems that each day we read of NYC officials condemning us and the food we produce, fresh milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, hard cheeses as “ruining the planet” and “bad for health.”  With Mayor Adams having literally  called for a shut down of NY’s dairy farms when he was Brooklyn Borough President, and now calls for VEGAN food as “saving the planet,” why should many of us even go on?

I am working with farmers who are considering suicide, young farmers who tried to farm, but are now locked into a lifetime of debt to pay off the failed farm, and this now….the steady stream of hate directed at us emanating from the city.  Speakers who talk  only “plant based” while trashing all animal ag without any nuance.

Should I just plain tell the people who struggle to live up here on the millions of acres of Upstate grasslands to forget it. Sell it out and go work somewhere.  Or, if you are working a second job to support the farmland taxes as so many do, just sell the land for sprawl or move to another state as several farmers I know have done.

Is it even worth it to try when I don’t see even one urban group standing up for the regional dairy farms?  I’m a lawyer for scores of farmers and hearing the same message from all of them. Why go on?  Personally, I will NEVER work to organize trailers of free milk into NYC again.  Our reward for trying to feed people was a resounding slap in the face from the City and those urban food groups who I had thought supported us upstate.

Lorraine sent the same message to Nevin Cohen, Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute at the CUNY School of Public Health.  His response to her is also worth reading (also reproduced with permission):

Thanks so much for writing about the challenges facing dairy farmers in NYS. As the descendent of a Catskill dairy farmer – my grandfather owned a small dairy farm in White Lake, NY, and my dad milked cows until he left home for the Army – I empathize with the struggles of today’s dairy farmers.

New York’s farmers, and other farmers throughout the region, have tried to remain profitable in the face of competition from agribusiness, insufficient transportation, processing, and distribution infrastructure, and federal policies that have essentially subsidized large producers. This is particularly true for dairy, a sector that is facing overproduction nationally, consolidation by large corporations operating massive feedlots, and outdated federal policies like the Federal Milk Marketing Order not providing support for small dairies. I understand the enormous financial and emotional strain this places on farmers, and why so many choose to sell their land.

In my opinion, though, the battle is with big ag and USDA, not vegans. Corporate power and an inadequate federal response, combined with development pressures within the region, are far more to blame for falling profits and the pressure farmers face to sell their land than movements to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Eric Adams’ rhetoric about veganism may appeal to some (though likely an even smaller number since he was “caught” enjoying a fish dinner the other week), but it isn’t the most important factor driving the drop in US milk consumption or over-production by the massive CAFOs out west. A recent USDA study, for example, found that the growth in nut and soy “milks” over the past decades has been much smaller than the decrease in milk consumption. The perceived health halo around non-milk beverages may drive some consumers but other factors, including competition from beverage manufacturers and demographic changes, are at play.

Dairy farmers in the Catskill provide enormous benefits to New York City and the region, not the least of which is protecting our unfiltered drinking water supply from development and providing high quality fresh, local food. We clearly need to focus more on policies to make dairy farming profitable and to make the point that regenerative agriculture with livestock and produce is healthy and resilient. I would be interested in your thoughts about Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation to require changes to the federal milk marketing order, or whether you have other ideas for policy change. The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute has monthly forums to address important issues like this. We would be interested in hosting a panel to raise awareness of the obstacles farmers face and identify policies that NYC groups can advocate for.

Lorraine Lewandrowski’s response to Nevin Cohen:

In 1939, it was possible to organize upstate dairy farmers to fight the big-3 milk companies that had a stranglehold on the NYC milk market. Today the battle is in Washington and also against multinational companies like Danone, which just last summer terminated its contracts with organic dairy farmers throughout the NY region…Today, Mayor Adams, talks veganism.

In his Daily News Op Ed two years ago, he called for a shut down of our state’s dairy farms, citing a farmer in CA who plowed up the pastures to plant almond groves.  He urged us to “go plant based.”   Over time, I have come to recoil from the word, “VEGAN.”  Vegans have called my office telling my secretary that my throat should be slit.  At the last in-person conference that a group of us farmers attended, vegans defaced and trashed our table, leaving photos of almond milk plastered on our handouts.  It’s even acceptable for leadership to simply call for death to our farms.  A new member of the NYS Senate Agriculture Committee, Jabari Brisport, led a rally in the City calling for Death to Dairy.  No one says a word and he gets a coveted spot on the Senate Ag Committee.

