Although the classic texts of Yoga discourage consumption of meat, they’ve long promoted milk as as a proper source of nutrition for practicing aspirants.
“The most conducive foods for the yogi are good grains, wheat, rice, barley, milk, ghee (clarified butter), brown sugar, crystallized sugar, honey, dry ginger, patola (a species of cucumber), five vegetables (leafy greens like spinach), mung beans and such pulses, and pure water.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, circa 1450 CE
And for years now the United States government has recommended that all adults take in at least three servings of dairy products every single day.
But there’s a growing rumble in the scientific and medical communities suggesting we need to stop consuming dairy – or at least consume much less of it. It’s not just coming from left field either. Based on the evidence, experts at Harvard’s School of Public Health now state clearly that milk and dairy should be limited to one, or possibly two, servings per day at the most.
“Calcium is important. But milk isn’t the only, or even best, source.”
The Physicians’ Committee For Responsible Medicine recommends against the consumption of dairy. Here’s a link to their web page explaining why.
And some medical doctors, like John McDougall, vehemently oppose ALL dairy consumption and coax their patients onto total vegan diets. Here’s a link to Dr. McDougall’s newsletter explaining his reasoning.
My concern with a vegan diet devoid of all dairy and other animal products is a complete lack of vitamin B12. I’ve written about that before. Anyone choosing a meat and dairy-free diet needs to be taking a B12 supplement in the form of a manufactured pill or as an artificially added nutrient to commercial breakfast cereals or other foods. Plant sources aren’t active congeners in the human body.
Can a diet that excludes such an important nutrient without artificial supplementation be wholesome and natural? If you have to get a nutrient in an unnatural way, isn’t that saying something huge?
The vegan argument is that we’ve altered our food production and consumption habits, as well as our hygiene habits, in a way that has distanced us from the only real and initial source of vitamin B12 – bacteria.
Those yogis of old weren’t only drinking milk, they were also making cow dung patties with their hands and plastering them all over the inner walls of their huts. And their food was fertilized by beasts of burden like those that still work the fields of rural India today, dropping their bacteria-laden excrement onto plowed dirt and growing crops.
And I bet they were nowhere near to drinking three glasses of milk every day. While the classic texts recommend dairy consumption, they don’t suggest how much.
“At this time, however, the optimal intake of calcium is not clear, nor is the optimal source or sources of calcium.”
Harvard School of Public Health
The absolute bare minimum for B12 intake from dairy products is one 8-oz serving of yogurt, a cup of cottage cheese, or two cups of milk daily – although there’s some evidence suggesting the latter may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Even the minimal amount of 8-ounces of yogurt daily doesn’t meet current US recommended daily allowance (RDA) guidelines for vitamin B12 consumption. It’s only about half of the RDA while some experts recommend we should actually be taking in double the RDA.
Confused? You should be. It’s clear medical science is only just beginning to understand the full implications of the relationship between diet and health. There’s a lot we don’t know.
While some data makes it look like too much dairy is bad for you, other data suggests that, at least on a meat-free diet, getting enough vitamin B12 from dairy products in an effort to eat naturally and avoid supplementation is almost impossible.
Classic Yoga texts and the USDA recommend dairy consumption while an increasing body of evidence suggests too much dairy intake is linked to poor health. It’s safe and healthy to avoid all dairy as long as attention is paid to adequate vitamin B12 consumption.
For those yogis who want to follow the recommendations of the classic texts and who enjoy dairy products without intolerance or immune reactions, it’s wise to limit the amount to no more than one or two servings per day – preferably live-culture yogurt and low-fat milk. While that amount of dairy likely provides enough vitamin B12, it’s not clear just how much we really need.
For anyone rethinking their decision to continue consuming dairy, here’s the trailer for the film "Got the Facts on Milk?" (also known as "The Milk Documentary") that takes a humorous and provocative look at the current evidence and dares to question the conventional wisdom of the much publicized health benefits of milk and dairy products.