In 1971, former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s political career was almost derailed following her decision, as the Minister for Education, to stop free milk for over seven-year-olds. Mrs Thatcher was famously branded ‘Thatcher Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’. Now, almost 50 years later, the same catchy phrase is being applied to vegans. This follows a call from vegan advocates for schools to replace dairy milk with plant-based varieties.
Today, children aged five and under are provided free or highly subsidised cow’s milk, and dairy is used as an ingredient in school dinners.
“Access to fruits and vegetables for our children would be much more beneficial than access to cow’s milk. The only reason dairy is so cheap is because it gets subsidised. The wrong foods are being subsidised. We need to subsidise fruits, vegetables and legumes.”
But haven’t we been told since time immemorial that milk is essential for health, especially in relation to strong bones?
According to Dr Kassam, this is, for want of a better phrase, fake news.
“Dairy should not be an essential part of school nutrition. It is a defunct food product that is not only unnecessary for health, but which also leads to environmental destruction, with the world’s 13 largest dairy companies producing the same greenhouse gas emissions as the entire UK.”
“The predominant reason we continue to believe dairy is necessary is the very successful marketing by the dairy industry that promotes it as beneficial for bone health.”
Research conducted by Harvard University in 1997 followed 77,000 nurses for ten years and found no significant difference in arm and hip fractures between those that drank one glass of milk a week or less and those who consumed two or more.
There are ways to increase your bone density that does not involve consuming liquid that is meant to nourish baby cows. High impact, weight-bearing aerobic exercises, i.e., walking, stair climbing, jogging, and Tai Chi has been proven to increase bone density in healthy perimenopausal women significantly. Walking was found to limit bone density loss but did not contribute to any increase.
Increasing vitamin D can help with calcium absorption. Failure to get adequate vitamin D can result in your body leeching it from your bones, weakening your skeletal structure. In winter, there is not enough sunshine in the UK for the body to produce sufficient vitamin D; therefore, it is advisable to take a supplement.
Non-diary foods that are high in calcium include:
- Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, bread, rice milk, or almond milk
- Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
- Soybeans, soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yoghurt, tempeh), and some other beans
- Certain leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy)
Caffeine and sodas can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium; therefore, it is best to limit them to occasional treats.
Although scientists admit that more research needs to be done before it can be conclusively said that milk does not provide much in the way of health benefits (and in fact may cause ill-health), there is no evidence whatsoever that plant-based milks cause harm. Furthermore, transferring school milk subsidies to fruits and vegetables would lead to well-proven health benefits for children.
Maybe it is time for a new milk-snatcher.