Senator Hinchey tried to talk “equity” to Mayor Adams last week concerning the watershed farmers, but I don’t think he grasped what she was saying when he said he would direct his departments to look at purchasing more “healthy” food from Upstate.  Is one person the arbiter now?

Lastly, Nevin, as to your question on Senator Gillibrand.  For years, farmers have asked for hearings on the milk price formula, but it never happened.  We are at the point where you can drive for miles up here and see nothing but emptied out farms, a bleak landscape.   There will likely be a new look at the formula. Secretary Vilsack has stated that the farm groups need to come up with a unified proposal.  The small scale farms of the Northeast generally feel that the proposal will be crafted for the larger farms of other regions, as we see now with environmental incentives (digesters for the big guys).  But, we are doing our best to input.

My comment on this exchange:

I too am concerned about the plight of upstate New York dairy farmers (and small dairies in general) and about Danone’s abandonment of them.  But when it comes to vegans, I’m with Nevin Cohen: “the battle is with big ag and USDA, not vegans.”

Vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy and I’m all for them if that’s what people want to do.  Personally, I like and eat dairy foods and think they have a place in healthy diets.  I also think small dairies have a place in healthy environments and that it’s the government’s role to make sure they survive in the face of Big Dairy and its discontents.

No question, dairying can be done in ways that are better for cows and better for the environment.  That’s where we need to focus—on policies that will allow farmers to use better practices and to make a living doing so.

I thank Lorraine and Nevin for raising these issues.  I hope this conversation stimulates serious thinking about how policies can best promote healthful diets and protect the environment.

Feb 2 2022

The ongoing debate about meat and dairy emissions

Every time I write anything about the effects of ruminants on greenhouse gas emissions, I am flooded with comments about cherry-picked data.  I’m not going to even try to sort that out, but I do find the studies interesting.

Here’s a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP): Emissions Impossible Europe: How Europe’s Big Meat and Dairy are heating up the planet

Watch the video about it here.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Just 20 European meat and dairy companies combined produce the equivalent of more than half of the United Kingdom, France and Italy’s emissions, and exceed that of the Netherlands.
  • The same 20 companies’ total emissions rival those of fossil fuel giants…over half of Chevron’s (55%), 42% of ExxonMobil’s, 44% of Shell’s and of BP’s.
  • Their combined emissions are also equivalent to 48% of the coal consumed in the entire EU (2018)1 or more than 53 million passenger cars driven for one year.
  • Only four (Arla, Danone, FrieslandCampina and Nestlé) out of the 20 companies assessed report their total supply chain emissions…Only three (Nestlé, FrieslandCampina and ABP) have announced plans to reduce their total.

Plenty of groups object to these findings.  You can read about that here.

Addition:

If you haven’t seen it, take a look at this 15-minute video on Big Ag lobbying from the New York Times.

Jan 10 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: methane-reducing supplements for cows

Thanks to Lynn Ripley for this gem.

Who knew that herbal dietary supplements are now marketed for cows, with claims that they improve milk quality and yield and reduce methane emissions at the same time?  Not me, for sure.

The producer of this supplement says feeding a dairy cow one gram a day will produce these benefits. That’s not much for a 1500-2000 pound dairy cow, even feeding the gram a day for at least four weeks (which is what the manufacturer says you have to do).

This, to say the least, is hard to believe.

As evidence, the manufacturer, Agolin Ruminant, cites three studies of its supplement.   Want to take a guess as to who funded all three of them?  Bingo!  Agolin Ruminant.

My first question: what is in Agolin Ruminant that is so powerful that only one gram a day will produce measurable benefits?

This question is not easy to answer.

The manufacturer’s statement of product information says only:

AGOLIN RUMINANT L is a carefully balanced combination of essential oil compounds in their natural / nature-identical form. All active substances are of high purity and are accepted for use under current European animal feed and human food legislation.

