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   Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis and Victoria Harrison | Becoming Vegetarian

The authors’ Rebuttal the Dairy Farmers of Canada Response
to Becoming Vegetarian

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
(Part 4)

Page 16

1. "It defies logic that someone would compare cows to humans. The most blatant difference being that cows are herbivores and humans are omnivores."

Our statement was simply "milk is neither nature's most perfect food (except for a baby calf), nor poison." Human milk is nature's most perfect food for human infants. This is a simple fact. There are no nutritionally complete foods for humans apart from this. Our statement did not compare cows to humans. It is interesting to note that while cows are naturally herbivores, we have turned many into omnivores by feeding them rendered animal protein (about 14% of cow's diets in North America). Furthermore, some humans are herbivores.

2. "This is an inflammatory phrase taken from PETA..." [referring to our statement: "Whole cow's milk is a high fat fluid designed by nature to turn a 60-70 pound calf into a 300-600 pound cow in one year."]

Once again we are taken out of context. We are discussing the health reasons some people give for omitting dairy foods from their diet -- one of these reasons, is of course, concern about the fat content of these foods. This "inflammatory phrase" is a simple and widely recognized scientific fact.


3. "There are no government endorsed alternatives to dairy products because no other food has a similar nutrient profile. Therefore it would be inappropriate to present milk alternatives beside the milk group."

Calcium is the key nutrient provided by milk and milk products, and their calcium content has given dairy foods the status of an exclusive food group.1 Other nutrients provided by milk can be obtained elsewhere. While milk is an excellent source of calcium, this does not mean that it is the only reliable source. There are many Canadians that do not consume the recommended numbers of servings of dairy foods each day, and for these people as well as for vegetarians, it would be of tremendous value to know what other foods could provide this valuable nutrient.

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Action Towards Healthy Eating. Report of the Task Group and Technical Group on Canada's Food Guide and the Task Group on Food consumption to the Communications/Implementation Committee. Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1990.

Page 17

1. "A replacement food would have to be the nutritional equivalent of dairy products. None exists. There is no one unsupplemented food that could realistically serve as a milk alternative. According to Becoming Vegetarian, the criterion for an alternative to milk products is that it be "calcium-rich". Health Canada attributes not one but 16 significant nutrients to milk. "

While it is true that Health Canada attributes 16 significant nutrients to milk, it is calcium that is the key nutrient considered when foods are included or excluded from this group by Health Canada.1

It is interesting to note that our critics are quick to say that the basis for the meat alternatives group is protein, not the minerals iron and zinc. However, iron and zinc are listed as nutrients that these foods provide. With reference to the milk and milk products -- calcium is the basis for this group, not the many other nutrients it provides.

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Action Towards Healthy Eating. Report of the Task Group and Technical Group on Canada's Food Guide and the Task Group on Food consumption to the Communications/Implementation Committee. Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1990.

2. "Zinc absorption may be inhibited by fibre as well as phytate and oxalates. Although Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating includes beans, tofu and peanut butter under the meat and alternatives group , they are not good sources of zinc."

Why would it be acceptable to include foods that are not nutritionally equal to meat, poultry and fish in this group if they are good sources of the key nutrient protein, but unacceptable to include foods that are not identical nutritionally to dairy even if they are good sources of their key nutrient, calcium? Seems like a double standard to us. For the record, beans and tofu are good sources of zinc (15-25% of the RNI).

Page 18

1. "Despite the authors' implications to the contrary, neither the government nor the dairy industry has ever claimed that milk alone could prevent or cure osteoporosis."

Our exact statement was: "People get the impression that the best way to prevent , or even cure, osteoporosis is to drink milk." We were illustrating the one extreme of how people perceive dairy products in our culture. We never stated that the dairy industry or the government ever claimed that milk alone could cure or prevent osteoporosis. We object to having our words twisted to mean something very different than what we actually said.

If we look at Dairy Bureau advertising, we can see why people get this impression. (Canadian Living: September, 1995).

"Eye Opening Data: The Osteoporosis Society of Canada

New figures show that a staggering 1 in 3 women after age fifty develops this disabling bone disease. In fact, osteoporosis is more common in older women than heart attacks, diabetes and strokes. To stay healthy, a woman must be well-nourished. This means eating enough nutritious foods, including the recommended 2-4 servings of milk products, every day."

2. "It's probably stating the obvious to point out that although Africans and Orientals may not drink milk, Canadians don't exactly consume huge amounts of insects or bok choy, good sources of calcium for those two groups respectively."

