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The no-milk diet

(article, Culinate staff)

Mark Bittman, who embraced a partially vegan diet several years ago (and wrote about it in the books Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook), recently penned an op-ed explaining why he has cut out milk entirely. 

In it, he summarized the by-now-familiar science on lactose intolerance and milk allergies, and detailed his belief that shunning milk eliminated his chronic heartburn.

Naturally, the artisanal-cheese guide Culture magazine disagreed with Bittman. As blogger Will Fertman noted, Bittman conflated the sugars and calories in milk and soda, implying that milk was as bad as soda:

bq. It's true that lactose is a kind of sugar, and that skim milk actually has about the same calories per cup as soda. Checking the nutrition info at CalorieKing, you'll find that one cup of skim milk has 91 calories, while one can (slightly less than a cup) of Coke has 90 calories. But the same serving of skim milk has only 12.3 grams of sugar versus a Coke's 25 grams. . . . To add to the confusion, Bittman makes no attempt to distinguish the sugars in soda. In a Coke sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, the sugar is a mixture of fructose and glucose. In milk, it's all lactose — a different carbohydrate.

Fertman also complained about Bittman trotting out the well-known anti-milk argument that humans haven't evolved to drink the milk of other animals. Apart from the fact that some human populations may well have evolved to do just that, Fertman wrote, we haven't evolved to eat most of our non-dairy foodstuffs, either. Once we killed off the mammoths, after all, we had to domesticate animals and crops to survive. And those are the whole foods that we rely on today.

Of course, as Bittman pointed out, most of our milk is produced on highly industrialized farms, with animal-welfare and greenhouse-gas issues. Giving up milk for ethical or environmental reasons, then, can make sense. And if doing so gets rid of your heartburn? Bonus.