In the meta-analysis summarized below, the authors say:

The main active compounds of this product are food grade and chemically-defined plant extracts including coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seed oil (up to 10%), eugenol (up to 7%), geranyl acetate (up to 7%) and geraniol (up to 6%) along with some preservatives such as fumaric acid.

Those account for 30% of what’s in the product.  The other 70%?  A mystery.

This supplement is a feed additive.  Animal feed products do not require the level of ingredient disclosure required for dietary supplements.  The manufacturer says all ingredients are either FDA-approved or Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  All are plant extracts (available from cloves or geraniums, for example).   Great.  I’d like to know what they are.

The manufacturer points to an endorsement from the Carbon Trust for the value of this product for reducing methane emissions.

This opinion is based on academic references, published scientific papers and field reports and joins the conclusions of the independent meta analyses from A. Belanche et al.

Oh dear.  The Carbon Trust did not do its homework.  The article by Belanche et al, is anything but independent.

Here are the key studies attesting to the purported benefits of this supplement for cows, starting with Belanche et al.

I.  A Meta-analysis Describing the Effects of the Essential oils Blend Agolin Ruminant on Performance, Rumen Fermentation and Methane Emissions in Dairy Cows. Alejandro Belanche, Charles J. Newbold, Diego P. Morgavi, Alex Bach, Beatrice Zweifel and David R. Yáñez-Ruiz.  Animals 2020, 10, 620; doi:10.3390/ani10040620

Conclusion: This meta-analysis combining 23 experimental and farm studies across 10 different countries indicated that supplementation of lactating dairy cows with the essential oils blend Agolin Ruminant® (at 1g/d per cow) exerted positive effects on milk production whereas it decreased enteric methane emissions in comparison to un-supplemented cows. These effects mostly appeared after an adaptation period of approximately 4 weeks of treatment and consisted in an increase in fat and protein corrected milk suggesting an improved feed utilization.

Funding: This research received no external funding.

Acknowledgments: This study was supported by Agolin SA (Bière, Switzerland).

Conflicts of Interest: Author B.Z. was employed by the company Agolin SA but had no role in the design, execution, interpretation, or writing of the meta-analysis. The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Comment:  Really?  Even though the authors cite support by Agolin SA?

II.  The Impact of Essential Oil Feed Supplementation on Enteric Gas Emissions and Production Parameters from Dairy Cattle Angelica V. Carrazco, Carlyn B. Peterson, Yongjing Zhao, Yuee Pan , John J. McGlone, Edward J. DePeters and Frank M. Mitloehner.  Sustainability 2020, 12, 10347; doi:10.3390/su122410347

Conclusion: Cows supplemented with Agolin versus the control had less methane intensity (g/period/kg
energy-corrected milk (ECM); p = 0.025).

Funding: This study was funded by Agolin (Agolin SA, Bière, Switzerland) and by Feedworks USA Ltd. (Ohio, USA).

Conflicts of Interest: The sponsor played no role in the execution and interpretation of the data and preparation of the present manuscript. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

III.  Evaluation of Agolin®, an Essential Oil Blend, as a Feed Additive for High Producing Cows.  Peter Williams1, John Clark, Kelly Bean  Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 11, 231-237. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojas.2021.112018

Conclusion: The trial showed that Agolin assisted in improving production parameters of economic importance to dairy producers.

Conflict of Interest: Mr. John Clark and Mr. Peter Williams market Agolin in the United States of America. Both were involved in the design but not the analysis of data or interpretation of results.

Comment

These are industry-funded supplement studies designed to sell a supplement of dubious benefit (my interpretation) to dairy producers to convince the public that they are doing all they can to reduce methane emissions.

The supplement doesn’t cost much per dose, but there are lots of dairy cows that have to be given the supplement for at least four weeks.

Without even getting into the details of the measurement difficulties or the overall science, two things are particularly troubling:

  • The lack of transparency about ingredients
  • The lack of a convincing mechanism of action

Call me skeptical.  I don’t see this supplement as a solution to the methane emission problem caused by ruminants.