This comment borders on racism. The consumption of insects is considered uncivilized by North Americans standards. Inferring that African people eat huge amounts of insects to meet calcium needs is an insult to many of these people and demonstrates a lack of awareness of their food patterns. In reality, insects are a part of the diet for only a limited number of African people.

Oriental Canadians do continue to use Chinese greens such as bok choy as important sources of calcium. One need only look as far as local Oriental markets.

3. "...the implication that osteoporosis is nonexistent in other cultures is misleading."

Once again, our critics are inferring that we made statements that we did not make. Stating that "...we need to look at the eating patterns of cultures in Africa or the Orient that don't include milk in their diets, and yet have bone health as good or better than ours." is hardly saying that osteoporosis is nonexistent in these cultures.

4. "A Hong Kong study has shown that children who meet their calcium needs with diary products have stronger, denser bones than other children..."

Our critics cite studies in China and Hong Kong demonstrating how bone health improves if milk is consumed. Considering the high incidence of lactose intolerance, the over-population and environmental impact of massive increase in dairy consumption in the Orient, would it not make more sense culturally, economically and environmentally to fortify soymilk with calcium?

Page 20

1. " are just a few examples of why the incidence of osteoporosis may be somewhat higher in western countries."

The nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau agree that some non-dairy consuming cultures have lower rates of osteoporosis than ours. They go on to list the possible reasons for this phenomenon. It seems rather ironic that the first reason they cite is that "almost half of Canadian women consume less than the recommended two to four servings of milk and milk products per day". This hardly provides a logical explanation of why some non-dairying cultures have less osteoporosis than Western countries. Perhaps the time has come that we acknowledge the fact that people can achieve adequate bone health without the use of dairy foods.

2. "In a chapter on life without dairy products, why discuss the role played by meat in the prevalence of osteoporosis? In our section on calcium (p. 25) we establish that calcium loss due to the protein content of dairy products is minimal because of their high calcium:protein ratio. Moreover, phosphorus, which is found in dairy products, encourages calcium retention and significantly offsets the effect of protein intake."

This is the Dairy Bureau nutritionists response to the following statement: "While calcium losses are counteracted, at least in part, by the high phosphorus levels in foods such as meats, increasingly our high protein intake is being targeted as a significant factor contributing to our high incidence of osteoporosis."

In a chapter about meeting calcium needs on a plant-based diet, it is very important to discuss calcium balance and the factors that both negatively and positively affect this balance. High protein, meat-centered Western diets can increase calcium requirements due to the oxidation of excess sulfur-containing amino acids which generate endogenous acid, the excretion of which results in acidic urine and increased calcium losses.1 While we are criticized for bringing up the effect of meat on calcium balance, our critics go on to defend the protein and phosphorus content of milk. By doing so they imply that we have condemned milk as a source of calcium due to its protein content. Once again, the Dairy Bureau nutritionists have made it appear as though we have said something which we did not say. We would never state or even imply that milk has a detrimental effect on calcium balance because we do not believe that it does.

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Nutrition Recommendations: The report of the Scientific Review Committee. Ministry of Supply and Services Canada. 1990; p. 133.

3. "It has been found that a mixed diet, one that includes high intakes of both protein and phosphorus, greatly diminishes the effect of protein on urinary calcium and calcium balance."

The Dairy Bureau nutritionists cite a commentary titled "Protein intake and the calcium economy" by Dr. Robert Heaney as their source for this statement. After carefully reading this article, we were unsure of how our critics arrived at the conclusion that high intakes of phosphorus greatly diminish the effect of protein on calcium balance. Here is what Dr. Heaney says about calcium and phosphorus in this commentary:

"Phosphorus is well known to decrease urinary calcium loss. Precisely for this reason, phosphorus supplements are part of the management of patients with recurrent renal stones; also, for the same reason, it is commonly believed that the hypocalciuric effect of the coingested phosphorus offsets the hypercalciuric effect of the protein. Indeed, the phosphorus in these food protein sources does lower urinary calcium. However, that does not mean that coingested phosphorus offsets the negative effect of protein on calcium balance. What is less well recognized is that, in addition to its effect on the kidney, phosphorus increases the calcium content of the digestive secretions and, hence, increases endogenous calcium loss through the gut. In more than 500 individual studies, using a parenteral calcium tracer (unpublished observations), my colleagues and I have found that endogenous fecal calcium increases with phosphorus intake. Furthermore, this increase is of about the same magnitude as the concurrent decrease in urinary calcium."1

We would interpret Dr. Heaney's words to mean that the phosphorus present in high protein foods does not offset the negative effects of the protein to the extent that many people believe it does. To verify our interpretation of this work, we contacted Dr. Heaney personally on October 16, 1996. Our question to Dr. Heaney was to what extent does phosphorus affect calcium balance. His answer was really very simple -- phosphorus doesn't factor in, particularly over the long term where humans are concerned. He noted however, that calcium losses caused by protein can be offset by consuming more calcium.