Jan 5 2022

Ben & Jerry’s top flavors: in order of calories???

Ben & Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever.

Here are its top-ten best-selling flavors:

  1. Half Baked: unbaked cookie dough and baked fudge brownies.
  2. Cherry Garcia: in the top three since its launch in 1987
  3. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  4. Chocolate Fudge Brownie: this contains brownies from New York’s Greyston Bakery, which provides jobs and training to low-income people in Yonkers
  5. Tonight Dough: Jimmy Fallon’s second flavor; proceeds to SeriousFun Children’s Network
  6. Strawberry Cheesecake
  7. Phish Food: since 1997
  8. Americone Dream: a partnership with Stephen Colbert, whose staff chooses the nonprofit its proceeds go to
  9. Chunky Monkey: banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts
  10. Brownie Batter Core

Whether or not proceeds go to charity, these are commercial ice creams, and highly caloric, ultra-processed ones at that.

Here, for example, is the ingredient list for a Cherry Garcia.

CREAM, SKIM MILK, LIQUID SUGAR (SUGAR, WATER), WATER, CHERRIES, SUGAR, EGG YOLKS, COCONUT OIL, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CONCENTRATES (COLOR), COCOA POWDER, GUAR GUM, NATURAL FLAVORS, LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, CARRAGEENAN, MILK FAT, SOY LECITHIN.
And here’ the Nutrition Facts label for a pint.
The new serving size is 2/3 cup and you get three of those in the container at 340 calories each.  Eat the whole pint and you’ve done half your daily calories along with 78 grams of added sugars (oops).
Half-Baked has even more!
If ever a situation called for moderation, this one is it.
Dec 6 2021

Industry-funded review of the week: dairy foods and inflammation

My thanks go to New Zealand reader Kirsten for sending this one.

The study: Exploring the Links between Diet and Inflammation: Dairy Foods as Case Studies. Julie M Hess, Charles B Stephensen, Mario Kratz, Bradley W Bolling.  Advances in Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue Supplement_1, October 2021, Pages 1S–13S,

Note: This article was intended as a review article based on presentations made by CBS, MK, and BWB at the American Society for Nutrition 2020 LIVE ONLINE Conference 7–10 June 2020.

Background: Systemic chronic inflammation may be a contributing factor to many noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. An emerging body of evidence indicates that consuming certain foods, including dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, may be linked to a decreased risk for inflammation.

Method: Review of research on dairy foods and inflammation.

Conclusion: While there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an “anti-inflammatory” effect of dairy foods, the substantial body of clinical research discussed in this review indicates that dairy foods do not increase concentrations of biomarkers of chronic systemic inflammation.

Funding: The ASN Nutrition 2020 session that this article is based on was supported by the National Dairy Council. This support included honoraria for MK and BWB. The authors reported no funding received for this study.

Author disclosures: JMH was an employee of the National Dairy Council at the time this article was written. MK has received honoraria and reimbursements of travel costs as well as research funding from dairy-related organizations, including the National Dairy Council, Dairy Management, Inc., Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Dutch Dairy Organization (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL). BWB has received research funding for dairy-related projects from University of Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub, the National Dairy Council, and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) HATCH WIS02094. The other author reports no conflicts of interest.

Comment: This is a study by dairy-funded authors with an interesting spin.  The research review found no anti-inflammatory effect of dairy foods but concludes that they have a benefit: they don’t make inflammation worse.  I realize that dairy foods have a bad reputation among some eaters, but I wish the dairy industry didn’t sponsor research so blatantly in its self-interest.  I also wish we could get away from one-food research.  One food cannot possibly make a substantial difference in the diets of reasonably healthy people who eat a variety of foods.  I am all for eating dairy foods if you like them, especially from well-treated animals.  They have a place in healthful diets—or not ,if you don’t like or want to eat them.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Sep 30 2021

Recent food items of interest

Here is my latest collection of accounts of unusual or unexpected food items.  Ice creams are high on the list.

You are wondering what Clitoria ternatea looks like?  Good enough to eat, I guess.