1. Heaney, R. Protein intake and the calcium economy. J.Am.Diet.Assoc. 1993: Vol.93;No.11:1259-1260.

Page 21

1. Our critics cite a quote from Nutrition Recommendations for Canadians regarding the impact of calcium on bone health. The essence of this quote is that protein is only a concern if phosphorus intake does not increase in conjunction with protein intake. This quote taken from page 78 of the protein section, not pages 132-133 of the calcium section as our critics claimed. It is interesting to note that the conclusion of the scientific review committee experts for the calcium section on pages 132-133, is somewhat different:

"It cannot be assumed, however that the low calcium intake of women living in countries with a cereal-based food economy (400-500 mg/day) is necessarily adequate for women consuming a Western diet. The oxidation of excess sulfur amino acids in the high-protein Western diet generates endogenous acid, the excretion of which results in an acidic urine. The efficiency of the parathyroid hormone-dependent renal reabsorption of calcium from the filtered urine decreases with increasing acidity. Unless this tendency toward an increased urinary loss of calcium is counteracted by other factors, it can result in a negative calcium balance (i.e. bone loss)."

"Urinary calcium is also affected by the intake of phosphorus. Excess dietary phosphate produces a mild depression in serum calcium similar to that produced by a low calcium intake. The consequent rise in serum parathyroid hormone induces an analogous increase in mobilization of calcium from the skeleton, and renal reabsorption of calcium from the urine. However, there does not appear to be a compensating increase in the efficiency of calcium reabsorption such as occurs following a decrease in dietary calcium. "

The controversy surrounding the effects of phosphorus on calcium retention has been raging for several years. Since 1990 (publish date of Nutrition Recommendations) our understanding of these issues has improved and we have more evidence which would indicate that increasing phosphorus is not necessarily an advantage1, and indeed, when the calcium:phosphorus ratio is low, the excess phosphorus could be a disadvantage to bone health. 2-4

1. Heaney, R. Protein intake and the calcium economy. J.Am.Diet.Assoc. 1993: Vol.93;No.11:1259-1260.

2. Draper, H., scythes, C. Calcium, phosphorus and osteoporosis. Fed.Proc. 40:2434-2438, 1981.

3. Calvo, M. and Park, Y. Changing phosphorus content of the U.S. diet: potential for adverse effects on bone. Amer.Inst.Nutr. 1168(s)-1180(s), 1996.

4, Anderson, J. Calcium, phosphorus and human bone development. Amer.Inst.Nutr. 1153(s)-1158(s), 1996.

2. "This statement only supports the consumption of dairy products; why then is it included in a chapter on life without dairy products?" [referring to our statements regarding the research on the bone health of vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians].

Once again, the Dairy Bureau nutritionists assume that we are against the use of dairy foods and lacto-ovo vegetarians. This is simply not the case. We believe dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, and readily agree that their use makes it easier for people to meet calcium needs. We also believe that people choose not to consume dairy products can meet their nutritional needs when their diet is appropriately planned. In this particular section of the chapter we are discussing the calcium intakes of North Americans and the research that has been done on their bone health. We would have no reason to exclude research on the bone health of lacto-ovo vegetarians, as this information is of great value.

Page 22-23

1. "Both the Osteoporosis Society of Canada and the National Institutes of Health support increased calcium intakes, throughout the life cycle" ["referring to:"...for people in good health, there appears to be no advantage in higher-than-recommended intakes {of calcium}]."

Our critics once again have taken our words out of context. The quote they are refuting is taken from a paragraph called "Calcium Supplements". In this section we explain the role of calcium supplements, and when their use is warranted. The above statement is made as a word of caution so people will not be overzealous in their use of supplements. Calcium supplements can interfere with zinc absorption, and thus, we would not recommend taking higher than recommended amounts for healthy people. We would consider the recommendations of the Osteoporosis Society of Canada and the National Institute of Health as valid recommendations, and our caution refers to amounts higher than professionally recognized recommended intakes for healthy people.

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